Toronto – I’ve noticed people texting at concerts before, but never before have I seen a performer texting onstage. Well, there’s a first time for everything, and the Jim Bryson show at The Horseshoe was that time. Granted, this happened while the band was still setting up, but I still found it a bit weird to see guitarist/trumpeter/keyboard player Rusty Matyas texting while his bandmates plugged in their gear.
That wasn’t even the oddest use of technology I saw onstage – opener Andrew Vincent started off his set by singing along to a prerecorded backing track for his first song, which made for a weird karaoke vibe. He did this a few times throughout the night, alternating between solo folky stuff on the ukulele and his more beat driven, kinda hip-hoppish karaoke adventures, which made for a somewhat awkward performance. These songs were not bad per se, but definitely weaker than his more folk-oriented tunes. He ended out his set with a decent cover of Kate Bush’s “Hounds Of Love.”
Jim Bryson seemed pleasantly surprised at the crowd turnout as he took to the stage, remarking, “Thanks beforehand for showing up in case you don’t like the show.” Bryson was here celebrating the release of his new album, The Falcon Lake Incident, a collaboration with Winnipeg’s The Weakerthans. Much of the crowd was obviously there because of the presence of The Weakerthans as Bryson’s backing band (and let’s face it, the fact that it was a free show sure didn’t hurt). Bryson definitely benefited, both in terms of elevating his profile a bit and in terms of acquiring an excellent backing band. I saw The Weakerthans act as the backing band for Bad Religion’s Greg Graffin on his solo tour a few years ago and drummer Jason Tait has collaborated with tons of Canadian musicians on various projects so these guys are known for their chops. Bryson admitted as much a few songs into his set, stating how usually he’d only be on his second song by now, but that these guys were so good he wanted to play as many songs as he could with them. Perhaps he adopted this “less talk, more rock” (or more folk-rock, anyways) attitude as a roundabout tribute to Weakerthans frontman John K. Samson’s old band Propagandhi. OK, probably not, but any excuse to link to a Propagandhi song.
When Bryson did finally begin to launch into some storytelling, relating a tale about watching Oprah, a woman in the crowd actually fainted. I was pretty much standing right next to her when this happened so it was a bit weird. While this could have stopped the show dead in it’s tracks, luckily she seemed to be OK, and after a brief interlude, the band started up again.
Speaking of the band, The Weakerthans definitely looked like they were enjoying their collaboration with Bryson. They haven’t released any new stuff in awhile, so maybe the prospect of playing new songs, plus the addition of Bryson into the mix, has invigorated them. Samson in particular was obviously relishing the opportunity to just hang back from the frontman position, sing a few harmonies and occasionally play a little tambourine. When not doing either of those (or playing keyboard, as he did a bit on the last song of the set), he would often take a seat onstage or sip from his drink. It was obvious to most that this was not a Weakerthans show, but there were a few people who felt the need to shout out request for some of their songs. Bryson’s response? “Oh, those songs, you’re gonna have to ask him about that”, to which Samson responded with a dismissive wave of his hand. After all, it was Bryson’s show. By the way, request-shouting dude, the name of the song is not “I Hate Winnipeg,” it’s “One Great City.” Do you really expect a band to play your request when you can’t even get the name right? Geez …