Ben Caplan, Graydon James & The Young Novelists/Harlan Pepper
January 5th & 12th, 2012. Jimmy Jazz.
Two shows. Two consecutive Thursdays. Same venue. Same opening act. Based on the last two points I figured I roll my first two live show reviews into one. I’m consolidating the two shows featuring Ben Caplan, solo, as the opening act that were brought to us by Kaleidoscope Promotions, and performed at Jimmy Jazz. The first show saw Hamilton band Harlan Pepper closing out the night on January 5th, 2012 and the second being January 12th featuring Toronto band Graydon James & The Young Novelists.
That Crazy Gypsy
We’ll start with the opener both bands shared, Ben Caplan. If you already read my 2011 wrap up, you know how I feel about him. He’s not marketable in mainstream ways, but he doesn’t have to be. His hair, beard mostly, is almost so long it’s ridiculous. With some performers this could distract you from what most live music fans would call the important things, the music & the performance. But with Caplan it actually makes you curious. As soon as he walks on stage you’re intrigued, and then the music starts. His songs start with great storytelling that would make some of the greatest song writers jealous. Then they are mixed with an arrangement that allows the music to be performed on piano, guitar, sometimes banjo (if someone in the audience has one handy), saxophone or with his full backing band, The Casual Smokers. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing all of these things happen and the music was perfectly executed, not necessarily played, every time.
Which brings us to stage presence and performance. Ben Caplan is overflowing with both and his energy spills out onto the stage and out through the audience like he’s trying to drown you. I was at his November show in Guelph by accident and couldn’t take my eyes of him. I can’t quite put my finger on what he does to demand your attention. It could be the way he shakes his head, losing his glasses at least three times per show. It could be the way he emotionally tears his undersized suit jacket off at the peak of his second last song. I really can’t say. What I can say is that everything about Ben Caplan is unique in a way that that you know you were entertained, start to finish, throughout his set, but you’re not really sure why.
The Young Novelists Do More Than Write Great Songs
Featured as the headliner for the January 12th show, were Toronto band, Graydon James & The Young Novelists. I had seen the band open for Guelph band Among Millions, back in November. I have to say, I wasn’t a huge fan. I’m not sure if I was off, or maybe they were off. I have no idea. What I can say now is that my first impression was wrong! It seemed on this given night in January that a lot of people came to see Ben Caplan, as the crowd seemed to thin out considerably. If you stayed, good on you. If not, you missed out. Their music is an acoustic mix of rock that could be cherished by rock, folk and country fans alike. They mix up the faster tempos to keep people dancing and swaying until it’s time to slow things down, before they take you back up. I really love a live performance with a dynamic set list. Veteran bands will tell you. You can’t play at 11 all the time. Graydon James & The Young Novelists nailed it!
Musically they had improved by leaps and bounds about the previous time I had seen them. I know they are currently recording an album but they could have saved themselves the trouble and just recorded their set this past Thursday. They couldn’t have sounded tighter. As I said, the crowd did seem to dwindle, but it didn’t seem to matter. The Young Novelists played with fantastic energy, playing for thirty or fourty like they were playing for two hundred. A great performance, that kept my eyes on the stage, connecting with them in a way I couldn’t before. If Graydon James & The Young Novelists are going to work this hard to improve as a live band, there is no doubt in my mind that they’ll be around for a long time. I look forward to seeing them again and I have a feeling they’ll be even better!
The Kids Are Alright
Relax everyone, I am not using the word ‘kid’ as any kind of negative connection with Hamilton band, Harlan Pepper, and they are more than just ‘alright’. [Editors Note: For those of you that are musically challenged, ‘The Kids Are Alright‘ is the name of a song, recorded by The Who, in 1965.] Jimmy Jazz saw a packed house on January 5th, with good reason. Harlan Pepper‘s song-to-song styles vary from blues, folk, rock & country that are all done with a sound I can only describe as BIG! Their songs, while sometimes thoughtful and slower paced, have an anthem quality to them.
For a four piece band, barely 20 years old, they write and perform at a level beyond them in years. They keep their subject matter close to what they know, the Great Lakes, for example, but the music that accompanies the lyrics is nothing short amazing, no matter their age, or the listeners age. If you closed your eyes and listened you would probably picture a veteran band, like The Sadies, in the place of Harlan Pepper. They have a song-writing maturity and live sound that takes most bands years to perfect. The band’s stage presence is amazing as well. On a small stage, like that at Jimmy Jazz, they were a well oiled machine, always knowing where the other members were and sharing the spotlight accordingly. If you get a chance to see them opening for Elliot Brood in the next little while I highly recommend it.