Last Saturday night I found myself waiting out in the cold for half an hour. I was not alone in braving the elements during our recent deep freeze, however. About 30 people were outside with me, along with close to a hundred more waiting in a line that stretched from the back room of the Rivoli right down Queen St. Some were there to hear Luke Doucet again, while others came to see what all the fuss has been about.
For guitar-slinger, crooner, and songwriter extraordinaire Doucet, this couldn’t be better news. A year ago you could walk into the Rivoli ten minutes before one of his shows and have little trouble finding a seat. These days there’s barely any standing room for latecomers. It seems good word of mouth and widespread media exposure (he’s been on the cover of NOW mag, and had a big feature article in the Toronto Star days earlier) have had a favourable effect on Doucet’s notoriety as an up-and-coming Canadian artist.
The recent Rivoli set was actually for the recording of a new live album, and included some new material along with songs from Doucet’s solo album Aloha, Manitoba and from his rock band Veal. It was an attempt to tap the energy of his live performances, which are the true forté of this talented young artist (who has been playing, amazingly enough, for nearly a decade, beginning with a stint in Sarah McLachlan’s backing band in 1993-and in true full-circle nature, Doucet will once again play guitar with the Canuck songbird on her world tour next year).
Although worthy in their own right with their unique blend of bluegrass, blues, and surfer-punk rock, Doucet’s studio recordings lack the fire and frenzy of his live shows and only offer only a tamed glimpse of his guitar virtuosity. Furthermore, it was also an opportunity to capture the charming banter of the singer with his audience that give his shows such a cozy feel and have made him a local favourite.
The live-off-the-floor session consisted of two 2-hour sets with Doucet backed by Blue Rodeo’s Bazil Donovan and Glenn Milchem on bass and drums, along with a second drummer, Paul Brennan. Doucet told the audience he was nervous making a recording, but none of that showed through in the music. His playing was as impeccably clean and passionate as ever, even as he still took a lot of risks, making the show an exciting spectacle full of impressively fast guitar riffs and strange, distorted, atmospheric sounds which made it seem that there was still a lot of experimentation and exploration going on. The presence of two drummers also added some interesting rhythmic effects to mix.
Ever the showman, Doucet got an enthusiastic response from the crowd when he sang into his guitar pick-up and hooked up the microphone through a telephone receiver to give his voice a grainy, crunchy sound. Also impressive were Doucet’s bluesy solo acoustic songs, which had a soulful and introspective quality.
There was a good vibe in the air that night, and as I looked around the room I could see many people enjoying themselves-dancing or swaying their heads to the music (be nice if more T.O. indie crowds would follow suit). If all goes well for Luke Doucet, this new live album will expand his popularity and finally break him into the mainstream, making long line-ups and packed concert halls even more likely for the future.