The young performer has plenty of room to grow, but the charisma he exudes is certainly half the battle in advancing his career.
Music, Published on Mon Mar 23 2015
Tobias Jesso Jr.
At the Drake Hotel Underground, Sunday, March 22.
Tobias Jesso Jr. knows how to charm his audience.
About a half-hour prior to Sunday’s show at the Drake Underground, the 29-year-old Vancouver-born piano balladeer wasn’t holed up in a change room somewhere, fighting butterflies or playing whatever mental games performers use to psych themselves up to take to the stage.
No, the former bass player of The Sessions was out mingling with the sold-out audience who had paid to see him: shaking hands, offering hugs, signing copies of his acclaimed debut album Goon and talking about his music.
His 55-minute set, consisting largely of material from that album, was pretty similar in nature, save for the shaking hands and offering hugs bit, as he proved to be an adept conversationalist with a decent sense of humour, and one who wasn’t afraid to publically fess up his flaws, considering — his trio of appearances at SXSW this past week included — that this is his first tour and these are some of his first ever solo shows.
“I just got back from SXSW where I screwed up a song five times,” he told the partisan crowd of hipsters near the start of his 10 p.m. performance. “You guys will be getting better than that tonight, at least.”
Later he identified “True Love” as the culprit just prior to its performance, and yes, he performed it flawlessly.
But his predilection for spontaneity was first evident in his opening number, the John Lennon-esque “Can We Still Be Friends.”
Midway through the song, Jesso played a chord progression familiar to fans of the TV show Cheers.
“This is the ‘Cheers’ theme cameo; I swear I didn’t know that when I wrote it,” he joked, then continued with the singing.
Another sample of his deadpan humour: “My ex-girlfriend and her new husband are in the audience tonight. Excuse me while I write a song.”
While he may have a flair for stand-up comedy, Jesso’s music has been the magnet that has attracted the attention of such luminaries as Adele, Girls’ Chet “JR” White and The Black Keys’ Patrick Carney for collaboration or praise.
Jesso’s songs are as straightforward and as simple as they come: very basic melodies that have no subtext or hidden meaning beyond what the singer and songwriter is expressing. Whether they’re exceptional songs is a matter of opinion, but what’s undeniable is the additional soulfulness Jesso brings as a performer.
Using his electric grand piano as his palette (he also switched to guitar for a couple of numbers, including “The Wait”), Jesso sang with added intensity and urgency when it was called for, and the crowd response of rapt attention was so impressive you could have heard a pin drop.
The Adele favourite “How Could You Babe,” “Just a Dream” and “Without You” all jumped out with stronger force than the song before it, relying on Jesso’s confidence and focus as the propellant, thus building the show’s momentum to its eventual apex with “Hollywood,” a rare tune in the Tobias Jesso Jr. catalogue that had little to do with romance.
It’s obvious that Jesso has plenty of room to grow as a writer, performer and showman, but the charisma he exudes is certainly half the battle in advancing his career.
Whether the informal atmosphere of his current show continues as he eventually graduates to bigger venues and hires a band remains to be seen, but there will probably be a day in the not-too-distant future where patrons who attended the concert will reminisce nostalgically, sigh, and perhaps boast a little, in declaring, “We saw Tobias Jesso Jr. back before he was…”