Back in early 2021, Toronto-based indie folk-soul artist and 2-time JUNO nominee AHI announced a small run of US headlining shows – his first solo venture south of the Canadian border after several successful US tours supporting notable names such as Patty Griffin, Lauren Daigle, and (most recently) Mandy Moore. Having been starved of live music opportunities as the global pandemic ran amok, perhaps it was just blind optimism that led us to believe that an early 2021 return to concerts could become a reality. Of course, we soon learned this not to be the case, and after a pair of postponements, AHI and his full touring band would have to wait until Fall 2022 to take the show on the road, making a stop at Jammin’ Java in Vienna, VA just last Thursday night.
Having first experienced AHI’s music in a solo-acoustic festival workshop back in 2017, and most recently as a semi-electric duo (with guitarist Nick Tateishi) at the Gravenhurst Opera House, we were pretty excited seeing a full-band set up as we made our way towards the stage. Chatting briefly with Nick Tateishi (guitars/vocals), who was able to join AHI on this tour after some initial travel permit uncertainties, Nick asked me if I’d ever seen AHI with a full band, and when stating that I had not, he assured me we were in for something special this evening.
With the stellar supporting cast of Pascal Adesina (lead guitar), Alex St. Kitts (bass/keys/vocals), and Isaiah Gibbons (drums), Nick definitely did not undersell the event, as the quintet delivered an outstanding 65-minute performance. Props to AHI too, for pulling off a convincing joke that had many second-guessing when announcing drummer Isaiah as his son. “He’s not my son,” AHI would clarify, a huge smile on his face. “That’s just some Toronto humor, that’s all.”
Opening with “Prospect,” the title track to his current album, AHI’s set list shared many similarities to that from his summer show in cottage country. But, with AHI opting to play electric guitar all evening (only Nick would utilize an acoustic guitar during “Ol’ Sweet Day”), the added instrumentation and full electrification provided us listeners with a completely difference experience. From the slight reggae intro to “Coldest Fire,” the sheer emotional power of “Closer (From A Distance),” and the all-out determination behind “Danger,” the passion and energy from this ensemble filled the room all evening.
I recall AHI performing a solo-acoustic version of “Alive Again” during that 2017 summer festival workshop, and was delighted that the band pulled this outstanding tune from his “We Made It Through The Wreckage” album to share here in Vienna. AHI would also precede this song with a brief, yet very personal tale. “I’ve got a lot of children, but one of them growing up had some really dramatic things going on in his life. He suffered from what we call breath-holding spells. I won’t explain it to you, but essentially they black out really badly and kinda lose consciousness,” he shared. “So, when I wrote this next song, he was about two weeks old, and I remember seeing him sitting in his crib. It was before I knew he was having breath-holding spells. And I wrote this song called Alive Again, which is very suitable because I watched him the first time it happened [and] thought he had died in my arms. He was blue in the face, he was turning blue, but he came back to life, and it’s fitting for this song to be his song.”
Following this very moving song, AHI purposely lightened the mood, sharing his comical tale about the origins of his equestrian hat that forms a permanent part of his on-stage persona (we shared that tale during our August show recap). He added that when telling this story during a show at the historic Ryman Auditorium, he was subsequently dubbed “Official Nashville.” Seeking guidance from the Jammin’ Java faithful, he sought opinions on whether he was now Official Vienna or Official Washington. “Am I official now? Make me official, come on,” he requested. “I’m out here, this is the DMV. Sh*%, I said DMC to my wife, and she said, ‘that’s the rapper from back in the 80s’.” Reveling in the audience response, AHI would continue with a short tale about how he wrote and recorded “Ol’ Sweet Day” as a result of choosing the wrong guitar string during a rehearsal one time, and how this song ultimately led to an invitation to perform as a guest on the NPR Tiny Desk concert series.
Drawing the show to a close following an incredible rendition of “Echo,” AHI informed us that we knew what would happen next – that he would leave the stage, and we’d all stand and clap until he came back for one last tune. Taking his leave, I noticed that AHI continued walking past the entrance to the backstage green room, exiting the building through the rear emergency exit, and returning via the front door, weaving his way through the crowd before climbing back on to the stage. For their grand finale, opening artist Anthony D’Amato was invited to join them, and together delivered a rousing version of “Say It To Me” – the four hardworking instrumentalists continuing to perform long after AHI and Anthony made their final exit.
AHI earned many new fans following this outstanding evening in Vienna, and rightfully so – as one of Canada’s hardest working artists, it is wonderful to see him reaping the rewards of his ongoing commitment to his career. This tour continues tonight in Minneapolis, before a brief return to the western Canadian provinces, and a final leg out on the US west coast. If AHI and co. are passing through a town near you, miss them at your own peril.
- Coldest Fire
- Closer (From a Distance)
- Breakin’ Ground
- Lift Me Again
- Alive Again
- Ol’ Sweet Day
- Full Circle
- Say It To Me