When it comes to attending a live Hawksley Workman performance, not only are you subject to what feels like a musical experiment, but you’re part of a big family for a couple hours. I’ve seen him play more times than I can count on one hand and it’s never the same show twice. He draws you in with stories, anecdotes and banter that are more than just filler between songs. I would compare his shows to those times you have a large family gathering at your house. There’s a considerable living room, but you all end up squished together in the kitchen, listening to your outrageous Uncle tell all his crazy stories. Hawksley Workman is that uncle.
October 29th was no exception. The turn out was surprisingly small and I made it to the front with ease. Front right, my favorite spot at the Commodore Ballroom. As Hawksley, Mr. Lonely, and the rest of the band filtered on to the stage, you could feel the energy levels rise.
If there’s one thing I love about this man, its that he’s full of surprises. He’s currently touring on ‘Old Cheetah’ but he opened up with ‘Tonight Romanticize the Automobile,’ a track from over a decade ago. In hindsight, that song was foreshadowing of the night’s obscure set list.
After a couple more songs, HW took pause. He told us he had a special guest and over the last while, they had spent a lot of time together. In fact, ‘a lot of time drinking wine in our pajamas’ was his exact phrasing. Right then, we know who to expect. Mounties’ partner and Vancouver resident, Steve Bays appears and ‘Teenage Cats’ is in full swing, daring us to move freely.
Mirrored by Hawksley’s evening attire (black tank top, jeans and a toque), the set was stripped down and inviting. We were taken through a time warp, back to albums like (…Last Night We Were) The Delicious Wolves, Treeful of Starling and other gems. The unique twist was the conscious decision to avoid playing all the ‘hits.’ It was the little, under-the-radar songs like Bullets, Baby Mosquito and Ilfracombe that made me realize just how intimate this was going to be. Always a gentleman, HW thanked us for singing along, and commented that we truly were a ‘rowdy bunch.’
Later, Ryan Dahle, also a Mounties counterpart, joined the stage and kicked into some stellar guitar work. Going back to back with Hawksley, they riffed, twanged and tore. One thing that truly stood out in this performance was the intense guitar solos and the attention paid to them. Its no secret HW will go off on a tangent when the moment strikes him, but this heavy guitar work was new and intriguing. Like I said earlier, never the same show twice.
The regular band returned, and after a string of songs from the new album, they closed the show. Before they were even off stage, we were begging for an encore.
Not one to make us wait, HW returned with Steve Bays and Ryan Dahle in tow. As they tested a few chords, Hawksley said ‘Yeah, let’s play it soft. Just like that.’ A very gentle, melodic version of ‘Tokyo Summer’ played without any sort of electronic accompaniment. Mounties was never my favorite HW endeavor but this rendition was something special. In true form, ‘Smoke, Baby’ was the last song of the encore. It was evident that everyone was trying to soak in the last moments of the night. Singing a little harder and smiling a little bigger. I think we all silently agreed there would have been no better ending, to an evening in the kitchen.
1. Tonight Romanticize the Automobile
2. Don’t Take Yourself Away (Instant Nostalgia)
3. Teenage Cats
4. Baby Mosquito
7. Clever Not Beautiful
8. Dirty & True
9. Paper Shoes
10. Old Bloody Orange
11. When the Ocean was a Seashore
12. Unknown (‘The snow came too late.’)
13. Song For Sarah Jane
14. All the Trees are Hers
15. It’s Really Starting to Snow
16. Make Up Your Mind Tonight
17. Winter Bird
18. We’re Not Broken Yet
19. Tokyo Summer
20. Safe and Sound
21. Smoke, Baby.
And what would we do in our last moment in time?
Would we make love, or make haste to a mobile phone?
Or would we break bread, drink the blood that is shed, and pray to our god?