Review by John Shymko, Photos by Lee-Ann Wylie
A beautiful imperfection
Jann Arden is a beautiful imperfection. She has a thing for words akin to ee cummings. “I’d rather learn from one bird how to sing than teach ten thousand stars how not to dance.” In 1993 I first heard the album “Time for Mercy” and the song “I just don’t love you anymore.” Where was this woman from? Springbank, Alberta? Seriously?
I was standing on the brink of a most perfect love. (written with a quick creditation of the lyrics to Arden’s “Saved”.)
The Calgary Herald called her a Bette Midler – Anne Murray hybrid. I’d say it’d be more like Jennifer Aniston – Imogen Heap. Jann Arden turns 50 in about three weeks. She has been Canadian spokesperson for HIV and AIDs, won eight JUNOs, had her own radio show, carried an Olympic torch, appeared on Ellen, the Rick Mercer Report and Corner Gas, has been involved in charitable work with World Vision, autism and cystic fibrosis, had a Star in Canada’s Walk of Fame and recently, been a nude model of sorts. And, coincidentally, happened to be a good friend of a friend of mine’s mother, Isabel, a local celebrity on the Hamilton scene (Izzy’s nightclub.) Rest in peace, Isabel…
So let’s just say I was excited when I received the opportunity to review her show at Hamilton Place on March 6.
The show was wonderful. If there was a failing, it would be that Ms. Arden’s talent exceeded her stage format. There are highly competent bands, and then there are BANDS. It is a myth that a band needs to gel together for years to play as a breathing unit. It is an attitude. Peter Gabriel and Paul Simon are masters at this. I would have liked to see passion and fire from band, but it wasn’t there.
Though highly competent, it was obvious they were there to back up a vocalist rather than dance with each other. This was illustrated beyond a shadow of a doubt during a mid show acoustic medley. Missing an opportunity to fuse song into song and create something both new and magic, the time was simply that. An acoustic medley. Don’t get me wrong, the musicians were flawless. It just seemed that an opportunity was missed.
That being said, Jann Arden is an incredible vocalist. By the third song, her voice was warmed up and without peer. In addition to her incredible musicianship, Jann is a personality both likable and unique.
She sprinkled stories and comedic characters throughout the performance. It would be easy to simply reiterate her quips, but they are HER quips. Seeing a few empty seats in the orchestra pit, she encouraged the audience members with “not so great” seats to fill the front section. “I know how this happened” she confided, “the two GUYS didn’t want to come.”
Dorothy Moore’s “Misty Blue” seemed effortless, but was a hauntingly beautiful reminder that she was promoting an album of mostly cover material. Her trailing ghost notes filled the auditorium with the stuff angels are made of.
To offset the somber subject of most of her material, she called upon hilarious but respectful caricatures of her family members. She also invented a fictitious male in the audience named Ed. Appearing to single him out, she blurted “look what you could have had… I got money, too…”
Hopefully, I haven’t been unfairly critical of her band. They were all fine players. Her lead guitarist, Keith Scott, has worked with Bryan Adams, I believe. And she allowed violinist/mandolinist with an uncanny Vassar Clemens feel, Allison Cornell, an opportunity to promote one of her own songs.
And she allowed all of them their promised Andy Warhol 15 minutes (well, 15 seconds) of fame.
Starting with her pianist, she asked him if he had been a piano geek since he was five years old. And she asked him to play a song he REALLY wanted to play. A heavily synthesized “Sweet Dreams Are Made Of These” that would have done Annie Lennox proud filled the room.
“Your piano teacher must be so proud…” she finished with.
Next, her other guitarist, a Vegan who she admitted to” dropping beef jerky into his mouth while he sleeps” had his moment. “Better be home soon.”
“You bass players play weird stuff – i hear it coming out of the dressing rooms” gave an opportunity for the theme from Barney Miller to envelope Hamilton Place. And, of course, “Wipeout” started on drums.
The band was good, but something was missing. Jann Arden was spectacular.
So, of course, a standing ovation was in order.
“so long… farewell… we all got a story to tell… don’t forget to turn out the light…”