On December 4th, 2013 I saw Leon Redbone at the Shenkman Theatre out in the east end of Ottawa. I’m pretty sure this was my first time attending a show at the new-ish Shenkman Theatre, which struck me as a slightly nicer, slightly smaller version of the Centrepointe Theatre which, sitting out in Ottawa’s west end as it does, now bookends the Shenkman Theatre quite well.
My seat was super-close and nearly dead-centre; in the second row if I’m not mistaken. I think a comedian named Jim McNally opened the show. That is, it’s written in my ticket book that someone named Jim McNally opened the show, and I think he was a comedian. It’s not that he was so bad I couldn’t tell if he was supposed to be a comedian or not, I’m just saying that I believe a comedian opened this show and if a comedian did in fact open this show I would not have remembered his name regardless of how good or bad he was, which I suppose is the bane of comedians everywhere (Carrot Top notwithstanding), but I have his name written down and his name is Jim McNally.
So like I say, I think a comedian named Jim McNally opened the show. He was okay.
Leon Redbone, on the other hand, was great. Sitting in a chair in his standard costume of sunglasses and Panama hat (making him look suspiciously like that hand-drawn wanted poster that became an internet meme several years ago) and sounding like he recorded exclusively on 78RPM records (he didn’t), Leon and his sidekick provided about eighty minutes of remarkably pleasant pre-Christmas entertainment.
(I mention the season because Redbone is probably most easily recognized as the male voice in that famous version of Baby It’s Cold Outside from Elf alongside Zooey Deschanel, plus he has a heck of a great Christmas album of his own called Christmas Island.)
Aside from his classic look, Leon Redbone’s voice has a timbre that is just blatantly nostalgia-inducing, even if you’re hearing him for the first time. Or maybe I think that because somehow he has the very nostalgia-inducing Michigan J. Frog (“Hello my baby…”) on the cover of his first album. Regardless, Redbone’s voice is exactly the right blend of whiskey-and-honey to draw in just about any palette, and the magnetism of his choice of material verifies that back in the Tin Pan Alley days people really knew how to write a song, and that most of the songwriting that has come since is merely a jealous thumbing of the nose at the craftsmanship that songwriting used to require.
I enjoyed this show so much that I would recommend a Leon Redbone concert to pretty much anyone, except that unfortunately the man retired from performing due to health reasons back in 2015. And while it saddens me that I shan’t get another chance to see any more Leon Redbone concerts I am very glad to have caught one in the nick of time.