On February 26th, 2009 I went to The Black Sheep in Wakefield, Quebec to see the great Kevin Breit. Not only was my favourite guitar player playing, he was sharing the bill with someone I had never heard of before, a guy named C. R. Avery.
It generally would take a lot to get me to drive a half-hour from Ottawa into Quebec to see a show but Kevin Breit is a lot. He’s a lot of skill, he’s a lot of creativity, and he’s certainly a lot of quirkiness, and I generally don’t miss an opportunity to watch him play music.
I think Kevin was opening this show and he played his set solo. His brilliance was laid bare and the room was completely silent, as it always is at The Black Sheep at the insistence of owner/bartender/soundguy/crowd shhh-er Paul Symes. I believe this was the first time I had heard Kevin Breit do much singing. I might have heard him sing once or twice before but he sang for most of this set and it was fantastic, especially wrapped up as it was in his divinely stunning guitar/bazouki/mandolin playing.
And then this C. R. Avery guy came on and instantly commanded my complete attention. Part beatbox slam poet, part singer/songwriter, part Tom Waits emulator, Cravery (as I would come to call him) had my jaw on the floor with his first number; his sound and approach stabbed into my musical soulbone the same way Kevin Breit pummelled it the first time I saw him at the Orbit Room in Toronto so many years before. Breathing a vocal “whooosh” into the mic to mark the beginning of his inevitably tragic fairy tales Cravery spat out rhyme after rhythm as he told stories of cheap hotels, long bus rides, and hopelessly lonely people. Any fan of Tom Waits would have been instantly drawn in. I am and I was.
He sang proper songs too, and they were also pretty great. At the end of his set he sang a song with the nonsensical yet oddly inspirational repeated refrain, “There’s a door by the river, there’s a window by the sea.” Now, I’m not the kind of guy to clap along or what have you when a singer tells me to at a concert – it makes me feel like I’m at work – but I tell you, this Cravery guy had me literally standing on my seat singing along. My arms raised, my eyes closed and my head tilted back*, I sang along as loud as I could sing in the half-empty bar:
“There’s a door by the river, there’s a window by the sea! There’s a door by the river, there’s a window by the sea!”
I still have no idea what the line means, and who cares? What does “tutti-frutti, aw Rudy” mean? How can one speak of the “pompitous of love”? “Toe jam footballs” and “walrus gumboots”? The point is: there doesn’t have to be a point. You just have to do your own thing and put on a great show. Cravery does and does.
So in the end it was another great night at The Black Sheep, which leads to me to wonder if the shows are just consistently good way out there in Wakefield or if it’s because I’m so selective on who I travel out there to see?
*And I was sober. I had to drive back to Ottawa after the show so I wasn’t drinking at all.