Tuesday, November 16th, 2010
Johnny Flynn and Evening Hymns at Lee’s Palace in Toronto
Frank YangI’m sure it was only coincidence, but the fact that Mumford & Sons sold out the 3000+ capacity Sound Academy the night before Johnny Flynn was slated to play a solo date at Lee’s Palace made for some interesting parallel drawing. The two toured together – along with some girl named Laura Marling who’s gone on to do some stuff – a couple Autumns ago and Flynn headlined all of their Toronto debuts at the dinky Rivoli back in October 2008.
Not that playing Lee’s is any small potatoes – some great careers never got to rooms much bigger – but one can’t help but ask why the former have skyrocketed to fame while the latter hasn’t. It could be because Mumford and co may work with the musical implements of folk and bluegrass, but their songs are unabashedly emotive, arena-sized anthems and I’ve heard more than a few people express surprise that they’re British rather than American. Flynn, on the other hand, ploughs a more traditional folk furrow in his music, more given to character-driven narratives and steeped in Englishness in both form and content. Not that these distinctions likely mattered to the hundreds of predominately female fans gathered at Lee’s on Sunday night – I’ll wager that most were at Mumford the night before and just as excited to be here.
Support for the evening came from Toronto’s own Evening Hymns, operating as just a two-piece. Their debut Spirit Guides had fallen out of rotation somewhat since finding its way onto my year-end list for 2009, but this show did a tremendous job of reminding me why I was so won over by it in the first place. At past shows, I’d noted that expansive sounds captured on the record worked better live the more hands they had on deck. So it was quite the pleasant surprise that the stripped-down configuration of principal Jonas Bonetta on guitar and keys, Sylvie Smith on bass and divine backing vocals and some looping pedals were able to turn some choice selections from Spirit Guides, a promising new composition and a cover into maybe the most affecting Evening Hymns show I’ve seen yet. Particularly ingenious was the way Bonetta pulled off “Mountain Song” solo, building rhythms and guitar parts via looper and then turning to the keyboard – loaded with all manner of patches and samples – to pile on the sounds that it would have otherwise taken a small orchestra to pull off. Judging from the tremendously appreciative audience during their set and the number of people wandering around with Spirit Guides LPs afterwards, I’d say Evening Hymns made more than a few new fans that night in addition to reaffirming old ones.
If by most standards Evening Hymns’ setup was minimalist, Johnny Flynn made their stage setup look like Pink Floyd’s. Appearing with just a resonator guitar and without his band The Sussex Wit, he proved himself to be one of the rare performers who can hold an audience’s attention for a full set with just their voice, guitar and songs. And banter. Between songs, Flynn was understated and charming, offering stories from tours past and present, and during the songs he was even better. Playing necessarily stripped-down versions of songs from his debut A Larum and the just-released follow-up Been Listening, he found enough range in what was at his disposal to do justice to the material and excusing the absence of the horns and drums which buoy the recordings. It didn’t come without cost, as singles “Kentucky Pill” and “Barnacled Warship” were conspicuously absent from the show – presumably too difficult to pull off alone – but “The Water” still sounded great even without Laura Marling’s harmonies and had he been playing with a band, you probably wouldn’t have had fun moments like when his voice cracked in the middle of “Shore To Shore”, necessitating a mid-song pause and apology before continuing. It was the sort of episode that underlined the intimacy of the show, but that said it’ll be nice if the next time Flynn returns, it’s with band in tow. And maybe at a room on the same scale as his peers, like the Sound Academy (kidding – no one wants to see anyone at The Sound Academy).
The AV Club talks to Johnny Flynn.
Photos: Johnny Flynn, Evening Hymns @ Lee’s Palace – November 14, 2010
MP3: Johnny Flynn – “Kentucky Pill”
MP3: Johnny Flynn – “Drum”
MP3: Evening Hymns – “Dead Deer”
MP3: Evening Hymns – “Broken Rifle”
MP3: Evening Hymns – “Cedars”
Video: Johnny Flynn with Laura Marling – “The Water”
Video: Johnny Flynn – “Barnacled Warship”
Video: Johnny Flynn – “Kentucky Pill”
Video: Johnny Flynn – “Tickle Me Pink”
Video: Johnny Flynn – “Leftovers”
Video: Johnny Flynn – “Brown Trout Blues”
Myspace: Johnny Flynn
Myspace: Evening Hymns
I think some kind of universal concert announcement embargo expired yesterday because show news was coming fast and furious, making 2011 something to look forward to. In chronological order:
It will be a very different Concretes at The Horseshoe on January 17 than the band that was there last in May 2006. The date is part of a North American tour in support of their disco-powered new record WYWH, which frontwoman Lisa Milberg talks to Spinner about. Tickets for the show are $15 in advance, Class Actress supports.
That previously mentioned Decemberists date has been confirmed as part of an extensive tour in support of their new record The King Is Dead, due January 18. And yes, come February 1, the faithful will have to trek down to the Sound Academy to see them. See kids, this is what happens when you like bands – they get big and popular. You’ve no one to blame but yourselves. But as an extra incentive, Wye Oak are opening, and they’re lovely.
The reigning prom king and queen of California stoner garage pop – Wavves and Best Coast – have made good on their promise to tour together next Winter. Look for them at The Phoenix on February 6; Snacks the cat will DJ between sets.
Lykke Li has released a video for the new single she’s been giving away, and has also slated a Spring tour that includes a May 22 date at The Phoenix, which is interestingly 1/3 the size of the room she played last time she visited.
Video: Lykke Li – “Get Some”