Don't Put Your Finger in Your Nose

MacIsaac... in flight? du Maurier Concert Stage
with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, John McDermott, Ashley MacIsaac, Russell Braun & Monica Whicher, Densil Pinnock, Spirit of the West, The Paperboys, the Roy Patterson Quartet, Blackie & the Rodeo Kings, Martine Lamy and Tom Cochrane
Queen Elizabeth Theatre
Vancouver, B.C.
Thursday, October 10, 1996

Review by Gary 'pigboy' Swartz
Photography by Dan Zubkoff

John McDermott It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. It was certainly an odd evening's entertainment. Opera from Russell Braun & Monica Whicher, rock from Tom Cochrane, jazz from Roy Patterson... even ballet. Metaphorically, it was like an all-you-can-eat buffet, with something for everyone. Except that each entree was prepared by a gourmet chef. And your mother was treating you like a child, insisting you taste everything, whether you liked it or not. And to make sure you had room, she gave you a 3-inch plate, half-covered by your thumb.

In theory, the du Maurier Concert Series, a changing menu of top Canadian artists performing alone or as hybrids in cities across Canada, is a good idea. Maybe even a great idea. In theory, taping each performance for television to share the music with those who could not attend is equally noble. And, for the most part the music was an Epicurean delight. But the execution sucked.

cameraman tracks Mr. MacIsaac The evening began with off-camera host Alain Choquette, a personable comedian/magician, warning the audience not to put their fingers in their noses. "It's television," he said. Then we pre-taped some reactions: "Bravo! Yes! Encore! Great!" Phooey! If artists of this caliber aren't able to earn honest applause, then screw 'em.

Spirit of the West Then we watched the totally unnecessary, and also personable, on-camera host John McDermott blow his lines. "Retake!" Hey, come on. Is this about music or wanking? Couldn't all this crap be handled later, just John and the artists talking backstage? Other concert tapings make this concept work: they get the acts quickly on and off stage, let them do a couple of numbers, not one, and give the audiences more of what they came for.

Then (you get the idea there were a lot of thens?), finally, some music. Dvorak's "Slavonik Dance" performed by the VSO. Talk about a kick ass start??? (Back to our buffet metaphor: here and after each subsequent performance go back to the table, line up for 5, 10, 15 minutes, and put a small dollop on your plate. No hurry, it's television. Alain will babble, John will babble, blow lines, do a retake, and then, oh yeah, a sound bite.)

Ashley MacIsaac Then a bagpipe woke everyone up. But not for long, as John gave us his famous rendition of "Danny Boy." Makes you proud to be Canadian, eh? This was followed by a tune from the famous Canadian opera Don Giovanni. All accompanied by the VSO. Great to see so much support for Canadian composers and songwriters.

MacIsaac Then -- yes! -- kick ass the way the Muses intended. Enter Ashley MacIsaac, and all is forgiven. All. Even the attempt by the VSO at trying to keep up with him. Even Densil Pinnock, who followed with a pedestrian version of "The First Time Ever." Why? Because everything you've read and heard about the crazed young East Coast fiddler is true. And he was wearing a banker's suit -- with no tie. This is the kind of artist who years from now you'll relish telling people you've seen. The kind of artist that's a tough act to follow. Tough but not impossible. Credit Spirit of the West, who closed the first half with "Williamson's Garage," leaving the promise of more tasty stuff to come.

Russell Braun & Monica Whicher Turf the hosts, both on- and off-camera, as the VSO was turfed, and the second half of the show could have, would have, been more memorable. That said, if you get a chance to see Vancouver's own Paperboys, do it. Even if they aren't joined by Celtic dancers and Ashley MacIsaac, do it. This is a fun band, and if the Celtic dancers were any indication, moshers have a lot to learn in terms of expending energy.

Stephen Fearing of Blackie & the Rodeo Kings In fact, at this point, and later during "Brenda Stuggert" and "Devil in the Kitchen," two numbers, yes, two-in-a-row, by Ashley MacIsaac and his band, a handful of people found space off-camera near the front to do what the music deserved: clog, boogie, stomp or whatever the term may be. Sadly, though, herein endeth the Celtic influenced portion of the show.

Give baritone Russell Braun and the Roy Patterson Quartet credit -- it ain't fun to be the megawatt circuit breakers.

Tom Cochrane They did set the artistic tone for the evening's most pleasant surprise, however: ballerina Martine Lamy's dance to Spirit of the West's "Daisy's Dead." The performance needed a retake and -- surprise, surprise -- it was as thoroughly enjoyable the second time around. Sometimes these hybrids work.

Then more bad magic from Alain, more tedious introductions, and... whistle... stomp... Tom Cochrane, also graciously allowed two songs. Nourishing!

Tom Cochrane and Blackie & the Rodeo Kings It is unfortunate that the Blackie & the Rodeo Kings show scheduled for earlier in the week was canceled in favour of this event. The evening's final performers really do deserve a full-press frenzy feeding. There is too much talent, too many options in what they do to be showcased a four-minute spasm.

But, hey, "It's television." The tedium will be edited out.

It's hoped du Maurier will continue to support Canadian music. It's also hoped, to paraphrase Tom Cochrane -- and the evening's mass band finale -- that the producers will take note: "Music's a highway, I want to ride it all night long." Forget this stop-and-go format that is unfair to the artists, the audience, and, especially, to anyone with a big booger that needs a bit of classic finger-picking.

First published in Drop-D Magazine on October 24, 1996

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