Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Dan Auerbach, Justin Townes Earle, Jessica Lea Mayfield @ Phoenix Concert Theatre (November 7, 2009)

Dan Auerbach @ Phoenix Concert Theatre: photo by Michael Ligon

Update [Nov 13/09, 12:41 am]: Review now up. Sorry for the lack of punctuality lately. Anyone still bothering to read?

I was only ever casually familiar with Akron, Ohio duo The Black Keys' stripped down take on blues rock. Their direct rock n' roll approach to the blues was exciting on its own merits but that said never really grasped on to them. It was only curiosity that lead me to check out The Black Keys' Dan Auerbach's debut solo album "Keep It Hid" which I found to be quite terrific. Stepping up from the Keys minimalist drums / guitar approach, on "Keep It Hid" Auerbach uses a full band effort on most songs, doing an admirable job of filtering various musical influences like rock n' roll, soul, folk and country. Well thought out and enthusiastically executed, it's one of the better albums I've heard all year. With that in mind, I looked forward to seeing Auerbach's show at the Phoenix last Saturday night.

An early show as it was, in order to make way for the dance party to take place in the venue later that night, the two opening acts went dutifully performed and transitioned with precision. Kent, Ohio's Jessica Lea Mayfield was already performing when I got to the venue and a good crowd was on hand to listen to her solo acoustic folk set. In a smaller venue, I'd have been very much in to her set - acoustic guitar, tuneful melodies, casually sung Midwestern sounding vocals - but with the crowd chatty as you'd might expect from Toronto audiences, there was little ambiance for the set which really deserved it.

And within the span of what seemed like under ten minutes, the next artist on the bill was off and running, the artist in question being Nashville's Justin Townes Earle (yes, son of that Earle). I'm aware he's made a several stops through Toronto in the last few years, and has impressed some country-minded folks and his talent was quite apparent. Though his setup (vocals / acoustic guitar) was the same Ms. Mayfield's set who preceded him, Mr. Earle's songs were very much entrenched in a traditional country sound. A hint of twang in his vocals at times, his guitar strumming was simple but effective, and his tunes alternated between mid-to-up tempo swingers and more tender country ballads("Mama's Eyes"). At one point, an overly enthusiastic strum of his guitar resulted in a bleeding finger. Not your average country music set, and quite possibly one of the best country set's I've ever seen.

Dan Auerbach and his band The Fast Five took to the stage not too long after to play songs off "Keep It Hid" for the enraptured Toronto crowd. Listening to the album didn't necessarily prepare me nor the audience for the volume that would hit us during Auerbach's live set. It felt as if Auerbach decided to crank up the amps to ten, the effect being ever more brutal to the eardrums (and thank God for earplugs). As loud as it was, it still seemed tolerable, and the added crunch was more than appreciated. Background info - Dan's backing band "Fast Five" are a band called Hacienda, and one of the percussionist's on tour with him is Patrick Hallahan from My Morning Jacket. The set started out solemnly with the quieter "Trouble Weighs A Ton" with Dan and guitarist Dante Schwebel leaning in on the mic to harmonize beautifully. From there though it was really more of a rock n' roll set, trading in for guitar licks and a double drumkit assault. Percussionist Patrick Hallahan, when he wasn't playing drums, was on congos and or maracas, and with his long shaggy hair and with him wearing a Mexican poncho was a spectacle until himself. My favourite song in the set "The Last Mistake" came on quite early in the set, a perfect balance between infectious pop melodies, an injection of soul, and vibrant rock n' roll energy. Most definitely, it deserves to be a new American rock n' roll classic. Overall, the stew of rock n' roll, country, soul and folk created by Dan and The Fast Five was confidently and loudly performed, the only disappointment being they only had one album to draw from (although they did include a rocking cover of a song by a band called Rocking Horse). And so as quietly as the set began, so did it end as for the final song of the encore, Dan remained onstage with guitar to performing the fittingly entitled "Going Home". And so we did with smiles on our faces. [Ok, maybe not all of us went home, since it it was only 9 pm. Ha.]

Me, BlogTO, chartattack and Eye are all in agreement that the show was stupendous. mandrs has some photos from the show .

Photos: Dan Auerbach, Justin Townes Earle, Jessica Lea Mayfield @ Phoenix Concert Theatre (November 7, 2009)
Myspace: Jessica Lea Mayfield
Myspace: Justin Townes Earle
Myspace: Dan Auerbach

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