The Stephen Stanley Band: Live At The Casbah

The Stephen Stanley Band

“This past Saturday at The Casbah in Hamilton, ON will go down as one of my favourite shows ever. Thanks to all of our lovely friends who came out” (Stephen Stanley) 

In our recent Alan Doyle concert recap, I mentioned the Team GDW informal (yet comprehensive) list of artists that we drafted during the dark days of the pandemic, with plans to scratch as many names as possible once we found ourselves at one of their shows in the post-pandemic era.  I also mentioned how fortunate we have been to revisit that list frequently and take the Sharpie to many of those names as tickets were bought and shows were attended. And while the list has seen plenty of black strikes added, a handful of VIPs remain – you know, that first dozen or so “must see” names that were added – with one being Toronto, ON singer-songwriter Stephen Stanley. 

It’s hard to believe that our last live encounter with The Stephen Stanley Band dated back to August 2019 – the last summer of live music before the world decided to fall apart around us not long afterward. A fresh date with Stephen was a must, and with the release of his outstanding “Before the Collapse of the Hive” album to close out 2023, he was propelled to the upper tier of that list.  

Taking pity on our first-world woes, fate clearly decided to intervene a couple of months ago when offering up news of a matinee performance by The Stephen Stanley Band taking place at The Casbah in Hamilton. Better yet, the show would occur over the US Memorial Day weekend – a time of year that often finds us traveling to Southern Ontario for a late spring getaway. Easy decision – tickets bought! 

The Stephen Stanley Band

Commencing the show with a brief solo moment, acoustic guitar in hand, Stephen (guitars/vocals) took a moment to address the room. “A song I’m gonna start with may seem like a little bit of a downer, but it really isn’t for me,” he shared. “Five years ago, two days ago, I lost my friend Dave Bookman. This song’s about him. There’s a small group of us that had decided when Dave passed that we would work to keep his memory alive. It made me realize that we don’t need to work to keep his memory alive and I think that’s true of so many people that we lost, that the memory is just there.”  

Stephen would dedicate “The Owl” to the memory of the late “Bookie” (Canadian radio personality), performing the first half solo-acoustic, then gradually joined by lead guitarist/vocalist Chris Bennett mid-song, and by bassist Chris Rellinger and percussionist Cam Pyziak down the stretch. Soaking up the applause from an intimate (but very engaged) crowd, the band progressed into popular hit “The Troubadour’s Song” from Stephen’s “Jimmy & the Moon” album – the song that landed on our radar back in 2018 that brought his solo material to our attention. 

Following a rousing performance of “40 Endings” from that same album, Stephen took a moment to converse once more. “Last weekend, a DJ I know in Manitoba did an hour long show just of my music, and he found two live things that I didn’t really know what they were, and it was really cool hearing [them], and I had this little tiny squeaky voice on Shakespeare My Butt, and I didn’t realize until I heard it against all the other songs.” Adding a few words in a high-pitched voice for effect, Stephen would continue once the laughter died down. “But the reason he did it, and this is an admission on my part, I make a small donation every year, and I just got this t-shirt and unbeknownst to me, I got this hour-long show. And I was lying in bed that night and I realized, oh my God, I’m involved in Canada’s biggest payola scandal in the last how many years? I basically paid for an hour of radio. If this comes back, my career’s over, and I appreciate if you don’t tell anybody that this happened.” Sorry, Stephen, the story is gold, how can we not share? 

The Stephen Stanley Band

Several cuts from “Before the Collapse of the Hive” were rotated nicely into the set, including the recent single “Hey Darlene,” and other standout cuts such as “The Ballad of Lou Room” and the vocally narrated “Straw Man.” “I’m incandescent, you burn as you get too close / Sanguine desires, I’ll serve you a lethal dose / One moment strong and the next moment gone.”  The studio version of “Straw Man” always earns your attention (Kate Fenner’s co-vocals are something else) – but hearing it live (sans Fenner), it literally grabs you, consumes you, and leaves you craving so much more as the lines “My love was the earth-shine / By the sparest silver of the moon / The sparest silver of the moon” draw this intimate moment to a close. 

Hang around Stephen Stanley for just a short while and you quickly warm to his welcoming personality. That authenticity and generosity was on show for all to see prior to a performance of “Jimmy & the Moon,” inviting opening artist (and good friend) Evan Rotella to join the band on stage. Not only would Stephen yield the full first verse to his young protege, but also encouraged him to add harmonies for the duration of the tune. The entire room would also add harmonies to close out “By Her Side,” refusing to let the band bring the number to a close, repeating the ‘audience participation line’ several times – Stephen visibly touched by this magical moment and the love flowing around the room.  

The Stephen Stanley Band

Prior to “Under The Mynah Bird,” Stephen would share a tale of how his grandfather was laid off from his banking job when diagnosed with terminal cancer in his early 60s, refusing to ‘wait for death.’ “He went and got a night clerk job in a sporting goods store in Yorkville, and at that moment in Yorkville, there were dozens and dozens of coffee houses that were hosting live music,” he shared. “And the store he was working in, he worked the nightshift and was downstairs, and upstairs was a club called the Mynah Bird. In that club, Neil Young and Rick James were doing their first shows together as a band called The Mynah Birds, and tonight, I would like to dedicate this directly to Neil Young, who I, and about twenty thousand other people saw on Monday night (referencing the Budweiser Stage concert).”  

Acknowledging his own personal belief that Neil’s voice still sounds amazing, better than when Rick found his Superfreak, and before Buffalo Springfield were a thing, Stephen would continue his tale.  “If you want a lesson in guitar tone, go and see Neil. Holy cow, it was humming. Anyway, enough about him, we’re here to celebrate me, so let’s carry on.” As laughter bounced around the room, Stephen added one more comment before launching into the song, stating “I’m a very humble person and I’ll be awake for about four hours tonight going, oh I wish I hadn’t done that.” 

As the band wound down their 90-minute set at The Casbah, like any good magician, Stephen pulled a fabulous rabbit out of the hat – delivering a blistering performance of the oft-unheard (and Stanley-penned) Lowest of the Low number, “New Westminster Taxi Squad.” And with a short pause to soak up the response, the band dug into the new album material one final time to send us all home with “Chase That Devil.”  Thanks Stephen, and band, for a great Saturday afternoon in downtown Hamilton – we had another show that night, so really got our bang-for-the-buck during our time in the city. Time now to grab that Sharpie, and strike through another name on that list of ours… 

Set List: 

  1. The Owl 
  2. The Troubadour’s Song 
  3. Here Comes That Rain 
  4. 40 Endings 
  5. Jimmy & The Moon (ft. Evan Rotella) 
  6. Hey Darlene 
  7. You’re No Exception 
  8. Straw Man 
  9. The Ballad of Lou Room 
  10.  Under the Mynah Bird 
  11.  Things I Wish I’d Never Seen 
  12.  Last Train Home 
  13. By Her Side 
  14.  New Westminster Taxi Squad 
  15.  Chase That Devil 

Photo Credit: David Rotella (Tour Poster) 

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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