I feel I should preface this concert review by saying it was written by a jaded old man who grew up in the nineties and is pretty sure that the children of today have doomed our popular culture to consist mostly of mindless drivel. It’ll be pertinent, I swear.
On this night, the Corona Theatre was packed with teenage girls and preppie boys. Based on the crowd, you may have thought you were about to witness a pre-fab pop group dole out songs that use the words “baby” like James Hetfield uses “yeah.” But that wasn’t the case at all: this was a showcase of two twenty-five-year-old English songwriters, people who write their own music and play their own instruments. In other words: musicians.
First up was Barns Courtney. This folk and southern rock musician walked out on stage with the bravado of a seasoned veteran. If Jake Bugg is John Lennon singing Johnny Cash songs, then Barns Courtney is Tom Waits singing Johnny Cash songs. He seems just as natural singing toe-tappers like “Glitter & Gold” as he does giving a haunting rendition of “Goodbye John Smith,” the latter of which displays the soul of a much older and more experienced songwriter.
Courtney walked onstage a relative unknown to the crowd, but won them over more and more with every song. The murmurs in the crowd, typical during an opening act, dissipated throughout his set, and the ovation he received as he left the stage was worthy of a headliner.
The reception Tom Odell received when he walked out on stage was nothing short of Beatles-esque. He had an awkward, boyish, British charm, wearing a vest that’s clearly too big for him. He sat shyly at his piano and let the music do the talking, opening with an emotional yet upbeat performance of “Still Getting Used To Being On My Own.” Watching him go from quiet to loud, from tickling the ivories to pounding on his instruments, you can’t help but think of a young Elton John (well, at least one that can write a tune as well as sing it.) He doesn’t have the same level of flair, but replaces it with a quiet vulnerability.
He followed with the more upbeat and ethereal “I Know.” His band kicked in harder and was reminiscent of early Coldplay before they shifted more to the pop side of pop rock. The title track to his new album Wrong Crowd brought the decibel level in the crowd up with a massive screech.
The set was an even mix, promoting his new material and including songs from his debut Long Way Down. The crowd seemed quite savvy to the new material. His crowd banter was so soft-spoken and polite, the crowd was ready to make him an honourary Canadian.
“Grow Old With Me” and “Another Love” were crowd favorites that brought the first set to a roaring end. There wasn’t a second that he was off stage when the cheers from the crowd dipped in volume. Like the Grinch, this reviewer’s heart grew three sizes seeing the amount of appreciation being given to good musicianship.
The three-song encore ended with hit single “Magnetized,” sending the crowd home happy, but wishing it wasn’t over. He took a bashful bow and waved to an electrified crowd. There is hope in music.
Written by Richard Brunette
Photography by Eric Brisson Eric Brisson Photography
*edited by Kate Erickson