Fresh off our return journey from London, ON, the prior weekend, Team GDW were back on the road last Friday in anticipation of a wonderful evening with Joel Plaskett at The Studio in Hamilton, ON. Shortly after the inception of this blog, I wrote a post detailing how Joel was the first artist that we saw live on Canadian soil, and how we became incredibly fond of his music after witnessing that night in Parry Sound, ON, back in 2015. We were naturally excited when Joel announced the release of “Solidarity,” his most recent album and collaboration with his father Bill. Blending his unique sound with the traditional folk leanings of his dad, we knew that this piece would be something special, and the album certainly lived up to the hype.
Once a promotional tour was established, we immediately purchased tickets for this particular show. After all, the opportunities were going to be somewhat limited, and this would be a live show we had no intentions of missing. Arriving in Hamilton on a breezy Friday evening, we entered The Studio, took our seats, and prepared ourselves for what would turn out to be an amazing evening of live music.
As the lights faded a little, opening act The Mayhemingways made their way onto the stage to open the festivities. Hailing from Peterborough, ON, this eclectic-folk duo would warm up the crowd with a seven-track set of “fuzz-folk.” Blending a conventional folk-rock sound with Cajun and Gaelic influences, Josh Fewings (percussion/backup vocals) and Benj Rowland (vocals/accordion/banjo/guitar/bass pedals) used the opportunity to promote their most recent album “Hunter St Blues.”
With an incredible sound (for just two guys), the duo delighted the crowd with not only the title track, but “Small Town Crush,” “Jenny Ran Away in the Mud,” and “Wanderer.” Josh teased the crowd with hints of new material being in the works, before introducing the all new “Hillbilly Heroin” as a welcome addition to the set. Rounding out their set with a fantastic banjo-infused instrumental, The Mayhemingways earned a well-deserved ovation, and would return to accompany the headlining act later that evening.
After a brief intermission, Joel and Bill Plaskett walked onto the stage to a very welcoming ovation, with both Benj and Josh immediately behind them. The four guys would later be joined by violinist Shannon Quinn, who had flown in specially for this show from Halifax, and most likely took this evening as a last minute ‘live’ rehearsal for the Massey Hall event that the band would undertake just 24 hours later. The violin certainly added the extra depth to the sound, as did Shannon’s vocal harmonies throughout the set. Given that the new album contains just eleven songs, we were certainly keen to find out how Joel would fill the remainder of the set, and with some new takes on old songs both he and Bill certainly did not disappoint.
Launching straight into “The Next Blue Sky” from the new album, both father and son displayed amazing chemistry from the offset, splitting vocal duties when required. Joel took the lead on other cuts from the album, most notably “Up In The Air” and “Blank Cheque,” while Bill followed suit with his contributions “On Down The River” and “Jim Jones.” Joel would also dig into his vast catalog of music, and reacquaint the audience with select choices from “La De Da” (“Happen Now” and “Absentminded Melody”), “In Need Of Medical Attention” (“When I Have My Vision”), and “Scrappy Happiness” (“I’m Yours”). With a reminder that Bill had contributed extensively to his “Three” album, several tracks would be performed from this particular release, most notably “Deny Deny Deny” and “Demons.” The transitions between the new and old was seamless, and both Bill and The Mayhemingways had no problems with such adjustments (although the odd ‘look and smile’ between father and son at times may tell otherwise).
While Bill and the rest of the band took an abbreviated hiatus from the stage, Joel opened the floor to requests, and asked the crowd to throw any of his songs at him. With the obvious choices being articulated, it was the request for the little known “Jimmie’s Still Jimmie” that Joel would embrace, and even though the song contained ‘lots of lines that he would try to remember,’ he certainly knocked it out of the park.
Upon completion of a second request, Joel would return to his set list, and launched into “Dragonfly,” before being rejoined by his companions mid-song in time for the ‘loud’ part. Other highlights from the set included the inclusion of “Hard Times” from the “P.A.S.T.” album, and for me personally, a wonderful rendition of the popular “Nowhere With You,” complete with a slower, folksy pace that gave this one a completely unique sound. The band closed with a superb version of “Rollin’ Rollin’ Rollin’” that had the crowd up out of their seats, and would keep them there until Bill and Joel returned for an encore performance.
And what an encore! Bill and Joel returned alone, with Joel taking his turn on drums. Bill led off with “Help Me Somebody Depression Blues,” at least after some comical instructions from Joel on which effects pedals he should be selecting. “No, not the bouzouki effects, yes, the guitar pedals” certainly amused the crowd. This song would culminate with the return of the band, who would proceed to go all out with the title track “Solidarity.” Bringing the evening to a close was a medley, based loosely around “Wishful Thinking” from “Three,” which once again provided an opportunity for those in attendance to stand, dance, jump, holler, and applaud. The band rocked The Studio at Hamilton Place, and as all five musicians took center stage for their bow, they exited the stage amidst a loud and appreciative reception from the crowd.
As is customary with Joel Plaskett, he made himself available to visit with those fans that chose to wait around in the main lobby after the show, and took as much time as needed with each fan to chat, answer questions, and autograph memorabilia. It was a pleasure to meet with Bill too, and have two Brits talking all things ‘Brit.’ The Mayhemingways would also return, and it was wonderful to chat with them too. We are grateful to Josh, in particular, for the time spent with us, and for providing us with the name of the new track that they performed earlier.
Once again, Joel Plaskett (and all of his cohorts) did not disappoint. With rumors of a new album in the works from Joel, we remain optimistic in hearing yet more new music real soon, and await the opportunity to catch up with this amazingly gifted artist in a live environment again real soon, whether alone, with Bill or with The Emergency…….just SOON. If you are unfamiliar with the music of Joel Plaskett, I would certainly recommend the new release “Solidarity” as a perfect place to start.