Hawksley Workman, spectacular musical odd-ball, filled Knox United Church on Thursday night, literally and figuratively. Every available pew had a bum squeezed into it, and the belfry reverberated with the power of Hawksley's enormous voice.
I had seen Hawksley perform at the Calgary Folk Festival last year, so I knew the kind of power that his performances hold. I had been dazzled by his flamboyant showmanship then, by the spell that he holds over an audience, but I wasn't sure how that was going to translate from the laisse-faire attitude of a folk festival (the last bastion of hippiedom) to a sacred space like a church.
I needn't have worried.
With no opening act, the show began with several songs from his new cd Treeful of Starling. Accompanied by his faithful pianist, Mr. Lonely, Hawksley sat quietly with an acoustic guitar, and in true troubadour style, performed songs like A Moth is Not a Butterfly, Ice Age, and You and the Candles, all of them heartbreakingly lovely and introspective. I vowed right there I was buying that cd first chance I got.
And then, ditching the chair, switching to an electric guitar, but without even removing any clothes, the troubadour was transformed into the sassy cabaret performer. Guitar perched jauntily on one hip, he launched into No Sissies and we went wild.
From that point on, the show was vintage Hawksley Workman, an almost indescribable mix of rock concert, cabaret, performance art and what can only be described as a glimpse into the odd mind of Hawksley Workman. There were snippets of the Tragically Hip incorporated into songs, as well as I think it was Queen, and even bits of Bjork's Hyper Ballad, along with an extended explanation of the critical contribution of chair testing toward fueling the economy. And then just when you think that Hawksley has lost it, he manages to bring it all back around to where he left off. The man has impressive comedic timing, really.
Some highlights include him climbing on a chair to sing Striptease while playing casinets (yes, Stephanie - he did play Striptease in church, And Tarantulove! And Paper Shoes!), an absolutely smoking rendition of Jealous of Your Cigarette, a version of Anger as Beauty which went off onto a strange but oddly effective tangent, Smoke Baby, and, the song which had been stuck in my head all that day - Safe and Sound.
And if that weren't enough, he then played two encores. This review does not begin to do this performance justice. It's very difficult to begin the describe Hawksley Workman's music to someone who is unfamiliar with it. The closest I can come, I think, is to say that he is an artist.
Eva took pics and I will be posting them here when we get our computer back. In the meantime, I'm going out to buy Treeful of Starling, because it is absolutely beautiful.