Wednesday, 11 November 2009

VIVIV/Ken Reaume at Holy Oak, October 29, 2009

Ken Reaume has never disappointed me in the music department, either live or recorded. His immense talent, skill, and passion define his songwriting, although you might not know it from his humble stage presence. Nevertheless, his performances explode with subtle emotion and energy. But he doesn't just write songs, he crafts them, and his work is as fine as any other craftsman I know. Unfortunately, like many craftsmen, Ken has worked in relative obscurity for much of the time since he first put his name out there.

Amid a recent explosion of talent and success in folk and similar music in Toronto, too few have caught on to Ken. And it's a damn shame, because when it comes to the music and the shows, I've rarely seen a performer so poised and with such charisma—who can so easily captivate an audience.

The setting for this show was new to me—and relatively new to the neighbourhood. Holy Oak is a café and bar transformed from a storefront in a diverse and run down section of Bloor St. W., near Lansdowne Ave. I had no idea what to expect going in, just surprise that another entrepreneur has decided to bring another hip space to the area (also new: 3Speed, Starving Artist, and Disgraceland). At first, I find it to be an underwhelming space. Maybe because it's night, the place doesn't seem to know quite what it is. It's all painted white and the lighting is uneven, but the atmosphere didn't appear to bother any of the few patrons. It reminds me of Montréal quite a bit, though, which pleases me a lot. My companions, Danijela, Jen, and Elly, wanted couches, but I think the space is just too small.

And it's quiet. The acoustic ceiling tiles (presumably held over from one of the place's previous lives) seem to absorb most sounds that originate from inside, and some kind of excellent sealing around the windows and doors prevents any noise from entering via the street. Without looking out the window, I hardly felt I was on a busy stretch of Bloor. It wasn't rush hour, but this place was really quiet. Still, they serve a good Americano, and various other refreshments went over well at our table. I can imagine spending a sunny autumn afternoon there, working by the window, or even just people-watching. But that's not why you're reading is it?

I mention the atmosphere because it had a part to play in the show itself: first, as I mentioned, the place was super-quiet, which was great for listening, but made every non-musical (e.g., audience) noise stand out and between-song talking awkward; second, because the place is a coffee house, with few seats, and something about the place made it feel strange as a musical venue—there's definitely no place to go if you want to have a conversation while a performance is happening. (But in fairness to everyone, only about 15 people attended the show, and a bigger crowd would change the dynamic of the place entirely.)

But on to the interesting stuff!

Ken played a shortish set, maybe ten songs, and most of it was new.

"Hiatus" is brooding, with a stomp beat, and a step away from the Leonard Cohen influence that I heard in his recent (but not new) stuff. Despite, the song consisting only of voice, guitar, and foot stomps, I hear a lot of things going on in "Hiatus". The song's repetitive picking creates a hypnotic rhythm that never quite reaches beyond the droning bass beat, and the whole thing feels a bit like shoegazer folk. The live version lacks the harmonies of the recording, but I didn't find it missing in performance.

"Sapling" could hardly be different. It's an uptempo strummed number—a significant departure from his usual arpeggio work. It shows much richer influence and range than anything I've heard from him before. It's so simple, but it evokes a full on rock'n'roll assault with only a Spanish guitar and a voice. The melody (and harmony in the recorded version) is like something Lennon and McCartney could have written, and Ride (along with a hundred others) would have stolen. Truly remarkable and new, and yet fully VIVIV.

In performance, there's no ignoring Ken. Sometimes his shows are well attended and other times not, but at all times, his audiences pay attention and notice. This show was no exception.

He says he'll be releasing a new record early in the new year. When he does, you'll probably be able to get it through his MySpace or Facebook pages. You can get his past releases at

Also, he's playing at Holy Oak again this Saturday, November 21. Don't miss it!


Anonymous said...

Ken's new stuff is amazing... and he's not bad to look at either. ;)

Danijela said...

Agreed, the show was magical. It really suited the atmosphere at The Holy Oak. A very intimate setting with a great artist!

Stewart C. Russell said...

I have recordings, but I'll let Ken vet them first.

It was a great show.

Adam Gorley said...

Thanks for the comments all. Ken sent me the songs, and you can listen to them now!

Anonymous said...

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now. Keep it up!
And according to this article, I totally agree with your opinion, but only this time! :)

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