It’s been months since Lila and I hit a concert together. In fact, the now illustrious No Sleep ‘Till Brooklyn adventuring was the last time we took off together. So imagine our delight when we planned on a quick trip into Toronto to see Grace Potter and the Nocturnals and Ben Harper.
The plan was to take a day, hit Toronto early, pamper ourselves a bit, see some friends and hook up with more friends for the concert.
And that is exactly what we did. I won’t bore you with details of the perfect pedicure or how fabulous it was to catch up with old friends and meet new ones (shout out to Sophie and her cousin-in-law, Jill, for keeping us company and sharing fried dill pickles late at night under the stars).
Let’s keep to what is important here: The music.
Sound Academy does well as a smaller venue, despite packing in a crowd much like sardines on a hot plate. In two words: hot and smelly. But, it’s par for the course. It smells like a concert. And the patio is second to none, right at Polson Pier, so you wait to go in with views of the harbour, sailboats a plenty and beer in hand. A pretty good way to spend a summer evening.
A note to those who will choose to see a concert here: Pay the extra $20 or so for the balcony seats. Less heat, less crowd and no blissed out fans swaying into you or gaggle of girls pushing through on their way to the one bathroom that doesn’t have a lineup equal to that which you see only at amusement parks at the height of summer on a long weekend.
Upon entering and meeting up with our party, we managed to snag a table on the patio, grabbed beverages of the alcoholic variety and let the gossip flow. C’mon now. We’re girls. It happens. And as it happens, while we were sipping beer and trading gossip notes, we heard the low and sultry voice of Grace Potter. Time flies. We hauled ass inside and managed to push and smile our way closer to the stage. Normally, we would be front and centre immediately upon getting to the venue in order to see our favourite bands, but the lure of sun and beer and good company was too much to pass up.
Luckily, we managed to get a good view of the stage. Grace Potter and the Nocturnals are even more enticing live than they are on the sad little speakers in my stereo. Which isn’t to say they are bad at home, by any stretch of the imagination. I became a fan based on YouTube videos and poached MP3s (until I downloaded the album in its entirety). But live, they are outstanding. The live show does justice to the strength of Potter’s voice. Her stage presence is nothing short of breathtaking. She has a great energy and moves from low and slow to dancing ’round the stage in fits of complete musicality. Is this a group that truly loves to perform? If they don’t, they put on a great game face. Matt Burr, for example, is the single most smiley-est drummer that I’ve ever seen. Which made us smile.
Although we were a bit disappointed with the set list (Lila’s favourite wasn’t played), I was appeased when Paris was played as the encore song. Not necessarily my favourite, it was an excellent way to end the set – with the crowd dancing and singing along. As they should. Lila and I were both ecstatic to hear White Rabbit live as well. So, when I say disappointed, I mean an insignificant amount of disappointment. Because, overall, the only thing I could have wished for was a longer set.
Just a side note for the band: More Merchandise! Lila and I have a tradition of getting concert paraphernalia wherever we go. I managed to snag a super cute Ben Harper tee and sticker. But, since I already have the GPN album, I was left with no tangible memory (well, aside from the numerous photos and videos we shot).
And, of course, I would be remiss to not discuss Grace’s stage outfit (since she does often on her FB page). Gorgeous. There isn’t much to say about it. It caught the lights, it was flow-y and pretty and she looked amazing. Just as I expected.
This was just the opener. As Grace said, she was “lathering” up the crowd for Ben Harper. No “lathering” required, since the crowd was completely ecstatic when Ben came out. I can happily say that everyone standing around us commented on the strength and amazing tone that Grace possesses, the energy this group brings to a stage and how completely fantastic they found them. And I admittedly smiled to myself, having previously discovered GPN – sharing good music, even with complete strangers, is an inspiring experience every time. When the person standing next to you watches a band you love with a smile and can only exclaim, “Holy shit.. they’re GOOD. She’s AMAZING” it gives you a little shiver to happily respond, “I know!” And when the feel of the bass and the drums build to a crescendo and you can feel it deep in your chest as you nod your head and sing along… it’s perfection. Shared perfection, which is almost always better.
The only other thing I have to share about Grace Potter is her age (faux pas?). She’s 27. Which always surprises me since her voice has a maturity and depth I haven’t heard in ages. Reminiscent of Joplin at her best (in terms of vocal quality), with a sense of style more akin to celebrity fashion gurus (with a bohemian flair), there is a raw edge to Potter that you don’t expect from someone so young.
My next goal? To see a full set from GPN. I can’t wait.
So, on to Ben Harper. What can I say about Ben Harper? The guy is a genius. He is as delicious in person as he is on any screen throughout my house. Oh yeah, and he sounds pretty good too. I’m not certain that Sound Academy was the best venue for his sound. I’d rather see him play in a smaller venue. Like my living room, sitting on my couch, guitar in hand… oh, wait. Okay, so maybe without such a crowd. But I suppose that is what you expect – big names make big draws. So, despite spending the rest of my evening grappling with the crowds, the set was flawless. There were new favourites, old favourites, a couple of covers (Zepplin and CSNY) and Ben was just as expected – solid and good.
But the best moments, for me, came with crowd interaction. During Ben’s encore when he exclaimed, “Toronto! You always smell so good!” and then noted he was high by the second song in (I didn’t inhale…) – that smelled about right. The moment when instead of batting the one single giant green Heineken balloon, he decided to jump on it and pop it – the claps and cheers from the crowd was equally endearing. Even better was when he realized he dropped his wallet (I was farther back by this point.. I’m guessing wallet) after the popping debacle and his laughter became contagious throughout the crowd and the cheers were deafening.
Overall, Ben Harper delivered a solid set in a venue that may not have been my first choice to see him in. But it was solid. And good. Nothing may have taken my breath away, aside from the stifling heat and the crowd at The Sound Academy, and I fully admit to taking a breather outside for a bit to indulge in some greasy goodness that is the deep fried pickles at the outdoor food vendor.
Since it was my first Ben Harper concert, I will give him this – he has some really amazingly dedicated fans. The crowd blissed out to every song, hung on every note and the vibe was laid back and relaxed. A much different vibe from GPN’s opening set. But it was perfect for a warm summer night in July. It is the way summer should be spent, so I’m ecstatic I got to spend it watching Ben Harper for one night.
As is tradition for Lila and I at every concert, or, really whenever we get together, there are shots consumed. We usually try for at least one of something expensive. Although we both agreed to re-think that idea for a “tradition”. Anyway, last night’s shots of choice, in classic Beat & Lyric stylings: Melon Balls. One of each. Cost: $12.50. Half the price of NYC’s Hypnotic, but a wee bit more than Woodstock’s Dirty Polar Bears. Went down smooth. Much like the show.
Nicely played, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals and Ben Harper. Thanks for letting us spend the night.
p.s. More pictures and videos to follow soon – I almost always poach from Lila, so you’ll have for her to chime in.