Sound Advice inaugurated its modest new performance space this past Saturday with a pretty full house showing up to hear Jon Brooks, a singer/songwriter/guitarist from King City, Ontario. The space itself, while unprepossessing, was entirely appropriate for a small gathering, and the intimacy of the surroundings meant that the sound system was almost unnecessary, though in the end the electronics allowed for projection without strain. The management also made refreshments available. The cozy room also led to an easy communication between Brooks and his audience, an audience that seemed predisposed to empathy and which was not at all disappointed by either the music or the patter that anticipated or clarified the musical material.
Brooks is an eminently competent guitarist who resorts to some reasonably novel approaches at times (using slaps at various locations on an open-tuned scale as well as the lower bout of the guitar, lots of different open tunings and a capo that rose to dizzying heights at times) and who employed electronic enhancements in subtle and judicious ways to enrich his sound without ever becoming anything of a focus. He has a convincing voice with about the right amount of rasp to give an edge to his delivery, and managed throughout his two sets to vary pace and mood in such a way as to avoid the tedium than can sometimes set in with limited instrumentation.
There was much interaction with the gathered listeners including some dialogue about the content of some of the songs as well as references to various people and places in a way that elicited mostly appreciative laughter. The music harkened back to some classic folk repertory from the era of protest, though Brooks penned most of the material himself: he performed Buffy Ste.-Marie’s Universal Soldier, but in his own material, there were echoes of Phil Ochs, Tim Hardin, and bits of Dylanesque rhyme smithing woven through the songs.
Brooks was pretty up front about being a story teller and leaving the interpretation to the listener, though it was pretty clear where he stands on issues ranging from the militarization of Canadian society to the debasement of language. There was a song early in the first set about the many people who are miscast in their work roles, including a bit of a shot at Don Cherry (though the sportscasters with political opinions could just as well be Dave Zirin or Keith Olberman), all of which elicited considerable comment and not a little hilarity. At no time did it really seem as though Brooks was preaching, but rather laying out a situation and calling on the listener to process the lyrics in his or her own fashion.
So it was also with the considerable Canadian content woven throughout the performance, references to people, places and events uniquely Canadian that somehow carry hints of a more general and universal meaning to those wanting to make the connection. Brooks’ evocative and somewhat self-deprecating sense of humour paced both the songs and the accompanying discourse in a way that gave a social unity to the whole performance.
At the end of the performance, he was quite willing to play an encore, but put the gathering on notice with a comment that he was ready because everyone gets an encore in Toronto, accompanied by what might have passed for a wink and a nod. The whole show had a relaxed, jolly and folksy character to it and was well worth the reasonably modest price of admission.
Thanks to Sound Advice for putting the event on and to Jon Brooks for a fine show.
Jon’s music is available through is web site (http://www.jonbrooks.ca/) and through iTunes Canada.
Expect another show in February.