I absolutely love Canadian musicians- they are often unheard of worldwide but can easily sell out sizable music venues across Canada. I’m not sure if the rest of the world is sleeping, or simply too daft to pay attention to all of the incredible talent coming out of this country but we Canadians know talent when we hear and see it. Case and point? Colin James sold out 2 nights and the Commodore and nearly a third. Being a tad slow on the uptake for this show, I was dismayed when I thought I’d missed the boat on his shows but as luck would have it, he announced that 3rd show, giving me this very opportunity to critique him.
Even though the Saskatchewan native is rooted in blues, Colin James’ music has gone acoustic, rock, folk-rock, pedal steel, big band, soul and R&B. This means that fans never quite know what to expect each and every time they see him play. Every few years he mixes it up and does more “big band” style stuff – some may argue it’s a bit of a tradition now. His current tour is in promotion of his most recent album “fifteen” – aptly named as it is actually his 15th studio album, a feat any artist could be incredibly proud of.
I made it to the Commodore just in time as Toronto native Liam Titcomb hit the stage. While I didn’t expect the ballroom floor to be packed quite yet, the floor did have a certain emptiness to it – so much so that I was able to grab a drink and walk straight up to the very front row (something I have not managed to accomplish since my over-eager newly-19 days). After a quick glance around, I suddenly realized why- at under 30, I was likely the youngest person in attendance at last night’s show, that is, aside from Liam Titcomb. So, naturally, every table and chair on both levels of the Commodore were packed with seated fans. I was impressed with Liam’s performance and found that the drummer & accordion player complimented his tunes nicely. His classic folk /pop blend was well-suited to a more subdued (seated) crowd. If you are keen to give him a listen, my personal favorites are tracks “Cicada” & “Love Don’t let me Down.”
Thank-fully, Colin didn’t keep us waiting too long before hitting the stage. He came on bursting with swagger, smiles and a ton of energy. He loaded the front half of his set with newer material and then smoothly transitioned into his older material, delivering on those crowd-pleasers that he knew his fans wanted to hear. There were even some nicely placed surprise rarities such as his final encore song, “It Ain’t Over Yet.” Also enjoyable was the sheer number of guitars used throughout the set- he changed guitars after every song, and even sometimes partway through. Colin rocked out on a beautiful mix of newer and older, electric and acoustic guitars. The woman to my right was yelling, screaming, jumping and dancing her heart out with each successive song as if it were her absolute favourite. I couldn’t help but appreciate her level of enthusiasm but at the same time wondered how many live shows she had been to before- have crowds not yet learned that shouting names of songs at an artist won’t actually change the setlist and are really unnecessary unless the artist is actually asking for requests? Alas, I was a little disappointed not to hear more from his more recent album Rooftops & Satellites, particularly “Love is Calling” and “Stronger.” Then again, with a repertoire as big as his, a single set or evening is really not long enough to cover it all. All in all, an excellent night of blues-rock with an incredibly skilled, underrated guitarist. To the fans returning for nights #2 and #3, they are sure to be in for an amazing night. To top it all off, the live recordings collected from these three nights in Colin’s adopted hometown are being compiled for the live album. The narcissist in me simply cannot wait to hold the completed album in my hand and nonchalantly say, “yeah, I was at that show.” Awesome.