River gives the best of their time

Jon-Rae & The River convert rock ’n’ roll heathens at The Grad Club

Jon-Rae & The River’s seven members ended their tour by squeezing into The Grad Club’s intimate space on last Saturday.
Jon-Rae & The River’s seven members ended their tour by squeezing into The Grad Club’s intimate space on last Saturday.
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Concert Review: Jon-Rae & The River @ The Grad Club, Nov. 4

If singing along at excessive volumes with your pint glass raised in the air is your idea of a good time, then welcome to the church of Jon Rae & The River.

Since his descent on Toronto in 2002, Jon Rae Fletcher and his band, The River, have converted heaps of wayward souls to their infectious, raucous brand of rock ’n roll. In the process, they have established themselves as one of the premier live ensembles in the country.

Fresh off of the release of their new disc Knows What You Need and after three weeks of intensive touring, the seven piece rock n roll extravaganza flowed into the Grad Club last Saturday night. Promised a night of foot-stomping, hand-clapping enjoyment, people poured into the Grad Club and created a modest but certainly not laughable crowd. Setting the night in motion was Baby Eagle, also known as Steve Lambke of The Constantines fame.

Playing a sparse and poetic brand of folk, Lambke's clothing appeared to be supporting his thin frame as he peered out at the audience from behind wire rimmed glasses with endearing apprehension.

His soft voice and unassuming stance created a respectful lull in the Grad Club—the perfect environment for appreciating Lambke's finger-picked chords and vivid lyrics, the atonality of his voice adding an idiosyncratic charm.

Baby Eagle moved through his set quickly, including a clutch of new tunes, as well as a well-timed John Prine cover and a tender rendition of Maritime staple “Blueberry Blues,” dedicated to Jon Rae & The River.

The warm applause displayed the approval of the audience in resounding fashion as Baby Eagle strode off-stage and the crowd prepared to make like Tina Turner and “roll on the river.”

After a brief set-up break, Reverend Jon Rae and his mighty River awkwardly assembled their equipment. The band, which didn’t entirely fit on the Grad Club’s comically small stage, opened with a cheeky intro number that thanked the crowd for their attendance.

The band then kicked into high gear with Knows What You Need’s opening track “Roll,” a rockin’ tale of the need to pack it all up and hit the road.

The atmosphere was electric as the band cavorted and jostled on stage. The boyish charm contained in Jon-Rae's face seemed too innocent for the huge sound bellowing from his mouth. Keeping the audience fulfilled, the band moved into “All That I Had,” a gospel tinged, parlour number featuring powerful backing vocals and a delightful piano accompaniment.

Shifting from the spiritual to the provocative, the River dropped it down a notch with the contemplative groove “Fuck Me.” A sombre series of chords and a dreamy bass line meshed with the intertwined vocals of Fletcher and back-up vocalist Anne Rust D'eye created a powerful vibe that could be felt throughout the venue.

Playing through a few more numbers to arrive at “The Best of My Time,” the audience was now completely loose—the crowd foot-stomped and hand-clapped along as if in the company of old friends. The repetitive chorus encouraged the numerous chants from the audience, along with the band, as fists pumped the air and cheers rang out.

Fletcher prefaced the next song by saying “this is a weird time for a narrative...but here's a new one” and soon a stern, western sounding country twang began to take shape. One expected Clint Eastwood to appear from the shadows as the brooding tale unfolded.

After such an intense moment, The River lightened things up again with “Just One More.” They then moved from song to song, each eliciting the same reaction from the crowd—raised hands and smiling faces.

As the set wound to a close, it was obvious that a slew of new faces had been converted.

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