Maybe it was the Templeton Rye... maybe it was an unusually attentive audience at what is quickly becoming one of my favorite venues in the city... Whatever it was, Kathleen Edwards was on fire Thursday night at Lincoln Hall.
Let's start by saying simply that WXRT picked a great night to record. The evening's emcee, Frank E. Lee, informed the crowd that the show was indeed being recorded to air on the radio in a future broadcast. So that's nice... because frankly, I'd like to hear it again.
I've only seen Kathleen Edwards once before and it was in a very short set at the worst venue in the state (three or four songs at Farm Aid in 2005 at the then Tweeter Center in Tinley Park). And I loved it. I've wanted to see her in a full set ever since. So I was pretty excited about Thursday night's show and it was absolutely worth the wait.
Opening with "Empty Threat" (the first track on her new album Voyageur), Edwards fronted a six piece band and set the tone for the evening with her outstanding voice and heartfelt lyrics. It never ceases to amaze me how great vocalists like Edwards (and opener Hannah Georgas for that matter) can make something so difficult seem so effortless.
Kathleen is not only compelling as a performer but also as a personality. In recognition of the fact that Thursday's show was a sell out, Edwards rehashed with the audience memories of performing at smaller venues throughout the city like Martyrs' and Schubas, even referencing a show at a half full Park West and a slot opening for My Morning Jacket at The Vic. It's always nice when an artist makes the effort and takes the time to connect with the audience on something small like this that both can relate to.
She's also quite witty. While it may not quite make an episode of "VH1 Storytellers," it was nevertheless pretty funny when Edwards introduced "Pink Champagne" as a song about puking before a show in Calgary in 2008.
In heading back to her 2003 debut Failer for "Hockey Skates," Edwards first addressed the crowd with her thoughts on the state of bourbon and a recent change of heart she's had with a newfound taste for Templeton Rye. "Growing up Canadian, we drank a lot of Canadian Club. Canadian Club used to be rye based... now it's just... horsesh-t." And despite the humor, the song expressed a vulnerability that remains startling almost ten years after it was originally released.
And that was a trend throughout the night. Despite wrapping the set in a dark sense of humor, Kathleen Edwards (recently divorced) delivered her songs (frequently about heartbreak) in a raw and emotional fashion, often opting to stare up or out as opposed to directly at the crowd.
This night was all about the music. My favorite moment of the show came as Edwards picked up the violin for "A Soft Place to Land." With guitar still hung around her neck, Edwards played violin to start the song before switching midway back to guitar.
While the solo performances were solid, Edwards' unique chemistry with her band is what drove the set for me. Her lead guitarist, Gord Tough, is outstanding and Edwards clearly feeds off of his playing. When she's not at the mic singing, she spends most of her time on Tough's side of the stage staring daggers as the two trade off guitar licks. "Change the Sheets" ended the main set and was a great example of this. It was the show's most rocking moment and the crowd reacted in sort as the new single garnered one of the best crowd reactions of the night.
I still can't decide if this was just an usually respectful crowd or if it's the impeccable sound at Lincoln Hall but whatever the case, this was one of the best crowd's that I've experienced a concert with in a while. Nobody was checking their phones (Lincoln Hall is quite dark so it would've been obvious) and for the most part, there was an astounding lack of stupid stuff yelled out during the show. For some reason, I was bracing myself for what I feared could be an onslaught of Candian references drunkenly hurled toward the stage from the audience... But alas, not a single referece to Molson XXX, Tim Hortons, Bryan Adams or hockey that I picked up. This was refreshing (and vastly different from my experience in 2011 while seeing Rush at the United Center). Pat yourself on the back, Chicago.
Hannah Georgas (who both opened the show and joined Edwards on backing vocals during the encore) mentioned it during her opening set as she thanked the crowd for being "respectful." The Canadian singer-songwriter fingerpicked her electric guitar alongside keyboard and electronic drum beats for a rewarding thirty five minute set.
A new song entitled "My Million" was my personal favorite. The biting sarcasm of Georgas lyrics like "If he can do it / what the f-ck / How come I can't?" is something all of us have probably related to at some time or another.
A partial setlist follows below.