(The Music Hall, Oshawa, Ontario, Saturday, October 22, 2016)
Don’t know what it is about this town, but Mr. Lukas Rossi always seems to shine so brightly in Oshawa.
Billed as Lukas Rossi‘s reunion with bandmates from 3 of his previous bands (Cleavage, Rise Electric and Stars Down), this concert took place nearly 5 years to the day since I last saw Lukas perform, also coincidentally in Oshawa (November 5, 2011, a fabulous, nearly-out-of-musical-character concert which we reviewed at the time). So, here, we have on stage: in the back, childhood friend Jon Jameson, drummer for Cleavage and early-day pounder of the skins for Stars Down; to the right: Jay Cianfrini, bassist for Rise Electric, a full-bearded mountain of a man standing rather quietly but authoritatively in the corner; and to the left: a very masterful guitarist with a mysterious, if not mystic, smile pasted on his face all night (probably because he was enjoying himself so much), who was stepping and filling in some very big shoes, covering duties for the unfortunately and notoriously absent long-time companion of Lukas, genius guitar virtuoso Dominic Cifarelli, who was probably out promoting his fantastic new album A Trillion Lights, Tome II which came out just over a week ago. Since Lukas didn’t officially introduce the amazing band backing him up on this extraordinary night, I was not exactly sure who Mystery Man was. He looked and sounded a lot like Jody Hicks, who played with Lukas and drummer Gustin Flaig the last time around in Oshawa but, in point of fact, I found out after the concert that this young man is an in-demand session musician from Toronto by the name of Nathan Whitney. And, front and centre-stage, of course, was the man himself, the inimitable Lukas Rossi, who keeps getting better and better, like a bottle of great aging Italian wine.
(Incidentally, I’m starting to feel like I’m turning into Lukas Rossi‘s Official Scribe, chronicling his musical progress and peregrinations in all their variegated forms over the years, rudely sneaking a few notes on my trusty BlackBerry throughout these concerts to use as memory-joggers later on when time comes to digesting the events of the evening and putting them into words that I, and others, can perhaps understand and relate to. Forgive my rudeness Lukas in furiously scribbling these notes while you perform: I’m becoming more forgetful in my latter years and I am always afraid of missing the telling of something that I witnessed and felt on this night and other concert nights. On this occasion luckily, I have the additional benefit of being able to replay most of the concert after-the-fact since portions, and nearly the entirety, of the performance were captured and live-streamed by some fans on FaceBook.)
Photo credit: Margaret Perry
The Show and The Showman
The opening salvo of the evening came in the form of a raucous, high-energy Lonely Ones from the Rise Electric days and a return to the ‘jerky’ Lukas showman bouncing all over the stage in positions that look like a broken skeleton marionette with wild eyes whose strings are being pulled, or rather yanked, by a maniacal invisible overhead puppeteer. Just how does he achieve those unorthodox movements that seem natural only to him?
By popular request over the years, Lukas and band then launched into Bored and Gorgeous, a song Lukas stated he had been resisting performing. Not sure why he would say that since he’s included that song in his many sets throughout the Love & Lust Tours. Perhaps there is hidden meaning and pain to the song that we don’t know and that makes it difficult to perform. We, as audience members, have no clue what goes into the making of a song, and what it represents for an artist who wrote and performed it. Lukas is a man who speaks from the heart and we can only fathom as far as the (sometimes cryptic) lyrics will allow us. But this comment struck me as slightly odd and really stood out from the rest of the in-between-song ‘banter’, just as another ‘message’ did, as we shall see later on, that he kept for the very end.
Lukas’ first tribute of the night, Radiohead’s Creep, long a fan favourite since he performed it on the RockStar Supernova show, was introduced by a long ominous guitar foreboding. And then, Lukas’ voice took over. He has an amazing way of standing at the mic, arms outstretched, sort of prophet-like, and projecting his voice out into his crowd of ‘faithful disciples’ with pure, raw power, like a tidal wave hitting you in the soul, drowning everything else out. That’s what they call connecting with an audience! The only aggravating thing is I can still hear Jason Newsted after Lukas performed Creep on the RockStar Supernova show, telling him to open up his throat and let the sound out. Shut up Jason! Get out of my head! Lukas knows perfectly well how “to use his (vocal) instrument”. That man has one set of pipes on him, I tell you! You can feel his voice traverse you physically, and then spiritually, scattering goosebumps all over your body.
Photo credit: Petra Alexander
Next came one of my personal favourites, Empty City, which featured an incredible gut-punch of an instrumental break as the band launched into the refrain. Wow! I really felt that! The video certainly doesn’t do that gem justice. That’s when you really realize, no matter how many hundreds of concerts you may have attended, that seeing a show live and watching it on video (which I have the privilege of doing in this instance) is really not the same thing, no matter how good the recording equipment is. A truly heart-wrenching performance, this song!
At this point, Lukas’ bandmates quietly left the stage and made way for what would turn out to be an extraordinary 5-song acoustic set.
Photo credit: Sue Ann VanGilder
The Acoustic Set
The mini-solo set was ushered in by a new fan favourite, Adele‘s Hello. Just Lukas and his guitar, all by his lonesome, centre-stage, just like in the Love & Lust Tour days but better, so much better, because the man has honed his craft and added little inflections and flourishes here and there and has re-invented his own, and other artists’, songs and he has developed incredible vocal control that he has added to his already incredible palette of skills and amazing vocal range (7 and half octaves, if I recall correctly). Don’t know if it is because he’s obviously been seriously working out and building up his upper body and thorax or he’s taking some sort of vocal chord boosters (kidding of course!) or what, but the results are astounding in the 5 years since I’ve had the privilege of hearing him. He now belts out words and sounds, holding notes with a snarl or grimace on his face for an unbelievably long period of time, like he’s coaxing an inner beast out into the wild. Hello, as re-interpreted — Lukefied as I call it — has now garnered over a million views on YouTube in less than a year and truly showcases Lukas’ vocal talent, much like Creep does. And here is where you can tell that Lukas is not only a consummate artist, songwriter and musician, but also a producer: as the dying strains of Hello were still audible from his mouth, Lukas just blended a well-known song into a wholly new song, like he was doing his own auto-fade and live-mixing himself. This new track, called AWOL (as in Away Without Leave, I assume), has a very pretty and catchy melody (I’m still humming to myself “Waiting On A Sunrise, Where Are You Gonna Go Now?”). It is also quite short, which tells me he probably wrote it very recently and is still working on it, thinking about it, but wanted to ‘road-test’ it, so to speak, by springing it, as he is known to do, on unsuspecting live audiences to gauge the reaction. This song will be featured on Lukas’ upcoming double-album release, United State of Music.
Lukas followed this up with an extremely touching and beautiful tribute to one of his musical idols, Jimmy Gnecco of Ours: Sometimes. He puts the same level of emotion into covers like these as he does his own songs, maybe more, as if they somehow inhabit him. Perhaps that is what a true tribute is: the recognition that someone else created something that you wish you had and that you can only admire and aspire to.
Photo credit: Sue Ann VanGilder
Then came another of my personal favourites, War. This version was sung with a raspier, shredded voice than usual, and, at the same time, it had a greater softness to it. And some new lyrics surfaced again: It’s so chemically fucked-up (repeated several times). The song ended with a near whisper: I can’t go on like this. Simply gorgeous!
Lukas temporarily dumbfounded Jon by calling him out from backstage unexpectedly to lend him a hand during the next song, Trust Me, one of the first songs Cleavage ever wrote. It looked like Lukas, in a brief conversation, basically asked Jon to follow his impromptu lead. At first, Jon looked slightly bewildered by the request and unsure of what exactly he was supposed to do (i.e. what precisely Lukas had suddenly imagined in his head on the spur of the moment), but he quickly played to Lukas’ impulse and quietly settled into adding a few flourishes on the drums before hand-playing the snares. Really cool! It also goes to show that an artist such as Lukas is always thinking, even in the middle of a performance, how to enhance the experience for the fans, which makes every concert unique, special and original and sort of leads to a stream-of-consciousness musical expression shared live with those in attendance. A consummate professional through and through this man is! And, like a true artist, he is never entirely satisfied with his works of art and keeps trying to embellish them throughout his lifetime. Well he did more than embellish Trust Me. He lifted it to another plane of existence. The original was already exceptional, but this version was pure nirvana, as witnessed on the face of my friend beside me, whom I hadn’t seen in 5 years. It’s her favourite song and she was in a trance-like state with her hands clasped on her bosom, her eyes closed, swaying ever so gently and ‘receiving’ the song within her soul. In this year of extremely nasty politics, one might have thought that choosing a song with that title for the setlist might carry some undertones and be a slap in the face of politicians in general, but, in point of fact, it was dedicated at the end to Lukas’ Mom.
The acoustic set proved one thing: Lukas really doesn’t need a band to back him up. He is captivating in and of himself. If you were to close your eyes and imagine a different setting for an instant: by quality alone, Lukas is like those giants of the business on the biggest stages of the world who momentarily dismiss their bandmates in order to give the assembled masses an acoustic gem in the middle of their concerts that is just the frontman or -woman singing to each member of the crowd as if they were the only ones in the world, sitting in their living rooms or dens with their stereo headphones on. Pure, unadulterated, uninhibited, and nearly bilateral communication bliss between artist and fan.
Photo credit: Petra Alexander
The Jam and The End
At this point, Lukas’ band members returned to the stage and Lukas announced a jam, like when music was relevant, “like when you were a kid and music made your parents disappear”.
And what followed, for me, was the highlight of the night and the reason there was a band behind Lukas on this night to start with. Never heard this song before but I need to find out what it’s called and where I can buy it. Based on the lyrics, its title would be perhaps “Waiting For You” or “Wasting Away”. What it is, though, is a raging, incendiary barnburner of a piece that rips you to shreds and, once again, shows that Lukas’ style is very diverse and sometimes borders on metal. This song, live, is loud, very loud and enthralling, and highlights Jon’s very deliberate, sometimes jerkily unconventional but effective, way of drumming (at times, it even seems like he’s talking to himself or counting time before bringing the thunder down) and it brought the beast out of Mr. Nathan Whitney, the guitarist, as well. Even Jay was more ‘animated’ during this rabid piece. Well, if some of these band members hadn’t played together in years, or even more than a decade, or in the case of the guitarist, Nathan Whitney, was a session musician borrowed for the evening, it certainly didn’t show. There was no inkling whatsoever in this song, which Lukas said might have turned out disastrous (“but we’re family here”, he added). It was sublime in its force and rawness. The band was so, so tight on this one. Hit me in the sweet spot for sure. I’m a metal fiend at heart, after all.
The band closed out the show “with a song for everyone” (that one before was just for me, I say :)!). It was Headspin, of course, but with some leftover rage from the last song and a rather decent crowd singalong in the middle.
After many, many minutes of clamouring, the crowd got an encore. Lukas came out alone, however (“the screams I can’t resist”, he said) and he made a revelation and statement about the song I Love Myself Today that turned it into a bittersweet ending. He spoke about the bullying of his 6-year-old son and said he had gone through the same experience as a child. Now, he was, in a way, singing its message of love to his own son and all who are living though this scourge of the modern age.
Photo credit: Rich Shebib
The show, as usual, seemed far too short. It always feels too short. But we all bathed in the love in the room, the love for music, for a man who truly knows how to spread magic in others, the love we all felt at being reunited with friends we hadn’t seen in a long time. We could just stand there, nearly forever, under this man’s charm, and take in the voice, the music and the lyrics, like a balm for the soul in bereavement of beauty and understanding.