Without ex-husband and ex-bandmate, rising star fills void with passionate performance.
Heartbreak can be an inspiring catalyst.
Since 2008’s Asking For Flowers, singer and songwriter Kathleen Edwards endured a divorce that not only provided fodder for her recently released Voyageur, but also placed her in a bit of a quandary.
Whether on record or on stage, there was always a sense that the luminous chemistry between Edwards and consummate guitarist Colin Cripps — her ex, and now former band mate — was more than simply musical: Cripps served as the reliable anchor and soundboard that Edwards would use as a live foil, spurring her to heightened performance, a telepathic push me-pull you dynamic that offered the impression you were witnessing a true partnership in action.
To her credit, Edwards’ performance Saturday night before a packed house at the Phoenix was as much a declaration of ownership as it was a celebrated homecoming.
The interaction between Edwards and new guitarist Gord Tough throughout the nearly two-hour concert wasn’t nearly as riveting, despite her numerous attempts to engage, but Tough was up to the task, offering polish and shine as overall counterpoints to Cripps’ rough and ragged contribution, and it worked out tremendously.
In fact, the most notable differences were the command and power Edwards demonstrated in performing her uniquely blended folk-country pop.
By the time she had finished a rollicking version of her second song, Voyageur’s “Chameleon/Comedian” with her glorious five-piece band that included supporting act Hannah Georgas singing back-up, the Ottawa native and GTA resident had served notice we were in for an evening of fire ’n’ frenzy.
The flames were particularly stoked during a mesmerizing rendition of “Goodnight, California,” in which Edwards took a page from the Neil Young book of song delivery, stretching her melancholy dirge with a wondrous violin solo, capped by a searing solo by axe man Tough — a six-minute bout of splendour that may have been her finest moment on a Toronto stage.
Another sublime moment: the solo, acoustic intimacy of her classic “Hockey Skates,” performed without her other familiar foil, Jim Bryson, her usual song duet partner who was home celebrating his daughter’s birth.
In-Flight Safety keyboardist Dan Ledwell didn’t sing, but Bryson’s musical surrogate performed so solidly through the evening that Edwards’ “awesome band,” as she put it, never missed a step.
As with any Kathleen Edwards performance, music is only one aspect of the equation: a spontaneous, heart-on-sleeve raconteur, she came close to tears as she described memories as a Hamilton homeowner before singing the aching “House Full Of Empty Rooms.” She’s also humourous, introducing the confessional “Pink Champagne” as “a song about drinking too much in Calgary and barfing all over the street” rather than one with more sober implications.
Her elfin charm enabled the audience to forgive and forget her lyrical lapse during “Back To Me” and “Six O’Clock News;” impressed instead by the passion and promise of a now-veteran artist who has paid her dues and is more than ready for the big leagues.