The Danforth Music Hall in Toronto is a gorgeously appointed theater that was completed in 1919, and seats under 1500 people, and on the evening of September 20, 2013, I settled into my fourth row seat, putting me in spitting distance of the stage (though why would you want to?).
I was getting ready for a show that I’ve wanted to see since my friend Dennis showed me KT Tunstall’s performance of Black Horse & A Cherry Tree on Later… With Jools Holland. I was hooked, with her acoustic style, amazing voice, and her use of her loop pedal, affectionately known as Wee Bastard, she simply floored me, and joined a very short list of artists that I will buy their music before I’ve even heard a single cut, and she’s never disappointed. Still, I’d been waiting since 2007 (after she’d already released Drastic Fantastic) to see her. Would she live up to the expectations I had of her?
Her stage shows as seen on YouTube always seemed brilliant and a lot of fun, would it carry over? I was going to find out very soon.
The small, intimately designed set suggested that the show was going to be a wonderfully stripped down performance, allowing KT to showcase her unparalleled skills as a songstress and performer.
Tunstall is on tour currently to promote her new album, Invisible Empire // Crescent Moon, an album, which like every one of her previous albums just seems to sink into my subconscious by osmosis until I find myself singing or humming the songs completely unawares. I love when that happens.
Her travels have finally brought her to a place I could get to, and I was ready!
The theater seems to fill painfully slowly, I’m ready for music! The doors opened at 7 and we all had to pass through security, who were friendly but job-focussed, there’s a cash bar, and a small swag table. But I already have the albums on sale there…
The lights go out shortly after 8pm, plunging us into temporary darkness until a lone guitarist in a big hat ambles out onto stage. This is KT’s opening act, Brian Lopez. Citing himself as a voice and guitar guy (classical guitar to be exact) he establishes a quick and easy rapport with the audience, showing us his brand new guitar, which he christens this evening as Pearl, telling us the story of how American Airlines busted his old guitar, and had actually apologized for it!
This is the first gig of the North American leg of the tour, and he starts it off gently, with a lovely track called Persephone. His set is incredible with songs called Love Comes Over You, My Atomic Thing, El Vagabundo, a fantastic David Lynch style love song called Static Noise, Red Blooded Rose, and he rounds out his 40 minute set with I Pray For Rain.
About two and a half songs in my brain has provided a physical setting for the music I hear (and not a surprise as he hails from Tuscon, Arizona), this is what a night in the desert must sound like with a billion stars blazing above you, stark and beautiful. It’s a wonderful performance.
The lights come up for slowly, and people begin to mill around, freshening their drinks, as the stage crew puts the finishing touches, prepping KT’s guitars. Stage lights flare, and a smoke machine starts kicking out suitable ambience.
I’m getting impatient now, I’m this close to seeing KT perform live…
The lobby lights flicker, then a couple of minutes later flicker again…
The lights go out, and I get my wish.
KT comes out on stage, just her, no other performers.
Just her and the audience.
THIS is going to be awesome.
She starts with Invisible Empire, the first and titular track of her new album. And it’s perfect. This is the KT I’ve always wanted to see, watching her play, watching her interact with the audience. She makes use of her loop pedal, jokes and plays with the audience, and it’s bliss.
After Waiting On The Heart, she introduces us to her stage hand, Dave, and apparently it’s his first gig with her, and she jests about breaking him before the end of the tour.
Listening to her play in the Music Hall is amazing, it’s pure, raw and beautiful. She talks for a moment about the themes of Invisible Empire, it’s largely about death and dying, before she plays one of my favorite songs from the album, Carried.
She goes to Eye To The Telescope for her next song, the lovely The Other Side of The World. She’s warned us that being the first night of the North American tour she may make a couple of errors, but promises to apologize no more than 5 times, eliciting laughter and applause from the audience who are greatly enjoying her banter, as much as her performance.
Drastic Fantastic’s Funnyman is next, and when she finishes it, she talks about finding chords, and tunes, and how sometimes when you think you’ve discovered something new, you realize it’s already been done. She plays a few bars of Funnyman again, subtly changed, and starts singing Rock Me Amadeus instead, it’s funny, self-effacing, and her ability to make a cover song her own is nothing short of amazing.
She moves back to Empire for Yellow Flower, settling behind the keyboard, talking about how her parents paid for piano lessons while she grew up, but she can only play a few songs, so they’re very expensive tunes.
She follows it up with Telescope’s Through The Dark.
Then she takes a moment to read a list of other things we could have been doing in Toronto this evening instead of seeing her, and thought it was funny our Mayor, he who will not be named, tries to combine politics with a BBQ.
Then, proudly hoisting her guitar, recording percussive beats into her loop pedal, she tears up the stage with what could be called her signature tune, Black Horse & A Cherry Tree. The audience went wild! She rocked about the stage, strumming her guitar furiously, and even played her Kazoo.
I was having an awesome time!!!!
She went to her EP, The Scarlet Tulip for her next track, Alchemy. Such a beautiful song.
Then, strumming her guitar, and bringing one foot down on her tambourine repeatedly, she performed the first single from Invisible Empire, Feel It All. This song, like the title track just grew on me when I listened to it, finding its way inside and nestling comfortably in my soul, quite at home.
KT has always had an ability to make a cover song her own, and this time, she pulls out a tender rendition of Don Henley’s Boy of Summer. Check out her version here, wasn’t from last night, but this is pretty close to how she performed it…
She circles back to Empire for the last song of the set, Made of Glass. Tossing her pick into the crowd she strides off stage, coming back moments later to settle in behind the keyboard for Crescent Moon, and it’s obvious she’s having a lot of fun this evening.
She decides then to play a song she wasn’t sure about, and rouses the audience to their feet with her hit, Suddenly I See, She’s moving about the stage, vibing on the energy of the people dancing, clapping, and rushing the stage (carefully minded by security – nice job all!).
She closes out with Invisible Empire’s Chimes, touches hands with those people now lining the stage, and with a wave, leaves the stage.
THIS was exactly how I wanted to see KT, and it was everything I wanted it to be. She’s a fantastic talent, and I will be following her music for her entire career.
And hopefully it won’t be so long until she returns to Toronto again!
You can check out KT’s official site here!
You may also want to check out Brian Lopez’s stuff here!
Thanks for an awesome night!