Every now and then, a unique opportunity presents itself that proves impossible to resist.  Take, for example, the recent announcement of an intimate house concert taking place in Toronto and featuring one of our favorite artists, Justin Rutledge (who has been a little quiet lately). Well, there was just no way we could pass on this.  Booked and promoted by “Side Door,” in conjunction with hosts “Eclectic Comfort,” upon learning that no more than 40 tickets would be made available, Team GDW quickly made plans to be in Toronto for a fantastic evening of live music.

Arriving at the residential venue in a historic downtown neighborhood, we were greeted and made incredibly welcome by hosts Emily O’Quinn and Julie Neff (Eclectic Comfort).  As a performing artist herself, Julie and her singer-songwriter/friend Ben Doerksen would warm up the evening festivities with a few of their own original compositions.  Accompanying each other across all six tracks, Julie would take the lead on her song, “Pick Up The Pieces,” with Ben doing the same for “Ain’t Like The Movies” and “Fun For The Thoughtful.”  Julie informed all that she was excited to be heading into the studio very soon to commence cutting an EP, while Ben was happy to share that he will happily play in anybody’s kitchen, and that he loves tacos and mac n cheese.  Both artists did a fantastic job to pave the way for the headlining artist, Justin Rutledge.

Arriving with his trusty Gibson acoustic guitar, Justin needed no extras, bar his set list and tuning device.  No amplification needed.  No microphone required.  Just a guitar, a room full of music fans, and an experience like no other, as Justin shared 16 great tunes, and was encouraged to add one encore piece to close the show.  Announcing that he wanted to share some of his material that rarely gets played live, we knew that we were in for a treat.  Sharing the love with music from all seven of his full length studio albums, Justin would indeed dig deep into his bag of musical tricks for this special night.

Opening the show with “Through With You” from his “Valleyheart” album, other cuts from this popular release would include “Four Lean Hounds” and the always fantastic “Out Of The Woods.”  Equal love was given to “The Early Widows,” with “Be A Man,” “Islands” and “Jack Of Diamonds” all representing this 2010 album.  But it would be the lesser-played material that really brought this show to life; from a momentary forgotten line from “I’m Gonna Die (One Sunny Day),” to which Justin joked that he would give refunds all around if he could not finish the song (of course he was able to finish the song), to comedic tales of young love and travels as a prelude to “A Letter To Heather.”

After two consecutive tracks from his most recent “East” album (“Unsettled” and “Almost Gone” respectively), Justin took time to pause and converse with the audience.  Having chatted with Justin prior to the show, he knew that his friends from Great Dark Wonder were in attendance, and asked me if I had any requests for him to play at this time.  Not wanting to go with the obvious, I gave it some thought and stated that I would really love to hear his cover version of “Grace, Too” from the “Daredevil” album (a collection of Tragically Hip songs).  With a couple of moments needed to recall the chord progressions, Justin stated that “he’d got it,” and went on to perform a phenomenal version of this Gord Downie classic hit.  Offering one more request slot to the room, he was unanimously asked to perform “The Suffering of Pepe O’Malle,” making this a superb one-two punch of hits that may never be repeated live again.  Talk about an amazing unscripted pair of songs that were shared on this night.

And the selection of older material was as equally impressive, from the powerful vocals on “This Is War” (from “The Devil on a Bench in Stanley Park”), to the melody driven “Penny For The Band” (from “Man Descending”).  Justin would also reflect on his feelings to how things have changed so much in Toronto, stating, “I don’t know what is happening to this city…expensive restaurants are taking over where all the cool honky-tonk’s used to be.”  Tales of childhood memories were shared too, from how he was a hapless shoplifter, to having a best friend whose family was just so much cooler than his.  “His family had parties, my family were strictly religious and had nuns over for dinner,” he laughed.

Ending with a rousing version of “Out Of The Woods,” the audience cheered loudly and proudly, encouraging him to perform just one more song before bringing the evening to a close.  Ever the professional, Justin once again opened up the floor to requests, and heard the word “Jellybean” from more than one responder.  With a sly smile, and a sparkle in his eye, he naturally obliged, and turned this encore number into a loud and lively audience-participation experience.  An amazing end to an amazing show, that only a few select people can say they experienced.  This was an evening that many shall cherish for a long time, so kudos to both the artists and the hosts at Eclectic Comfort for putting this intimate event together and creating a little magic on a Saturday night in downtown Toronto.

Justin Rutledge Set List:

  1. Through With You
  2. I’m Gonna Die (One Sunny Day)
  3. Be A Man
  4. A Penny For The Band
  5. Special
  6. Unsettled
  7. Almost Gone
  8. Grace, too (Tragically Hip Cover)
  9. The Suffering of Pepe O’Malle
  10. Islands
  11. Four Lean Hounds
  12. A Letter To Heather
  13. Too Sober To Sleep
  14. This Is War
  15. Jack Of Diamonds
  16. Out Of The Woods

Encore:

  1. Don’t Be So Mean, Jellybean

~ M

Visit Justin Rutledge’s website.

Listen to “East” on Spotify.