Sometimes when you go out to eat, you order an appetizer instead of entrée. It's similar to going to a concert where you're more interested in seeing the opening act instead of the headliner. This is how I felt in August, when I went to see Sheryl Crow in Philadelphia. I mainly went to see one of her opening acts, the appetizer. I really wanted an entrée. I had the opportunity to have the main course on Thanksgiving night in Toronto, Ontario, Canada at the Air Canada Centre.
This evening's appetizer was Canadian act Luke Doucet and The White Falcon (http://www.lukedoucet.com/) I was sitting in the front row among Canadians who were not familiar with Luke Doucet. It was a late arriving crowd, apparently they wanted to skip the appetizer. It's a shame, they missed the chance to hear one of their own. Luke Doucet and The White Falcon came on stage promptly at 8 pm and did an 8-song, 45-minute set. The White Falcon was comprised of Melissa McClelland on vocals/guitar, along with a drummer and bassist.
Luke did a couple of songs from his 2005 solo release "Broken (and other rouge states)", "Broken One" and "Vladivostok". A song for all the people who go to concerts alone "Cleveland", ending with "First Day", both from his latest release "Blood's Too Rich". Luke has a haunting, heavy guitar sound, reminiscent of Chris Isaak. Reading from his arm, Luke let us know he would be back in Toronto in February and out in the concourse of the arena signing CD's during the intermission. I hope the black ink washed off.
At 9:15 pm the entrée was served. The lights dimmed, the 4-piece band went to their places and James Blunt made his entrance. The 34-year old British singer-songwriter has an amazing amount of energy. The experience of touring across the globe seems to have given James the confidence to use the whole stage, even the whole arena during his show. He has a menu of about 2-dozen plus songs (mostly found on 2-studio albums "Back to Bedlam" and "All The Lost Souls"), yet he was able to mix in some unfamiliar songs with his most well known tunes. The performance had good pacing with fan favorites and new songs interspersed. Most of the changes between numbers went smoothly, with little down time, helping to keep the momentum moving forward. James alternated between the guitar and piano.
The show began with a set of some of his slow, and often thought of as, depressing songs. He decided to change the mood, by singing a song about drugs "Give Me Some Love". I confess, I love to sing along with that one when I'm alone in the car. And sing along we all did, mostly without added encouragement. Although when James debut a new song called "Love, Love, Love" he said if he forgot the words, then well we couldn't help him. He mentioned being stationed in Alberta before singing the somber "No Bravery" at the piano.
Images were projected behind the tiered stage; the lighting and lasers were creative. During "Shine On", James was bathed effectively in green lasers. From the stage he began "Coz I Luv You" (a cover of the Slade song from the 70s) and he finished it in the middle of the arena floor. Jumping off the stage, over the temporary wall, walking on seats to get to a piano that seemed to rise from the floor. At this point the crowd stood up and stayed on their feet for the remainder of the show. Green lasers projected "M-M-M" onto the upper levels of the arena seats during "I'll Take Everything".
"You're Beautiful" was not saved to the very end. I've been to a few concerts this year where the performer's biggest hit, wasn't necessarily used as the last song or part of the encore. I like this trend of giving the audience what they came to hear and then continuing to build from there. James ended with "Same Mistake", the video for which was filmed in Toronto. The 1-hour and 25-minute set was followed by a 20-minute 3-song encore. "One of the Brightest Stars" was sung in the dark with the twinkling of stars on the stage. The final song was "1973", transporting us all back to a discothèque. Silver and later red, white and blue streamers filled the air, while a disco ball rotated above, giving quite an amazing visual image. At the end of the song, James climbed on his upright piano, which didn't seem too steady under his feet. When he came back on stage, he used his own camera to get a photo of his audience; seeming to be genuinely grateful for the applause and support shown throughout the evening.
Out of curiosity, I've been reading the newspaper reviews on line of the Canadian shows as James has made his way across the provinces. Generally the reviews have been favorable, but they've noted that maybe a hockey arena is too large of a venue; that his show would be more suited to a smaller place. I think a respectable number of seats were filled in the ACC. After James played a few songs on a piano in the middle of the arena floor, he convinced me that he could make an arena feel intimate as he brought the entire audience into his performance. Also, those of us in the front row, one by one, got up to lean along the temporary wall that separated us from the stage, just to get a better view. Reflecting on it later, it reminded me of the photos I've seen of The Beatles fans reaching out across the fences trying to get closer. I'm not suggesting that James' career will parallel that of The Beatles or an Elton John, but I think his slice of the musical pie will only keep growing. I've heard that it's hard to really classify his music. Maybe this is part of the reason his popularity in the USA doesn't mirror that of other countries.