There are some performers who just go out and sing their songs and maybe grunt a few introductions in between.
And then there’s Hawksley Workman.
He is a singer-songwriter who loves to connect with his audience and I’m not talking about facebook or twitter here. Workman does it face to face or should I say, face to partially seen crowd of people sitting in rows behind bright stage lights.
It’s rare to catch a performer whose banter between songs is as entertaining as his actual tunes. But Workman is like that. And the audience responded at the Tidemark Theatre Saturday night. After a slow warming to the prolific Canadian musician, the interaction began to work. Workman seemed to enjoy it as much as anybody.
At one point he asked the crowd, “Who are you people?”
This was after he bust out laughing when, after telling everybody what a nice town Campbell River was, it must be really nice in the summer, a voice from the audience boomed out, “It’s warmer.” Which drew the guffaw from Workman and the aforementioned question.
All night long it went. I think the show would have been one-third to half as long if Workman had kept the chat to a minimum. But then I don’t think it would have been as good.
Nothing against the music, it was just fun listening to this guy tell his stories and share his thoughts about everything from the CBC to Mike Bossy and Conrad Black.
About half way into the show Workman started insisting to the audience that he’s as Punk as you can get.
There’s nobody more Punk than me, he went on and on, which was his way of warning the audience that after this next song he and his accompanist – “Mr. Lonely” – would stop playing and go back to the green room while the show has a thing called an intermission.
He made it clear – tongue in cheek – that intermissions are not Punk.
“It’s not my idea,” he said.
He assured the audience that while they were sipping their wine out in the lobby during intermission, he and Mr. Lonely would be backstage being Punk.
But then, I add, how many punks compost at their home in the Muskoka region of Ontario and enthuse about their birding hobby?
See, that’s how well we goy to know Hawksley Workman. The man just chatted all night long.
Oh, he also played music. Lots of it. And very well.
He’s not an artist I was familiar with before Saturday’s show so his music was new to me.
And probably to a lot of other members of the audience at the Tidemark.
It started off on shaky ground, though, because Workman has this vocal style where he frequently yelled – albeit on pitch – and jumped from low to high registers, often within the same sentence.
The only problem was that the yelling and high pitch stuff got a bit shrill at times, causing more than a few people in the audience to wince.
It’s something that can be helped by the sound technician and I did notice that it either got toned down a little or else we all got used to it.
It gave the show a tenuous beginning as those of us unfamiliar with Workman probably began to wonder if this was going to be like this all night.
But it wasn’t. At least for me.
We all began to warm up to his banter and his songs began to take us on strange and wonderful journeys.
His topic material was a bit odd but then again so was he.
His keyboard accompanist, Todd Lumley – a.k.a., Mr Lonely – was brilliant and one musical highlight of the show was Lumley and Workman doing a duet on the same piano.
Workman took the low keys while Lumley wandered the mid, to upper registers in a fantastic display of keyboard skill. Wonderful. And it earned an enthusiastic ovation from the audience.
Otherwise, Workman played the guitar in this two-piece format – he usually travels with a full band – and his playing was as quirky as his songs and banter. But definitely an accomplished player.
Another quirky thing Workman did was whenever he changed guitars, he’d have his road crew member bring out the next one, then take the one he was playing backstage.
No guitar stand beside him, no rack of six strings at hand to switch whenever he needed a new sound. I assumed the guitar technician was tuning and retuning backstage.
Different. But then, that’s Workman.
It was a refreshing and crazy night of music. Not a show that I’ll forget any time soon.
And, yes, next chance I get, I’ll take in a Hawksley Workman show. If nothing else but for the banter.
Opening act…Comox Valley resident Luke Blu Guthrie opened the show and as loquacious as Workman was, Guthrie wasn’t.
He just got to his songs and gave us some basic introductions. Which was fine because Guthrie’s bluesy and fingerpicking acoustic songs were great.
Fine playing and good songs. I would have liked to have heard more besides the handful he played. I’ll have to check him out the next time he plays somewhere in the area. I see he’s playing Willie’s Cafe in Willow Point Dec. 16.
A good night at the Tidemark as part of their self-produced season. Next up in the series is country singer-songwriter Jason McCoy on Nov. 21.
And don’t forget the Thursday night Tidemark Lounge series featuring local musicians. It’s Pamela Tessman, Bird Song and Des Larson this week.