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Joel Plaskett @ Main Hall 5/27

Posted by John / May 28, 2006

plaskett1.jpgSomeone should write an essay comparing Joel Plaskett to the Weakerthans' John K. Sampson. Both seem awkward and bashful in spite of their fondness for the spotlight, and both write thoughtful, clunkily poetic songs that are somehow quintessentially Canadian, à la old Neil Young or Gordon Lightfoot or Gordon Downie (but not à la Leonard Cohen or Rufus Wainwright).

The two songs that would be central to this essay are Plaskett's ode to Halifax, "There's a reason why I love this town," and Sampson's "I hate Winnipeg," which neatly lay out the fundamental difference between the two: Sampson's love of wistful tragedy and hopelessness vs. Plaskett's wistful romanticism and naive but nonetheless enviable hopefulness.

That hopefulness was in full effect at Plaskett's sold-out show at Main Hall, which seemed to be stuffed somewhere far beyond capacity and was humid to the point of being swamp-like.

Plaskett is now much less gangly than back in his Thrush Hermit days (the last time I saw him play live, which means we're talking a decade or so), but is still all arms and elbows and adolescent eagerness. There's something incredibly endearing about the dude that reveals itself over and over again: when he strums a riff with an extra flourish and still seems like a kid who has picked up a guitar for the first time; when he tells stories about summer camp love with a francophone named Genevieve Guay; when he and band gleefully lapse into two extended 80s riffs in the middle of Extraordinary.

The thing about Plaskett, I submit, is that he's the guy who couldn't sing who decided to sing anyway, and somewhere along the way he sort of figured it out. He's still got a distinctly yelpy voice that sounds occasionally close to pubescent cracking, and, as noted, his lyrics aren't particularly profound, but he sings them like he means them, and that's somehow worth more. When he pulled out an acoustic and sang Thrush Hermit's Before You Leave, a song with a pretty obvious subject that never strays past pretty obvious lyrics, the whole crowd was right with him, feeling every pang of regret and sadness and hope. (This all in spite of terrible sound on his vocals, which sounded like they were being played through the old Hitachi portable radio my parents bought me in 1982. What's up with that, Main Hall?)

With two encores, his set probably pushed past an hour and a half, testimony to the fact that nobody really wanted to leave in spite of the moist atmosphere. Plaskett's band -- particularly his newish bassist, who was soaked and withering -- seemed about ready to pack it in, but it's conceivable that the man himself would have kept bounding back onstage with a little aw-shucks wave for encore after encore, as long as people stuck around.




Rashad Puckett / June 22, 2007 at 04:29 am
Critics are left largely unimpressed at the opening night of the Lord of the Rings musical on the London stage...

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