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Generally Recognized As True: Jesse Cook concert review : Guelph, ON : January 23, 2009

Friday, January 23, 2009

Jesse Cook concert review : Guelph, ON : January 23, 2009

I went to Canadian guitarist Jesse Cook's concert at Guelph's River Run Centre this evening. This is the 4th time I've seen him in concert, and the first time in Guelph. Previously, I've always gone down to Oakville to see his show.

A bit of pre-amble first. Someone from the concert hall sent out an e-mail a few days before the show to let everyone know that there was a Guelph Storm hockey game on the same evening, starting before the concert, and that parking would be a challenge. So, I arrived about 90 minutes early and spent about an hour wandering around the Guelph library. I found a most interesting book on the Waterloo Mennonites. It was a fairly long book specifically about the Mennonites in and around Waterloo, Ontario. I am going to see if I can find my own copy.

But, back to the concert...

The band
I didn't catch all of the names in the band, but I recognized Nicholas Hernandez who was playing the second flamenco guitar alongside Jesse. He has been in at least one of the prior shows I've seen, and I bought his CD some time ago. Very talented.

Art Avalos wasn't around to do percussion and there was someone else with a much larger drum kit than I've seen in the past. Chris Church was on violin, and I think he has been at all four of the JC concerts I've been to. A new bass player has also been added to the band since I saw him last.

I have mixed feelings about the use of violin. In the concerts, it's a celtic style of playing (Middle Eastern in a few places). I suppose I like it in the context of Jesse Cook's music, but it is far from what flamenco is about. At the same time, though, the celtic and flamenco dancing are clearly compatible in many areas.

The cajón was used effectively, too, and sounded great.

JC was more chatty than I've seen in the past (though he has always been chatty). He did a short Q&A bit, too, which was interesting and refreshing even in this day of MySpace and Facebook pages. He didn't answer the question someone yelled that I'd have been interested to know about: "when you are you coming back to Oakville??".

"Querido Amigo"

The first half of the concert was pretty routine. There was no opening act. A bunch of familiar tunes and all pretty straightforward. The second half was far, far better. First of all, since I saw JC last I have been exposing myself greatly (in a wholesome way) to more traditional flamenco music. I have seen Paco Peña at Massey Hall and I also went to the capstone show of the 2008 Toronto International Flamenco Festival. The more unadorned sound is what I prefer, and there was a lot more of this in the second half of the show. "Querido Amigo" is one of my favourites, for example, but he didn't play it here. There were some in the same vein, though. Two or more flamenco guitars solo on stage would be my ideal, but that's not why you go to a Jesse Cook concert.

I was surprised to see a flamenco dancer in this show -- Jesse Cook's wife, apparently -- because I've never seen a dancer at any of his other shows. Actually, when she came on stage I was wondering how well the dancing would complement the music because JC''s stuff is very structured and doesn't have the wandering vagrancy of more traditional flamenco. Interestingly, Nicholas Hernandez played much of the music alongside which the dancing was done, and it was a more traditional sound. I assuming JC can play styles other than what he does best, so I wonder why he wasn't playing more in this segment.

The cover of "Fall At Your Feet" made another appearance in the encore in an unplugged style where the microphones and effects go away and the sound is completely natural and unamplified. I think this has been a part of the encore for at least 3 of the 4 shows I've seen. Chris Church did a very good job with the vocals. There was one more song in the encore after this one, which seemed a bit "off" because FAYF would have been the ideal closing song.

"Rattle and Burn"

River Run Centre is rather average, acoustically. The bass from the bass guitar and the bass drum gave off distracting standing waves, as happens at many concerts that use them in medium to large halls. Whether or not you get standing waves may depend on where you are sitting in the audience, but I can't believe I always pick the bad seat! The Tori Amos concerts I've been to get ruined in parts by this kind of thing. It wasn't as bad as that here, but I enjoyed the songs without the bass guitar more than the ones that had it for this reason. The hall was fine for the flamenco sounds, though. It was nothing compared to Massey Hall or St. Lawrence Centre in Toronto, of course... and not really as good as Rose Theatre in Brampton, either, but perfectly adequate.

The audience
The audience was made up mostly of middle- to older-aged white people. This is usually the demographic at his Oakville concerts, too. Strange. When I went to the Toronto show, there was a wide variety of ages and races and lots of Spanish people. Guelph is not Toronto, obviously, but they do have a multicultural centre and an annual multicultural festival!

A good concert, I think. It wasn't quite as long as some past concerts, but I think he has finally got the length just about right. In some of his earlier concerts, there were some very same-y songs played back to back and I drifted off a few times. This time, there was so much variation (especially in the second half) that it was interesting throughout. This is something Robert Michaels is still struggling with, I think. I have seen RM twice and his most recent show was better, but there are still some areas where it goes flat. I'm not saying they have to go as far as Sarah Brightman and do the whole do flying around on wires and always coming out of strange places, but something of that nature is required. If you're going to do energetic music that isn't down entirely to world-class solo skill (most of JC's music is band-backed contemporary rumba flamenco) then you have to find a way to make it translate well on stage and I think he has figured this out now. Overall, lots of fun!

Coming back home was not much fun. The highway between Guelph and Georgetown was intermittently covered in snow that had blown onto the road from the open fields at the wayside. I almost skidded out in one spot, where it went from bare road to deep snow within about 2-3 seconds. Well, that's winter, I suppose!

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