Livegreen Toronto: David Usher, Chantal Kreviazuk

There was a hidden gem in Toronto last weekend: a free open-air downtown street concert, featuring David Usher, Chantal Kreviazuk, and Kardinal Offishall. The Green Toronto Festival was Toronto’s celebration of “everything green”. Yonge street was closed from Dundas to Queen, lined with green exhibitors displaying their environmentally friendly products and services; a bevy of Canadian artists were featured in Dundas Square, including David Usher, Chantal Kreviazuk, Kardinal Offishall, the Larra Skye Quintet, The Spoons, and Kellylee Evans.

I have to admit: I wasn’t expecting much, and it turned out to be one of the best concerts I’ve been to in a while. Other than the usual green speeches by performers, there’s something remarkable about “green” concerts; performers seem to enjoy themselves more and do silly things, like jump over fences into crowds. And best of all, this one was free. Did I mention that yet?

Larra Skye is a jazz artist from Newmarket, Ontario. I’d heard her perform last year at the Rex Hotel during the Toronto Jazz Festival, and she was really great. Her album, The World Disappears, a collection of her own original jazz pieces, has a national distribution agreement with HMV — pretty unprecedented for a small independent jazz artist. I’m particular impressed by her songwriting skills: my favourite has to be title-track The World Disappears, a song written when the young artist was in love. Recorded after falling out of love, the song bleeds a bittersweet melancholy that only true heartbreak can induce. Beautiful.

Performing mostly newer material from her up-and-coming sophomore album, Larra took the opening slot for the live concert. Her best performance came with the Aretha Franklin-inspired Make Believe, also one of my favourites from her first album, eliciting the loudest cheer from the audience. I’m going to have to say I enjoyed the emotion-drenched songs from her first album more than her newer work; also dearly missed this show were the antics of keyboardist Eric Boucher. All things said, though, it was great to see Larra perform again — definitely an act worth seeing at one of the smaller jazz venues later this summer.

I took a break from the festival but returned to catch the tail-end of The Spoons. Formed in Burlington in 1979 — that’s before I was born! — the band sounds, well, very 80s. Thankfully the band sounds much less 80s than the original tracks on their MySpace page, but the 80s inspiration does shine through.

Another thing the band mentioned they had done without was their “80s hair and clothing” — which means that front-man Gord Deppe (guitar, vocals) and Sandy Horne (bass, vocals) look pretty normal. But, with nearly 30 years of experience each, they sure know how to rock.

Next up: Kellylee Evans. Recently she’s been making a big splash on the Canadian jazz scene, having been nominated for a Juno last year for Best Jazz Vocal Album. No surprise there — this singer-songwriter performs with a smooth style which slides through many genres: jazz, blues, and R&B.

Quite a bit of her material is written about her family situation. In particular, “What About Me?” is inspired by her family situation: she and her brother were born a month apart, and they’re not twins. (Answer: same father, different mother.) These strong emotions come across solidly in her performance. I still think jazz is best enjoyed in a small venue, so catch Kellylee Evans this summer. She’s playing almost all the major jazz festivals around Canada.

Honesty time: the day before yesterday, you probably couldn’t pay me to go see Kardinal Offishall. Rap never really appealed to me. So there were a few moments at the beginning of this set where I’d considered leaving. But the sheer mass of the crowd, bouncing with Kardinal Offishall, kept me firmly rooted in place, pressed up against the fence.

I was surprised to recognize a few of Kardinal’s songs. His most popular current hit, Dangerous, is catchy and will surely be heard if you venture into any Toronto-area nightclubs. His show was punctuated by a young lady periodically yelling “Dangerous!”, to which the Scarborough-native would coolly reply, “It ain’t dangerous time yet, girl.”

Aside from a little cheesy over-production featuring a “live phone call” from Estelle, a UK-based R&B collaborator, the show was surprisingly entertaining. Kardinal is proud of his Jamaican heritage: as is evidenced by one of his crew standing in the background and waiving the Jamaican flag for the duration of the set. Nevertheless, he and his crew know how to energize and involve a crowd. By the time “dangerous time” came and went, the crowd was pretty excited — which really set the stage for two great last acts.

David Usher, and band, really know how to put on a good show. Ingredients: mix one ex-Moist front-man, some band-members with crazy rockstar moves, and some popular songs that everyone knows the words to. Sprinkle liberally with a little bit of crowd-jumping, and you’ve got yourself some pretty darn good entertainment.

One of David’s major assets — besides his musical and songwriting talents, of course — is that high-energy band behind him. They’re incredibly fun to watch — rocking out, playing off each other, and generally having a good time. It makes for excellent entertainment, and great photos.

The set list was filled with popular songs (The Music, Alone in the Universe, Black Black Heart) but the most memorable moment in this intimate show was during Love Will Save the Day, when Usher jumped the fence and waded about 30-deep into the crowd to greet a baby named Noah. Noah didn’t cry, but it was quite an amazing moment — David Usher singing quiet refrains, weaving through the admiring crowd, with the sun starting to set over Dundas Square.

A heavily pregnant Chantal Kreviazuk was the final act. She’s got an incredible voice, and took to the stage like a real diva — a contrast to the Chantal Kreviazuk with the young girlish voice I remember from the late 90s. Her set list was pretty much a list of her big hits, including an emotional Feels Like Home, In This Life (“This song may make you want to get a bank loan”, after being featured in a CIBC commercial), and her ever-popular John Denver cover, Leaving on a Jet Plane. (“Rowan, don’t cry,” she calls out to her four-year old son, who cries whenever he hears her singing that song.)

Her new song, Halfway Around The World, also got a very warm reception. It was now well past nine and the last vestiges of Toronto twilight were fading. With a final All I Can Do, Chantal sent us off into the night, humming and thinking about the last seven incredible hours of music.

24 May 2008 | grc | Music | Comments

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