I have seen Jeffery Straker before. And I can show you what I saw, because I also filmed that show and made two little ‘tour vlogs’ out of the performance and backstage antics. (Part One, Part Two) Needless to say, I love this guy as a performer and a songwriter, so the Toronto CD release party at Revival last week was a priority.
Here I must note that you can distinguish Jeffery now with the addition of a middle name: classic ‘Jeffery Straker’ and the new ‘Jeffery Michael Straker.’ Or JS and JMS for short. The former, a piano-cabaret riot. The latter, well…he’s still a riot, but there’s an alternative twist to his sound. And you could see the difference in the performance when we switched between JS and JMS.
Both were amazing to watch. I shouldn’t let what I just said confuse you. Just it was like the difference between…and I’m sure he’ll kill me for this…’Mmmm Bop’ Hanson and the alt-rock trio Hanson which emerged a couple of years later. Both are awesome…one is fun, the other is fun and refined.
Actually, better…the difference between Til Tuesday and Aimee Mann.
Starting off with the track Rosetta Stone from his new Danny Michel produced album ‘Vagabond‘ set the tone that this wasn’t going to be like last year’s Revival show, which came complete with Burlesque dancers. Following this up with his first single from the album, Birchbark Canoe was only outshone by the fact that beloved children’s entertainer Fred Penner joined him on stage to play harmonica (his mimed performance of Jeffery choking him on the streets of Toronto brought me straight back to Fred Penner’s Place…for some reason…I don’t know why, Fred never got choked on that show!)
Slings and Arrows and Gone, two tracks from ‘Under the Soles of my Shoes‘ were spot on and showed the similarities between JS and JMS: the songwriting is still there though the underlying mood has changed. You could tell this performance was honed from years of shows and this recent tour supporting ‘Vagabond.’
I must admit that the two songs that hit me the most were Burn the Boats with some extra help from some very talented vocalists, and the only cover of the night, Shiver Me Timbers originally by Tom Waits. Really…the Tom Waits track was the one that settled JMS into my mind. The sombre and pained tones of Waits’ piano from the album ‘The Heart of Saturday Night‘ (during his early blues piano days, like Ol’ 55 and Grapefruit Moon, not the Swordfishtrombonesiness of ‘Rain Dogs’…) was an interesting choice that would not have worked during the ‘…Soles of my Shoes‘ shows. It would have been like Lady Gaga breaking into Cats in the Cradle.
But it worked last Tuesday at Revival. Because I wasn’t watching JS…I was watching JMS…and it wasn’t jarring, or strange. It was actually quiet awesome, and I can’t wait to see more.
The Set List:
Birchbark Canoe (feat. Fred Penner)
Slings & Arrows (from 2011 album)
Fallin (from earlier repertoire)
Gone (2011 album)
Burn the Boats (guest vocalists)
Shiver me Timbers (Tom Waits)
Somewhere Between (earlier repertoire)