Lee Harvey Osmond: Live at The Mule Spinner

Lee Harvey Osmond

Hello Canada.  We’ve not seen you for a while.  Blessed with some decent weather conditions for our first trip to Southern Ontario this past weekend, we were incredibly excited knowing that our first show this year on Canadian soil this would be an album-release show by Lee Harvey Osmond, the music project of established Hamilton artist, Tom Wilson.  And with the show taking place at The Mule Spinner, a former cotton factory-come-music-venue that boasts some of the best acoustics tucked away in the industrial side of his home city, we knew that this was a night we did not want to miss.

Following his previous “Beautiful Scars” album and biographical account of his life-changing discovery of his true ancestral heritage, “Mohawk” sees Wilson return with another deeply personal and reflective narrative surrounding these events.  Having attended one of Wilson’s ‘Literary Recital’ shows last year, we had an inkling of what to expect, but with this full ‘Lee Harvey Osmond’ format, we left the venue completely in awe of the show performed on this given night.  Surrounding himself with a stellar supporting cast, Wilson was accompanied by long-time keyboardist (and Maple Blues awards nominee) Jesse O’Brien, long-time friend and Junkhouse bandmate Ray Farrugia (percussion), Blackie and the Rodeo Kings bandmate Johnny Dymond (bass), and multi-instrumentalist, Aaron Goldstein (pedal steel/guitars).

As Jesse filled the room with the introduction to “How Does It Feel,” the audience were focused solely on the lead performer, leaning into his microphone, with “Beautiful Scars” biography in hand:

“My name is Thomas George Lazare! I come from a family of Mohawk chiefs. Peacemakers and peacekeepers. Warriors and man-eaters. Lacrosse magicians and tobacco salesmen, gangsters, shamans, shit stirrers and survivors.  But instead of growing up around these heroes, I grew up on the East Mountain in Hamilton, ON, where a whole other tribe of madness prevailed.  I’m a living breathing lie!  An embarrassment!  A married man’s mistake and a young girl’s only chance to hop a fence out of town and escape to freedom. THE TRUTH robbed me of my golden hearts.”

Progressing immediately into “How Does It Feel,” Wilson would get through a verse and chorus before reciting from his book once more:

“The truth is a constant seeker, a warrior with the tenacity of a travelling salesman, knocking on every door looking to make its heavy-hearted delivery to exactly the right person. When I was small, the truth was whispered around my kitchen table, while I peered out between the bars of my wooden playpen, staring there at the shadows of my ancestors sitting in the dull glare of Bakelite lamps.  THE TRUTH disguised itself to me. Sometimes I imagined it was an alien landing saucers in my backyard outside my bedroom window, and once, after I got my tonsils out, the truth appeared to me in chloroform hallucinations. Druggy, dreamy, lost information that’s lost like a drunken father on his way home from the Legion.”

Cue another verse and chorus.  The room was fully engaged and focused, raring for another passage:

“For years after, the truth strangled me with its unknown details and made me question myself and attempt to shut out love and drove me to countless attempts at self-destruction. THE TRUTH left me paralyzed and gasping for breath, struggling to free my voice from deep in my guts in the middle of the night when I was sleeping.  And I tricked myself into believing that I hunted down the truth.  But it was the truth that found me, and it wasn’t the harmless, lily-white-correct-thing-to-do that we’re taught in grade school, and there were no immediate rewards from it.  THE TRUTH was just a bastard like me.”

Continuing with music from “Beautiful Scars,” the band would progress into the always-popular “Blue Moon Drive,” and the Blackie hit, “Lean On Your Peers,” before introducing some brand new selections into the set; including “Colours,” “Kingdom Come” and an outstanding medley of “A Common Disaster” and “Mohawk” that would ultimately close the show.  “Hold on, I just gotta confer with the band quietly,” Wilson instructed prior to the performance of “Bam,” drawing chuckles when asking, “WHAT KEY IS THIS IN?”

Further distracted by bassist Johnny Dymond, Wilson would address the room once again.  “Something’s bothering me and you gotta know about it,” he stated.  “Around Christmas time when I knew we were coming out and doing these shows, I said to Johnny, ‘Hey man, you’ve gotta wear that great hat,’ and Johnny brought the hat with him, and he wore it around the dressing room, and he posed for Hamilton Magazine with the photographer there, and he’s strutting that fucking hat around.  And here he is on stage … NO HAT!”  Eliciting laughter from the room, “Maybe for the second half?” suggested a member of the audience.  “There’s no second half, we’re in the second half, we’re all around sixty years old, WE’RE IN THE SECOND HALF,” Wilson replied.  “Margo, please go to the dressing room area and get that damn hat please, because I’ve really just had it with Johnny.”  A white Stetson would quickly appear.  “There, you see, now I’m not mad anymore,” joked Wilson as Dymond placed the hat on his head.

With some outstanding versions of “Forty Light Years” and the up-tempo “Leave This House” (which saw Goldstein play guitar and pedal steel almost simultaneously at times), Wilson broached the hat topic once more.  “I want us to be really extra special and nice to Johnny,” he asked.  “He’s done three songs with the hat now.  We want to see if he finishes the set with the hat on.”  Taking time to introduce each member of the band to the room, he half-smiled at Aaron and asked if he could tell the story from the previous night’s show.  With permission granted, Wilson would continue, “Last night we were in Peterborough.  It’s the ‘whitest’ place I’ve ever been, and I’m kinda freaked out when going [there], but last night was a real treat, because Peterborough doesn’t get really exotic creatures in their midst, but last night I actually got to introduce them to an actual JEWISH PERSON.”  Cue the laughter, the applause, and clear camaraderie between these two long-time friends.

Wilson would naturally take time to share tales of his new-found ancestry, along with many others in between tracks; from his travels to his East Mountain heritage.  Nothing was off limits – life in an Italian neighborhood, his intoxicated local wrestler hero and friend, the significance of ‘tobacco country’ along Highway 6, and his appreciation for the music of iconic Canadians, The Band.  He would also take a solo segment (accompanied by O’Brien) to recite once more the tale of his first encounter with Gord Downie and The Tragically Hip, before knocking out an incredibly moving cover of the classic Hip tune, “Fiddlers Green.”

With the return of the band, the quintet would go all out to close the show.  Laying it all on the line during “Satellite,” Wilson would address the room once again as the song ended.  “It’s been a nice night. I shouldn’t do this, but I’m going to, because we’ve worked a little extra hard tonight,” he announced.  “Johnny’s childhood sports idol is here, and I’m excited because the  only other sports idol I’ve ever met was up at Zellers on Upper Sherman and Mohawk … anyway, in the house tonight, Toronto Maple Leaf, DOUGIE GILMOUR.”  Naturally there was applause, and many heads turning to locate the iconic Hockey Hall Of Famer in the back of the room.  “There you go Doug,” boomed Wilson into the microphone, “That oughta fuck up your night.”

Closing with a pair of new tracks, Wilson would find time for one more recital between “Common Disaster” and “Mohawk,” as the band kept rhythm during the transition to keep the music perfectly seamless.

“I am flying at the speed of my imagination.  Heading down the 401 towards the Quebec border   to meet my sisters, Lynn and Tracy, for the very first time.  The saliva in my mouth is thick like motor oil.  As I sit in the back seat of the car, I’m nervous, practicing my smile.  Staring in the rear-view mirror, silently mouthing these words.  ‘From a Mohawk baby, to a Mohawk Man, Yeah, here I stand.”

An amazing evening of music, and a rousing, passion-filled finale to send the audience home.  Lee Harvey Osmond launched “Mohawk” to their hometown faithful in fine fashion, making this an incredible start to our 2019 Canadian concert calendar.  Should anybody have the opportunity to attend an event at The Mule Spinner whilst in Hamilton, don’t miss out!  This fantastic venue allows a unique and very intimate experience with the artist(s).  Team GDW plan to be back there again very soon … watch this space for more.

Set List:

  1. “My Name Is” (recital)/How Does It Feel
  2. Blue Moon Drive
  3. Lean On Your Peers
  4. Kingdom Come
  5. BAM
  6. Cuckoos Nest
  7. Forty Light Years
  8. Colours
  9. Leave This House
  10. Freedom
  11. Whole Damn World
  12. “Gord” (recital)/Fiddlers Green
  13. Satellite
  14. Common Disaster/”Mohawk” (recital)/Mohawk (medley)

Visit Lee Harvey Osmond’s website.

Martin Noakes

The British guy that crossed the ocean and crash landed in central Pennsylvania (to quote Greg Keelor, “And I wonder what am I doing here?”). As the youngest of four siblings, exposure to music from a very early age nurtured my passion and appreciation for many musical genres. Continuing to discover some amazingly diverse and talented musicians based in Canada, I gravitate to live music experiences and remain devoted to spreading the word about such a vibrant music scene.

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