Uplifting Peter Katz Evening at Meaford Hall

Review by Bill Monahan of Peter Katz at Meaford Hall, Sat., Feb. 4, 2016

“I’m sure Al didn’t expect such an elaborate setup from  a solo singer-songwriter,” said Peter Katz on Saturday night near the end of his concert in the Meaford Hall Gallery.  It may have been elaborate but none of it was superfluous.  A string of white lights framing the small stage and spiraling up the microphone stand, with a few clear light bulbs, their filaments glowing, created a sense of intimacy even before the concert began.  There was a guitar, a keyboard and a board full of guitar pedals.  The way he used those pedals, mostly loopers, was more than impressive, it was moving.  Peter Katz has such a clear concept of how he sounds, and such precise control over the looping pedals, which he used to layer both his guitar and voice, he creates a sonic palette that immediately draws the audience in.  On top of that he made effective use of the reverb on his voice to create an emotional ambience that enchanted listeners from the first “Ooooh…”

It’s true that he performed as a solo, but in reality he was part of a duo, the other part being our resident soundman Al Burnham.  Visiting artists invariably express their appreciation from the stage for Meaford Hall’s sound crew, but an artist like Peter Katz, with his strong reliance on the quality of his sound, could be completely undermined by an incompetent sound engineer and the opposite happened on Saturday night.  In essence, a live sound engineer is as much a musician as the performers are.  It’s all about the ears, and our Meaford Hall crew have great ears.  The result for the audience in the gallery on Saturday night was magic.

This venue is so much more intimate than the Opera House and it was a perfect fit for the type of performance that Peter Katz has perfected.  The carefully crafted sonic setting would have been impressive on its own terms but it was applied to songs that were heartfelt and sincere.  As the evening progressed a change in the audience was palpable.  Everyone was drawn into the emotional veracity of the songs and there was a sense that we all shared what he was feeling.  Clearly, he could sense it too, as he became more open with every song.  I don’t know if every Peter Katz concert is like this, but it sure was a special experience for the people lucky enough to be there on Saturday.

We needed it.  You can’t turn on the TV or the Internet these days without hearing something about the new U.S. presidency, and it can be terribly disturbing.  The level of cynicism and disrespect for all people that is demonstrated by Trump and his supporters (whether or not you believe that he will actually make America great again) wounds the souls of people who care about people.  Peter Katz provided a bit of healing.

He is hopeful and he believes in the power of the human spirit.  In his introduction to “We Are The Reckoning” the title song from his latest album, he said “We know the world is complicated but we still are going to walk toward the light.”  For those few hours, he was our pied piper on that journey.

It was fun.  Part way through he felt comfortable enough to risk a little ribald humour that had everyone giggling, including himself, breaking up halfway through the next song when a lyric seemed to expand on his joke.  By the end of the concert the audience was boisterously teasing him.  Each of us was feeling happy to be alive, with our hearts opened up and breathing fresh air.

The concert culminated on an emotional and inspirational high with his tribute to the singularly talented violinist, Oliver Schroer.  He stepped in front of the microphones to share his song “Oliver’s Tune” in a very personal way, without the electronics that had so greatly enhanced his performance to that point.  “You can take a break on this on, Al,” he said.

He told us how he had played the violin for years and thought he knew what it was about until he heard an Oliver Schroer recording.  He became an instant fan and followed everything that the violinist did after that, always praising his abilities to anyone who would listen.  And then Schroer was stricken with leukemia, with a very brief time left to him before the disease would take his life.  What Peter found so inspiring was that, instead of being angry, scared or saddened by the news, Oliver was comforted by the knowledge that he had spent his entire life doing exactly what he wanted to do.  Just a few weeks before his death he played a final concert before a thousand people who had come from all around the world to hear him one more time in the beautiful Trinity Church in Toronto (where the Cowboy Junkies had recorded their breakthrough album in 1988), a concert that went on for three hours.  Peter explained that as he goes through the ups and downs of daily life, he uses this song not only to remind himself that he too is living the life he wants to live, but that he is lucky enough to share it here and now with people who spent their hard-earned money and gave up their Saturday night to listen to him.

When it ended the audience leapt to their feet, stomped and whistled.  This was no obligatory call for an encore; it was an outpouring of emotion and gratitude for what he had brought us.

So he came back with his second cover song of the night (the first was an impressive version of Beyonce’s “Halo”), which he feels is the most perfect song ever written: “What a Wonderful World”, performed in a way that brought out the promise of the lyrics almost equal to Satchmo.  Then he “rocked the house” with a final tune, jumping around, up on a chair and down again, in a celebration of being alive.

And at the end we all felt that we had experienced an effective antidote to the malaise of our times.

This was the second in the Meaford Hall Gallery Concert Series.  The next one will be Franny Wisp and her Washboard on Feb. 25th.

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