APRIL 13, 2004 - THE MAGIC BAG (FERNDALE, MI)
Last night, we made our way down the road to the Magic Bag for the opening date of this tour, shared by two Toronto songwriters who, as it turns out, have built quite a little following for themselves: Hayden and Sarah Harmer. Never heard of S.H.; I came for Hayden, who was owner of the opening spot on this night. That was a shame, because what it entailed was a shorter set than the last time I saw Hayden, two years ago in the very same venue, when he played for a good hour and a half or more. Lots of songs, lots of interacting with the audience. That was one thing I remembered being a real asset to his show. I remembered him being really down-to-earth and likable, telling stories and making fun of himself and stuff. His demeanor hasn't changed a bit. And neither has his ability to perform his music well live, even if he was only armed with his slow guitar strumming and harmonica (he was sans piano on this night).
Being the first night of the tour, he was a little rusty, messing up in the middle of songs a couple times or having to start over after playing the first ten seconds or so of a song. But it didn't happen too much and more importantly it in no way detracted from his performance. Rather, it made it more enjoyable and more "real". It was a very intimate and forgiving setting. As far as the material goes, he mixed everything up well: four or five new songs from his forthcoming album, Elk-Lake Serenade, which comes out May 11th, a few from 2002's Skyscraper National Park ("Dynamite Walls", "Bass Song", "Carried Away", & "All In One Move"), and one of the first songs he ever recorded, just about ten years ago, "Stem", which is a favorite of mine. Highlight of the set, though, was "Bass Song." As he described with a slight grin on his face, "this is a song about when I got murdered".
After seeing Hayden twice now, there's one thing I can say. I don't want to miss out on him the next time he comes around. The only bad thing about it? I wish we had gotten to the club earlier so we could've gotten seats at a table. We had to stand on the side because the place was was almost full already.
After a brief break, Sarah Harmer and her band took the stage. Frankly, I was surprised at how many people clearly came out for Sarah Harmer. I thought Hayden was the bigger draw. I hadn't even heard of her before, but once she got up there the people filed down to the front floor area below the stage in droves. I couldn't help but wonder where she built this big following. Judging from the look of the crowd, which had no shortage of spiky-haired, mens' dress-shirt-wearing girls, I made an educated guess. It wouldn't come as any sort of surprise to me if she had once been a part of the Lilith Fair. I'll have to find out for sure who she's supported in the past.
Anyway, she was pretty good. Dana said she thought she had a pretty voice. I probably couldn't argue with that. I couldn't get Rosie Thomas out of my mind for most of her set. She reminded me of her a lot. But Sarah Harmer probably had a few more upbeat numbers than Thomas would have had. I don't know. I haven't seen Thomas live, so I guess I can't really say. Before her set, I heard one guy arguing with another about Hayden and Sarah Harmer. This loudmouth thought Hayden wore his influences on his sleeve too much and that Sarah Harmer was more original and "filled a musical hole", as he put it. But I could sit here and easily rattle off a number of female songwriters who make very similar music: Thomas (as I already mentioned), Leona Naess, Lisa Loeb, Patty Griffin, Lucinda Williams...Beth Orton, even. Well, Orton's probably a little bit of a stretch, but I might still store their CDs next to each other on the shelf. But that's just a few names. So that guy was an idiot, but I'll still give Harmer credit. Even though she may not be as original as Loudmouth Over There thought, she still injected some freshness into that sound. It was still good, honest music sung with a sweet voice. And I'd rather listen to her than Sarah McLachlan or Jewel any day of the week. Overall good show. Probably something that almost any girl would like, so if you've got one bring her and she'll have a good time. I just got tired and my feet were killing me from having to stand through both sets, so towards the end there my attention span got really short and all the songs started sounding like ones she's already played. Better than staying home and watching American Idol, though.
See if the tour's headed for your town and if it is, go check it out.