Thanks For Dropping By, Joel

Review by Bill Monahan of Joel Plaskett’s concert at Meaford Hall, Sept. 22, 2016

Joel Plaskett’s show at Meaford Hall last night was like a visit from an old friend, a friend who is glad to be back and has a lot of great stories to catch up on.  He’s been here before and there was a full house to welcome him, this time without his band Emergency.  He came bounding out on to the stage with an enthusiastic smile and after saying hello, with a dedication of the night’s music to the good folks at The Perogie Palace, where he’d had supper, he picked up a small acoustic guitar and began to sing.

Three songs into his first set he sang a song he’d learned from his father, “Hard Times Come Around No More”, that was heartfelt and rollicking at the same time.  But the rest of his show was all originals, and great originals they were, from an extensive back catalogue that much of the audience was well aware of.  He had an informal ease about him, as if he was chatting in the kitchen, and yet he never lost sight of the fact that he was there to entertain us, and the performance didn’t lag for a moment throughout the two sets.  A couple of times he told some fairly lengthy stories but they were good ones, and he kept strumming throughout to keep the sense of motion and to launch naturally into the song that the story was leading up to.  One was about driving through west Texas and ducking into a motel to take shelter from what looked like a looming tornado, hearing a woman in the next room having a dramatic phone conversation, and then writing a song about it.  Another was about how he has a grudge against Kelowna B.C. where he has performed a couple of times and has been treated pretty shabbily by the locals.  But he loved playing in Yellowknife this summer, and he loved to be back in Meaford.

Joel plays a pretty effective rhythm guitar but there’s nothing fancy about it and in that setting, alone in front of three hundred people, he needed very good songs to provide a compelling show.  Happily, he has no shortage of very good songs.  Every one had all the elements a good song requires, charming melodies and clever lyrics with a story to tell.  The imagery of his songs, all reflections of his life, is so effective that you come away from his concert feeling as if they are your own memories.  And he has an amazing facility with rhymes.  Often lyrics in a song stretch to rhyme, straying from any real meaning or lapsing into cliché, but that’s not the case with his songs.  They sometimes string together multiple rhymes, some of them pretty tricky (my favourite was when he rhymed “million” with “Neil Young”) but they are all perfectly apt and his rhyming leads him to evocative metaphors that stand on their own strength.  Late in the second set, he even rhymed a lyric with “Meaford”.  He spoke with admiration about iconic Canadian songwriters Gordon Lightfoot and Gord Downie, but he could rightfully consider himself their peers.

If his songs were all he had to offer that in itself would have been a good show but his charm and lack of pretension, his love of friends and family, his enthusiasm for living all came across so strongly that we all hated to see him go when it was over.  He didn’t keep us waiting too long to come out for an encore but even after that, when he finally bid us goodnight and they brought up the house lights a good portion of the audience remained standing and chanting “One more! One more!”

He didn’t see me, way back at the back of the balcony, but it felt like he was my buddy and I’m looking forward to the next time he drops by.

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