Hawksley Workman

CMW 08: Hawksley Workman @ the Music Hall

For my third night of Canadian Music Week, I decided to finally find out for myself what Hawksley Workman is all about. For years, many people have told me about his amazing talents, but I've never had a chance to check him out for myself, so this year I decided to change all that.

For the most part, the rumours are true: Workman is an amazingly talented singer/multi-instrumentalist, and he's surrounded himself with a diversely talented band (the inventive violin/mandolin/guitarist was especially impressive) with which to tour his sixth album, Between the Beautifuls. You'd think that with all this incredible talent under one roof I'd have my socks rocked off, but after two and a half hours of watching these performers showing off I was surprised to find myself bored silly.

I think I was the only person in the audience that felt that way though, except for the tall guy in front of me who was clearly only there to appease his girlfriend. For most of the set Workman had the audience wrapped around his little finger hanging on his every word. I was stunned during one particularly quiet number that there was dead silence at times. If someone were to drop I pin, it definitely would've been heard.

By the end of the night, though, I felt like the sole atheist at an evangelical revival where the minister was only preaching to the converted. It seemed to me as if every other tune went on at least twice as long as it should have, with Workman and company taking every chance imaginable to show just how well they could play their instruments. Honestly, there's only so much of that sort of thing I can take, even from the best. I was often reminded of the sentiments of an old teacher of mine who also had a limited tolerance for extended improvisation: "Why do they continue to play when the music stopped so long ago?"

On the plus side, Workman is one of the better stage announcers I've ever heard; not as good as Tom Waits, mind you, but he's getting there. His between-song chatter about Canadian Tire flyers and breaking into his neighbours' homes to borrow their pianos while they were at work were quite amusing. If only I found his music as charming.

I reasoned with myself that it was because I came at it cold. If I had found any of the tunes familiar, would I have enjoyed them more? Maybe, but I doubt it. Writing this article a short twelve hours after show time, none of the melodies were stuck in my head, and I had no compunction to hunt down any of his albums to hear the tracks in their original, hopefully much shorter, forms. By the time the second encore rolled around and Workman proved beyond a doubt that not only was he a singer/drummer/guitarist/keyboard player extraordinaire but also quite talented on harmonica (of all things) I was done.

I'll be wrapping up my CMW experience tonight by taking in the Indies at the Royal York Hotel (seriously). It's the last chance ever to see Lowest of the Low as they get inducted into the Indie Hall of Fame.

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