Monday, October 11, 2010

Elizabeth Shepherd & Mike Evin, Le Divan Orange, 10/10/10

I'm more often performing for small, intimate audiences than I am a member of them. Seeing pianist/vocalist/songwriters Mike Evin and Elizabeth Shepherd populated by two handfuls of people felt like a very special communal experience. Thanksgiving Sunday's show at Le Divan Orange was a revelation for me, and everyone else that witnessed it.

I walked in during the second song of Mike's set. He's a very funny, affable guy and his songs are usually full of humour. His lyrics can be about domestication ("I Only Want to Brush my Teeth With You") and vignettes of life ("Shuffleboard Prince"), over chord progressions that hearken back to early Elton John and boogie-woogie piano. The only other time I've seen Mike was when I opened for him and Andy Creeggan at a house concert, so I've seen him interact with small audiences before. Playing on Divan's often-ignored upright piano added to the homey feel. Mike just finished a new album that has not been released yet, and from the tunes he played, there will be a gorgeous ballad on it called "Taking You With Me."

I've seen Elizabeth Shepherd twice before, in two very different settings: once at Maison du Jazz, and once at a packed Supermarket club in Toronto during the final IAJE conference. This show was far more conversational and confessional than the others; with a small but highly attentive audience, Elizabeth introduced her tunes with stories and insight that I had never known. Battling a cold ("I find it adds a touch of class to blow my nose onstage," she joked), her voice was still in great form and her piano playing was the anchor of the band. Her music has shifted from the overt jazz influences of Start to Move to tightly constructed, sophisticated pop songs on Heavy Falls the Night. It was the first of the three shows I've seen where she played exclusively her own compositions. Drummer Colin Kingsmore and bassist Scott Kemp have been her rhythm section for years, and their familiarity with each other is showing - Colin was really opening up the feel on her often odd-metered tunes. Colin and Scott were also singing backup, which added a welcome layer to the sound.

Elizabeth has been playing some small venues on this tour, and like someone else wrote on her Facebook page, "it was like having a Juno nominee in my living room." It was truly that way at Divan: embracing the people that were there and paying attention, Elizabeth and Mike offered their music, and themselves, letting us few listeners in on their secrets.