By John Swartz
Friday night at 8 p.m. the crew from the Old Dance Hall Players are doing an improv show at the Opera House. There are still a few tickets left for Nothin’ But Stuffin’. As you will read below, I was at the opera House Thursday night and I can qualify it is only a few because I asked.
So improv comedy, unless you are the last person on the planet who hasn’t seen Whose Line Is It Anyway, I shouldn’t need to say much about what it is. I see Jimmy in the back looking bewildered, so here it goes. A bunch of people on a stage act out scenes a chosen by a moderator. In this case Doug Ironside. The topics are chosen by the audience.
So while the actors might know the objective of each scene ahead of time, they have no idea how they will act it out. It’s a role of the dice; there are times what they do borders on humourous, and times it’s hilarious. Having seen these characters many times, I can say the count in the hilarious column is far greater than the, ‘oh well, we tried,’ column.
The trick is to not be afraid to say or do something outrageous. You will hear things. Not in a spooky kind of way (despite it being October), but definitely not office talk. Sometimes the cues given by the audience are as funny as what the actors do with it them.
The interesting thing about this show is the actors are all from Orillia. The other interesting point is, with improv show titles have absolutely nothing to do with the content of the performance – unless of course, someone comes up with a cue that relates to the show title.
What a week. I’m going to take them in order of appearance. Friday night The Orillia Youth Centre fundraiser at St. Paul’s Centre with The Big Bad Jug Band, Roger Harvey and Terry Savage was very good.
The Jug Band (Sean Patrick, Alex Rabbitson, Nate Robertson, Jim Fitzgerald and Jessica Martin) plays what I’d call Hill Music, which is almost like music straight out of Deliverance.
Jim (of Frankie and Jimmy who regularly gigged at the Brownstone) is an eccentric performer. I gather he writes most of the lyrics, which are bent, but do make a point.
For example a few tunes into their set he said, “we’re going to do a more uplifting song, which is about dismembering Galen Weston.” If you get the idea it was a protest about the greed class, you’d be right. It was humourous.
Later, he said, “We’re going to do a song about my cat.” To which Alex said, “has anyone (throwing a sideways glance at the rest of the band) seen this cat? I’m worried there is no cat.”
Jimmy did all of the singing, played a little harp, and really did play a jug this was as outside the pen a performance as you’d ever see, and it was fun.
Next Roger Harvey sang tunes that were introspective about life, love and politics (he’s from Pennsylvania). He did the set with Timmy Kehoe playing pedal steel guitar. Roger was in town for the week and visited the music department at OSS and played two other concerts in the area. This was only the second time he played with Tim and you’d never know it. Tim is one of the great musicians we are fortunate to have here, he can sit in, make it up, on guitar, bass, or pedal steel and sound like he’s been doing the parts all his life.
Roger’s lyrics and melodies are very good, you can get into and like them instantly.
Last Terry Savage with Tim on Pedal steel and guitar, and Mike Vandyk on bass is a great lyricist. Most of his stuff is country, but not modern country. His words actually tell stories or make a point. Often there’s a humourous element too, sometimes subtle, sometimes obvious.
These musicians have been together in various other bands for years and clearly have fun on stage. Terry sometimes takes a bit of time tuning and Timmy and Mike will spontaneously start riffing on some rock tune when they get bored waiting. I think I heard some AC/DC and Van Halen. Then Terry has to lower the boom and we get a chuckle out of it. On the whole it was a great night.
The Orillia Big Band had a dance at St. Paul’s Centre Saturday night. This was different. Aside from the tropical temperatures (Friday night too), it was like stepping back in time, or maybe watching an old movie. There were about 150 people on hand, seated at tables around the perimeter of the main room. This provided a large dance floor and boy was it full at times.
The band has 20 members and they played a wide range of danceable tunes. I had a program, which must have been printed on some great paper because I left it in my jacket pocket and the maid washed the jacket. There was no trace of it left, and all I remember was they played a Glenn Miller Tune (Moonlight Serenade) and The Girl from Ipanema. They also have a very good woman singing, but her name also went down the drain
The one thing different about this gig was the sound. With virtually the whole floor available to act as a reflector, the sound was a bit muddy. I was speaking with one of the trumpet players during the break and we were talking about the sound of the band and the room. I said, “you’re probably not ever going to hear me say this again, but the trumpets could be a little louder to compensate.’ I did notice during the second half they were playing a bit louder and the sound of the band became a little clearer and cleaner.
Sunday afternoon was spent at the Opera House with a good sized group listening to Rick Fines perform. It was a fundraiser for Sustainable Orillia. Saturday morning it looked like the show might be cancelled because ticket sales were not good. But, by late in the afternoon I got word enough people bought tickets (thanks to you, readers) the show would go on and Sustainable Orillia president Stan Mathewson said they were going to make a little bit of money instead of losing their shirts.
Rick is a great songwriter and a fantastic guitarist. His work on slide steel guitar is not flashy, but definitely not rudimentary or easy to play. As good as his tunes are, I could just listen to him just play guitar all day.
I said last week he was a very funny, between tunes, storyteller. I got that wrong. The last time I was able to sit down for a complete set of his I was laughing my butt off. This time, I think because of the nature of the gig, and the fact he is an environmentalist who lives the talk (his cabin in the woods runs on solar power with enough juice he was able to record his Solar Powered and Solar Powered Too albums). Almost everything he played came from those albums and are environmentally themed. Consequently the between tunes banter was a little more serious when talking about what inspired the writing of each tune.
Dwayne Gretzky played at the Opera House Thursday night. Took it hostage is more like it. Of all the years I have been going to concerts here I think this one was off the charts.
It was almost sold out and the audience ranged from kids to people older than me. It was one of the most party-like atmospheres with lots of people going down front to dance, lots of people standing up where they sat, dancing and when the last song happened (before the encore) I don’t think anyone scrambled to get out and beat the rush as is usual.
They are a proper showband and 10 of them were at this gig. The lineup of players is flexible, sometimes more, sometimes less. I know they have a trumpeter who regularly gigs with them and I know they cover a number of tunes where a horn section Is part of the sound. Last night they had only saxophonist Gordon Hyland, so I thought, well, no Earth Wind in Fire tonight.
Wrong, they did EWF’s Let’s Groove. This band does only covers the way covers should be done. The musicianship of each member is great enough they can play it just like the record, but adapt to song structure, singer’s own vocal qualities –without trying to mimic, and add their own musical taste/capabilities to make the song easily recognizable just the way you love the tune, but also completely own the rendition as if they wrote it. To me that latter quality separates bands and musicians who are doing what they love to do from the clone acts that do it because people will buy tickets to hear the Bee Gees, or Johnny Cash, or, Abba knock-offs.
Speaking of the Bee Gees let’s talk about how this show unfolded. It wasn’t a collection of songs ordered on the back of a cigarette package ten minutes before the lights went down. It’s clear to me they pulled two hours worth of music from their vast library of tunes they can play (more than 600) and put in an order that one song lead to the next, but in a way you would never have thought of pairings until you heard them together.. Part way through the second half I thought about how things fit together like a puzzle and how radio DJ’s used to work – back in the day when a great DJ on a great station actually spent time ordering the music to play – as in this song goes with that, and with the intent of keeping their audience tuned in.
In the case of this band it was to drive the energy level of the audience up, and up, and up. As one song ended and the next started (several times with new, unique intros that disguised what was coming) in a programmed, we rehearsed this, way, the audience responded with more joy, and then more joy, and so on. On one hand, being at a concert/performance that good the audience might demand the band not leave, but after two encore tunes I think everyone was exhausted and satisfied (but not enough they wouldn’t do it all over again the next night if the chance existed).
So in programming a show, you factor in tempo and style. When the audience is up, you don’t want them to sit down and tune out with the next song. But on the other hand that only works for three or four tunes in a row before you have to slow down and mellow out for a song or two before starting the windup function again.
Which is how we arrive at How Deep Is Your Love. We just enjoyed a string of great tunes done greatly, people were energized and dancing all over the room. There is a risk the band could lose them.
But, if your playing so amazingly accurate, but not so accurate, if you get my drift, and you leave them with something they will all say they never heard before (in terms of outstanding) you keep them for the next onslaught.
The lead singing of James Baley was a performance for the books. It was emotional and responsive to how the audience was reacting. The backup singing of Nick Rose, Lydia Persaud and Tyler Kyte was exquisite. This tune, the Bee Gees in general, were never on my list of Desert Island music, until I listened to it differently on the recommendation of another musician and the depth of the arrangement was revealed and remembering of some events in my youth. It’s now a tune that stops me in my tracks to listen. I can safely say of all the times I’ve heard a cover of it, the one from Thursday night is easily the best of the lot.
And it typifies something about the band. Their sound is much bigger than the 10 musicians on the stage. Not because the volume was turned up to 11. It was because of the strength of their musical ability. Ten players is about 6 more than you normally need in a band (they had two drummers, one kit and a ging gong rack, but they switched). Now you’ve got people on stage who really aren’t needed to reproduce the songs, but the extras are adding whatever they do to the sound. So the fullness of the music is larger. The four singers each took lead on the songs best suited to their voices and the others backed up (sometimes when backups weren’t part of the original version). In short it was a sonic extravaganza.
Another element these folks excelled with, groove. Every tune was a groove regardless of the style. This is an achievement musicians strive for every time they pick up, or sit down at, their instrument. It’s always about the groove. When it happens, especially among so many musicians at once, it’s like everyone is operating with one brain and the sum is greater than the parts. I’ve been part of something that and these folks must have been high all night.
And a tip to the band’s sound mixer, Guillermo, who let us hear a near perfect mix, so that each band member’s contribution was evident, but not overpowering that of the others. There were no lost or unintelligible lyrics and no buried guitar or sax solos, no washing out bass drum or bass guitar sounds.
So each singer took the lead at times. The highlight contributions were Nick Rose’s on Bobcaygeon and Take Me On; the latter of which brought the house down when he hit and sustained the high notes. Lydia Persaud really killed it on Crazy and Don’t Stop Me Now and just did a routine kill job on the other tunes she sang lead on. Same for Baley, every tune was a journey, but the Bee Gees and the next to last George Michael’s Freedom 90 were ones to write home to mother about. Tyler Kyte, who is the ringleader of the band, was simply outstanding with Dream Weaver (Gary Wright died just a month ago so I’ve been hearing the tune a bit more than normal, so Kyte’s voice was mixing with Gary’s in the processing center and they were compatible).
The encore started with a Vincent Price version of The Weight – just a verse and chorus (it is October), which amused and excited the audience. Then they shifted to that which we know and brought the house down (again). Ending it all was Under Pressure. I was at the edge of a stage once upon a time to witness David Bowie and Gail Anne Dorsey do this song and I got the same kind of goosebumps.
There were moments when the audience’s singing along was matching the output of the band – in unexpected places too. During The Weight I looked across the aisle and saw a teenaged boy singing along in the chorus. I would never expect a teenager to know any lyrics to any of the songs, except maybe Bobcaygeon. Something like that is heartwarming.
I think I started this inferring this concert was great. I’ve seen some memorable performances over 28 years, some moments that shattered my composure, some that wound me up in awe of what I witnessed, but this, this was the king of all of the best and varied experiences that walked out to the parking lot with me.
Once again, I’m deferring the Shorts to tomorrow. This has been long enough. In the mean time, take this with you, it’s Images Studio Tour weekend. Check out the map and hit the highway. The closer to town venues are Paul and Pam Allen’s in Marchmont, Marlene Bulas’ s, Michael Scott’s, Tony Bianco and Dave Beckett’s, and Xavier Fernandes is now a stop (instead of being at another gallery).
Take note, Jimi McKee is not officially on the tour this year, his health has not been good, and most of you are used to visiting him on Orchard Point. Well, he moved and you can stop by his new place, 78 Lahay Avenue on Saturday and Sunday only. All the 20 other venues are open Friday through to Monday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
(Images Supplied) Main: The Old Dance Hall Players are at the Opera House Friday night.