Thursday, I had the joy of seeing Joel Plaskett in concert for the first time. I discovered Joel listening to the CBC Radio Podcast several years ago. About the time his Make a Little Noise EP came out – I thought it was awesome. Joel Plaskett is the first artist where I’ve bought all his music digitally (although I haven’t gone back to his pre-solo career stuff). Counting the most recent that is 8 albums either solo by Joel or with the Emergency.
Joel Plaskett is a little bit folk, a little bit east coast and a little bit rock. Mostly he seems, to me, to be his own thing. The music all has a wistfulness running through it. He’s rockier with The Emergency… My favorite is still the original EP I bought… each of the three songs is just a little music package of wonder for me. But I’m a big fan of Ashtray Rock and Three as well.
The opener for the band was Frank Turner. I thought about Dano as Turner played. It was a simple set – just a man and his guitar. Turner is from Wessex and his music harkened back to his youth and local history. He was a storyteller – both with his songs and around them. And one heck of an entertainer. Two of his songs seemed to have the theme of, “If I can do this, anyone can – why aren’t you doing this?” I looked him up after the show – earlier that same week he played in Wembley Stadium to a giant crowd with his band. Geez – he was a long was from there as he stood on the stage of the Winspear. My favorite moment of the set was an A Capella number about history in Wessex. Part way through the second verse, he stumbled. “Oh, fuck! I messed up the lyrics!” He then picked up and finished the story of murder and curses from history in a clear and confident voice.
We were well warmed up for when The Emergency took the stage.
Joel Plaskett plays guitar and does lead vocals. Chris Pinnell was on bass and Dave Marsh on drums – both provided backing vocals. They had now stage set, but a life sized bust of Wayne Newton was atop on amp stack and two toy monkeys were atop the other. The monkeys had their own stage lights. “I had the monkeys wired up to this foot pedal,” Plaskett said with glee. He turned it on. The lights came on the monkeys and they began a little dance. “It cost me 80 dollars,” he finished with an abashed shrug at the extravagance. He had five or six other pedals on the floor to control his guitar sound. Frequently, he’d seems to hit a complicated rhythm going from one pedal to the other as he set up the sound for the next song. He’d tap four or five pedals and then hit the monkey pedal and everyone would applaud. It was silly – but the simplicity and joy of the act underlined the whole show.
On the other hand the bust was creepy. When we first came in a thought it was a man kneeling motionless behind the amp stack with only his head and shoulder visible. Still as a statue. I never lost that vibe from the bust through the show – I swear that during a strobe light effect in a guitar solo I saw the bust move…
I said that Frank Turner was a storyteller, but Plaskett put him to shame. That man has the East Coast gift of an easy manner and he smiles when he talks. We heard about buses, vans, teenage park and record store visits. We heard of successes and failures. The audience would call up and ask questions – the one that got Joel was where his friend and common touring partner Pete Elkas was. That launched Joel off – every story had an Elkas connection after that. “I’ve never told this story before,” Plaskett said before confiding some hijinks they had done in BC a long time ago. “Maybe I’ll call Pete during the encore,” Joel said.
It was the Winsoear theatre – so the sound was just awesome. It almost goes without saying. Both acts seemed a bit taken aback by the formal concert hall as their personas were chummy and the music invites dancing. But you can’t go wrong with great sight lines and no bad seat in the house…
The music? Ah – it was better – better than the albums. Especially the material off the latest album, Scrappy Happiness. That album isn’t a grabber, but live it crackles with enthusiasm and verve. I was surprised with how rockin’ Joel Plaskett and the Emergency were. Big guitar solos – and a full bass and crashing drums. When playing solos Plaskett does a little dance – sliding softshoe across the stage. Some of the solos had extended middles where Plaskett would sing a little cover song or rant poetically – Gord Downie style. The climax was the extended prayer in “Work out Fine” as we all hoped that he’d make it to the church on time!
During the encore, Plaskett did indeed call Elkas. “It will be after midnight. He’ll be mad. He has a family you know. But then he’ll love it.” Unfortunately we went to voice mail. But Edmonton all said hi! to Pete’s voice mail.
I already knew that I loved the music before I got tickets. I’m always a fan of live music. i just didn’t know how much I’d love this show. Wow – just wow. It is up in my top five concerts of all time.
If you ever have the chance – catch Joel Plaskett in concert.