Cardiff: reviews are “masturbatory”

Craig Cardiff happily strummed—once the audience stopped talking.
Craig Cardiff happily strummed—once the audience stopped talking.
Photo: 
Queen’s student Leah Gora tried her best to play for a talkative crowd.
Queen’s student Leah Gora tried her best to play for a talkative crowd.
Photo: 
Queen’s student Leah Gora tried her best to play for a talkative crowd.
Queen’s student Leah Gora tried her best to play for a talkative crowd.
Photo: 

Craig Cardiff doesn’t want you to read this. In fact, he’d probably prefer that I not even write it. Thursday night may have been his last show in Kingston until March, but if you weren’t there, Craig Cardiff assumes you don’t care how it went.

“I think [concert reviews] are very masturbatory,” Cardiff told the Journal after the show. “It’s like telling someone about this great party they missed.”

If you’ve ever attended a Craig Cardiff show, you’ll know “party” may not be the right word to describe the experience. Well-known for his efforts to make every show an intimate experience, Cardiff was in top form at Elixir as he mixed with the crowd and chatted with fans. Joining Cardiff was Queen’s student Stephanie Leah Gora, Sci ’06, whose laid-back approach fit well with the evening’s casual atmosphere.

Though there was a sizable crowd out to see the show, not many paid attention to Gora as she took the stage to perform a few of her own songs. Most people stayed near the bar, ordering drinks and chatting loudly with friends, to the point where it was sometimes hard to pay attention to her vocals.

Though she showed a lot of talent in her short set, Gora’s performance was also hampered by problems with Elixir’s sound system. Despite several attempts to correct it during her set, a constant buzzing sound accompanied her voice for every song. Gora stayed upbeat despite the sound problems and finished her set on a high note, bringing Cardiff on stage to play some impromptu percussion on a hardcover book.

Following a break in which he fixed the sound problems once and for all, Cardiff took to the stage and summoned everyone to come a little bit closer. You have to give credit to any artist who can get part of the audience to sit on the ground—especially at Elixir—and after a couple more requests for silence Cardiff pulled out his guitar and started to play.

Opening with “Maybe You Should Drive” from his latest album Bombshelter Livingroom, Cardiff showed off a penchant for vocal and guitar loops, sampling himself several times throughout the song. The effect was part jarring and part fascinating, which drew everyone’s attention and quickly hushed the crowd. Cardiff made creative use of the sampler several more times during his set, allowing him the freedom to once again play percussion on the same hardcover book, and sing his own backup.

At times, all the starting and stopping of vocal loops began to feel a bit gimmicky, but it added a great layered effect to songs like “Saskatchewan” and crowd favorite “Judy Garland.” Whether a song’s lyrics were about lost love or a newspaper article, Cardiff charmed the audience with his vocal intensity and playful performance. Each song was prefaced with an anecdotal ramble, and he seemed to thoroughly enjoy his role as musician and storyteller on stage, inviting the audience to dance and sing along when the moment was right.

“I love playing here,” said Cardiff, who is heading to the States next month for a brief tour. “I really like it when people get together just to share music and enjoy themselves.”

He certainly seemed to get his way by the end of the night at Elixir, as couples cozied up closer and everyone smiled at each other. Only a couple of drunken “loud talkers” stood out during Cardiff’s final song, a second rendition of “Maybe You Should Drive” with vocal accompaniment by Gora, and even they were eventually silenced with an icy glare from Cardiff himself.

A Craig Cardiff concert is not the place to chatter, and if you look a little bored during his set, chances are Cardiff will take the time to point that out to the rest of the audience. Luckily, there’s enough energy packed behind each song to keep you more than entertained. Just don’t close your eyes when you hum along, or he’s liable to ask if you’re sleeping.

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