Small crowd for Tall Tales

Andre Ethier, normally of The Deadly Snakes, gives a solo acoustic set at The Grad Club as part of the Tall Tales Tour.
Andre Ethier, normally of The Deadly Snakes, gives a solo acoustic set at The Grad Club as part of the Tall Tales Tour.
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Empty bottles + empty room = quiet night at The Grad Club.
Empty bottles + empty room = quiet night at The Grad Club.
Photo: 

Concert Review: Andre Ethier and The Woolly Leaves Sept. 28 @ The Grad Club

On a night that most of the campus considered “Homecoming recovery time,” a trio of Toronto rockers made the drive to the Grad Club to play solo acoustic sets.

Separated from their well-respected groups, Will Kidman of The Constantines and Chad Ross and Andre Ethier—both of the Deadly Snakes—relied solely on acoustic guitars and charm to woo the crowd. Billed as the “Tall Tales Tour,” the singer-songwriters promised something different, something a little unexpected. I guess when rockers spend most of their musical energy in blood-and-guts punk bands, they yearn for a stripped-down sound.

If they indeed came to Kingston to charm a crowd, Tuesday was not their night. Only a handful of drinkers and Grad Club regulars were on hand to greet the musicians. At one point during Ross’s set, a cell phone sounded from deep in one woman’s purse. She had to rush out to turn it off. That’s how dead it was—a muffled cell phone was distracting.

Maybe intimate is a better way to describe the evening. If we are going to look on the bright side, I should point out that the empty room gave us a chance to see the musicians at their most unguarded. The few like-minded patrons and adoring groupies certainly enjoyed the moment, loudly cheering each song, if not just to make up for the vacant spots. Will Kidman took advantage of this unique opportunity to boldly declare, “I’m playing like shit tonight.” The other guys were uncommunicative during their sets, so maybe they just weren’t in the right mood. Maybe they were depressed at the poor turnout. Maybe they were soused on free alcohol.

Those who came expecting somber coffeehouse performances were not disappointed. Will Kidman lilted through Gordon Lightfoot covers with an unassuming humility that suited the slipshod stage and red curtains behind him. Set lists were improvised and albums were plugged—both the Constantines and the Deadly Snakes have new releases this week. Chad Ross followed Kidman, one-upping Kidman’s fragility with several somatic instrumentals. When he did sing it was a breathy, frail tone that lulled the audience toward their drinks. Ross’ lovely guitar work was both extraordinary and depressing. He hung his head over his guitar and stared at the fretboard throughout the entire set, doing his darndest to appear meditative.

Unimpressed with quiet introspection, Ross’ Deadly Snakes bandmate, Andre Ethier, opted to stand up for his bluesy numbers. His aggressive approach was the perfect antidote to the sugar-sweet openers. With straightforward torment, Ethier sobered the solemn atmosphere, channeling Rufus Wainwright and Leonard Cohen. At midnight he called it a night and returned to the bar to join his tour mates, who looked as though they were silently hoping someone would approach them to buy a CD. They certainly weren’t making a sizeable profit off of the door sales.

So semi-celebrity side projects probably aren’t the biggest draws, especially after a weekend of hard partying for the audience members. The impressive lineup of bands coming to Kingston in October probably worked against the Tall Tales Tour. The Grad Club alone will see shows by Cuff the Duke, Wintersleep, the Hidden Cameras and—of all bands—the Deadly Snakes. Rock Crew is bringing in the Marble Index with Grand Theft Bus, and Kingston Punk Productions has booked the Black Halos at Clark Hall.

Of course, I don’t need to remind you that indie-heavyweights Broken Social Scene will play a highly-anticipated set at Grant Hall on the 19th. Also, the rumour mill has it that The Arcade Fire and Metric are both planning winter shows.

That’s pretty stiff competition for a few struggling singer-songwriters who just want to try something a little different and a little unexpected.

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