How, for argument’s sake, might you define the “perfect live show”? Certainly, the worth of the music itself is purely a matter of taste, but is there perhaps some criteria for determining those things that separate a good concert from an indelible classic?
How about when the performer not only plays every song that you (reasonably) hope to hear, but also works said songs in at exactly the right points within the set? (I can’t speak for anyone else reading this piece, but I almost always find myself naming off the neglected cuts I wish they’d played, or at least compulsively re-ordering the set-list for maximum impact, once the house lights come up.) Scoring seats good enough that you can decipher the artist’s facial expressions without the aid of a JumboTron or a pair of binoculars? A unique, intimate venue? Banter that’s funny and illuminating and seamlessly integrated with the material? A few inspired covers thrown in for good measure? A show duration of two-ish hours that generates excitement from start to finish—not just good bang for your buck? And, as icing on the cake, a quick chat with the performer afterwards that doesn’t require waiting for hours in the parking lot and/or bribing a member of the road crew?
Checking all of the above boxes and then some was Kathleen Edwards’ recent appearance (with life/musical partner Colin Cripps) at the Victoria Conservatory of Music’s Alix Goolden Hall, a converted, 1890-built Methodist church boasting to-die-for acoustics, about which Edwards wryly quipped, “It’s an honor to get to play a room that’s not a bar.” If you weren’t one of the lucky 650 or so witnesses on hand, you missed something pretty special. But, alas, there’s still hope: After finishing off the opening, Pacific Northwestern leg of their tour here on Vancouver Island, Edwards and Cripps are headed East and gearing up to perform in cities from their home province of Ontario to New Hampshire to Florida. Buy tickets now.
Of course, the quality of the music on display was no surprise—all three of Edwards’ full-lengths are top-shelf, and each of the last two arguably better than the one that preceded it. Rather, what caught this professed fan off-guard was just how thoroughly charming and legitimately funny Edwards came off between numbers; her back-and-forth with the decidedly less loquacious Cripps veered toward Lorelai-and-Luke (Gilmore Girls) territory. Early on, she relayed an anecdote from a couple tour stops ago, at a casino (“another place I never thought I’d play”) in Washington State where they performed for two nights. Long story short, she came out ahead on their first stab at post-concert gambling, and in turn, treated her guitarist husband to a manicure. (“How did it feel?” asked Edwards semi-rhetorically; “Manly,” deadpanned Cripps in response.) On night two, he got lucky at the roulette wheel “and he didn’t buy me anything”. Then, appropriately and without missing a beat: “This song’s called ‘Asking for Flowers’”.
So it went throughout the evening, as our heroine waxed wittily on several divergent subject matters: Her Christmas spent performing for Canadian Forces in Kabul (“As a woman in front of so many men, I was a little bit intimidated,” Edwards confessed, “they hadn’t seen ‘you-know-what’ for a long time and I have, like, 80 songs about [quote fingers] my feelings”); a failed attempt to take up running as a hobby, as a segue into the Asking for Flowers highlight “Run” (for the record, a deadly combination of thickened calves, increased appetite, funky odors at the gym, and running’s natural high working at odds with her somber, introspective aesthetic persuaded her to throw in the towel); and “the single biggest void in my life” (not being able to own a pet due to frequent touring—though, she happily announced during the encore, she just arranged to adopt a cat from a Washington animal shelter adjacent to a gas station).
The humor and personality behind Edwards’ tangents—most of them tied, in one way or another, to her songs or songwriting process—proved endearing enough that even my terminally country-averse wife (who, prior to the concert, complained that Edwards was dull on record and wondered if she would nod off during the show) agreed afterward that we’d seen something extraordinary. For me, the banter was a very nice bonus; the actual music in question could’ve hardly sounded better.
From the ghostly, spare folk numbers like “Alicia Ross” and “Scared at Night” (both of which, among a few others, Edwards performed solo) to the more rock-leaning tracks that I was afraid would lose punch without the collective muscle of a full band, everything worked exquisitely. When Edwards and Cripps finished off the main set with a cover of Merle Haggard’s “Are the Good Times Really Over” (intended, with tongue in cheek, to “soothe the right-winger’s soul” on the eve of the Obama inauguration) and “Back to Me” (her “Before He Cheats”, released before “Before He Cheats”), the secular congregation at the Alix Goolden Hall seemed on the verge of something like a revival. Then finally, as the fourth track of their encore, they played Neil Young’s “Only Love Can Break Your Heart”. I’d be hard-pressed to think of a more fitting Young song for Edwards to sing, or for a lovelier note on which to close such a spectacularly lovely show—perfect, or about as close to it as I’ve ever seen.