Live Review: Ron Sexsmith

5 Sep

Komedia: Wednesday, August 31 2011

It’s fashionable to refer to Canadian troubadour Ron Sexsmith as a musical nearly man. Despite being feted by the likes of Bob Dylan to Bruce Springsteen, it’s often said he hasn’t had the commercial success he deserves.

He’s not one to give up though. Now 12 albums in, his latest offering, the aptly titled Long Player, Late Bloomer has seen his stock rise. It’s a point he’s quick to remind us three songs in when he notes “it’s nice to be getting a bit of momentum over here, especially after the last few albums.”

If his lack of superstardom grates, he doesn’t show it. For someone so painfully shy in TV and radio interviews, on stage he’s a revelation.

Give him a battered guitar, his friends alongside him in his backing band and an appreciative audience and he’s in his element. He’s intensely professional yet highly affable, a musical craftsman but not pretentious.

After all, he’s been doing this for 25 years so he knows what he likes and he knows what works. But he shows no signs of being bored or jaded.

There’s a heart-warming moment on the Nashville-influenced opening song Cheap Hotel when he tees up the impending solo from his lead guitarist by pointing at him, ushering it in with almost child-like glee.

However, it’s on the slower, more stripped-down numbers that Sexsmith really sets himself apart from the legions of singer-songwriters.

With less jangly guitar, his voice and lyrics dominate. On Nowadays, like Richard Hawley and Stephen Merritt from The Magnetic Fields, he’s a master at showing how less can be more. With brooding bass and tip-toeing piano, his voice effortlessly floats over the top, dispensing heartfelt lines like “but nowadays I hear your song, ringing through my heart and soul, and when I’ve had enough, your love takes hold.”

Some might call it mush, but most of those who heard it tonight would argue it was the most beautiful thing they’d heard all year.

Even on the flimsiest moments of his more tender tracks, when for a split second you fear they could drift off into the ether, there’s always a perfectly timed change of voice, or an understated, yet catchy, guitar line introduced to perfectly stitch it all together.

It’s skilful and classy and far from wasted on the sold-out crowd, which isn’t shy when it comes to showing its appreciation. There are numerous shouts of “genius” and “we love you Ron” throughout the hour-and-a-half set before he’s beckoned back for two rapturously received encores.

All in all, it’s not going bad for a nearly man, is it?

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