Ron Sexsmith Charms at National Arts Centre Performance
It’s always refreshing when a well-known artist with considerable talent strays from the norm, forgoing the bells and whistles of flashy lights or costume changes and making the music the center of attention instead of themselves. Even more so when said artist is self-effacing to a fault, which only ends up making you admire them even more. Ron Sexsmith has a knack for doing both.
Sexsmith played an intimate show at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa this past Saturday, April 29th. The concert is an early leg of his current tour to promote “The Last Rider”, his 13th solo album but the first for which he has taken the reigns as producer.
Juno-nominated special guest Lori Cullen opened the show with “Miracle Home”, her no-nonsense voice subtly grabbing everyone’s attention with her signature smooth combination of jazz and pop. Lori sang many tracks from “Sexsmith Swinghammer Songs”, an album that Ron Sexsmith and Lori’s husband Kurt Swinghammer co-wrote especially for her. With elements of Norah Jones and Joni Mitchell, her performance is equal parts sultry and jovial. She kept up the familiar and personal atmosphere by playfully insisting that none of her stories “leave the theatre”.
Sexsmith took the stage with little fanfare, getting straight down to it and opening the show with “It Won’t Last for Long”. The set was quite the mix of Sexsmith’s works, mostly featuring songs from his latest album. Also included were a few tracks from his second record, “Other Songs”, celebrating it’s 20th anniversary this year. While most of his new songs keep to the traditional acoustic sound of his previous work, many of his newer songs are a slight departure from his typical formula, opting for almost rock-like electric guitar, heavy beat and quick pace.
Sexsmith’s crooning vocals were supplemented with a strong support system of Don Kerr on drums, Jason Mercer on bass and Kevin Lacroix on guitar, as well as lilting melodies by Dave Matheson on the piano.
All production extras were kept minimal, letting the focus remain on the music. The backdrop of the performance consisted just three projector screens. Each displayed a photo of select individual letters from the 3D TORONTO sign in Nathan Phillips Square, together spelling out “Ron”. These later shifted to various still life images or album covers related to the song being performed and rotated throughout the show.
Sexsmith punctuated his set with self-deprecating jokes and stories of past collaborations with industry greats, such as Don Black and Steve Earle. Quick to poke fun at himself for never reaching the height of fame, he made sure to mention how his incredible talent was recently recognized when his song “Evergreen” hit number two on the charts…in Ireland. He quipped that he is always just “happy when people show up” to his performances.
All jokes aside, his modesty is yet another reason why Sexsmith is such a compelling musician. Widely considered by average listeners and fellow artists alike to possess a rare gift for song writing, he often camouflages his impressive talent, instead resisting the temptation to name drop and directing any attention or compliments towards the artists he surrounds himself with.
He also included a few anecdotes about his personal life. Having lived in Toronto’s Trinity-Bellwoods for decades, the singer has recently relocated to Stratford, ON with his family. Though overall pleased with the move, he bemoans having to leave the city he has come to know and love. His song “Man at the Gate (1913)” was inspired by a postcard of the area, but took on more personal meaning Sexsmith explains when he likened the man in the image to his present-day self being parted from his stomping grounds.
The audience was so impressed with the performance that they asked for an encore. Sexsmith happily obliged with three additional songs and had the crowd clapping along to the beat. He closed the show with a tribute to the late Leonard Cohen, who Sexsmith explained had a profound impact on him even before his music career took off. This was met with raucous applause to which he responded true to form with a simple thank you and a humble wave.
- It Won’t Last for Long
- Late Bloomer
- Breakfast Ethereal
- Pretty Little Cemetery
- The Idiot Boy
- Secret Heart
- Dead End Dream
- Big Backyard?
- Strawberry Blonde
- Man at the Gate (1913)
- Autumn Light
- Worried Song
- West Gwillimbury
- Whatever it Takes
- Gold in Them Hills
- Who We Are Right Now
- It’s a Long Ride?
- Not About to Lose
- Tell Me Again
- Brandy Alexander
- Dreams are Bigger
- Heart with No Companion