Daniel Lanois and Rocco DeLuca Belljar Café, Toronto ON, September 26

Daniel Lanois and Rocco DeLuca Belljar Café, Toronto ON, September 26
Photo: Jason Schneider
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It's been three years since Daniel Lanois opened his current recording space in Toronto's west end, and in many respects the easily recognized building — formerly a Buddhist temple — has become the hub of the neighbourhood. So when the owners of a small café nearby decided to start hosting live performances, Lanois graciously obliged to do the first.

With space for only 30 or so people, it was strictly a word-of-mouth affair, and the intimate atmosphere put Lanois completely at ease. After checking the levels on his pedal steel guitar and 1953 Les Paul, he engaged in lively conversation with those in attendance while waiting for his guest, L.A. singer-songwriter Rocco DeLuca, an artist in whom Lanois has taken a keen interest. It's easy to see why; DeLuca's soaring voice bears similarities to Antony Hegarty's, and his minimalist, bluesy guitar style is reminiscent of the late Chris Whitley, another artist once within Lanois's circle. All the pieces were therefore in place for something special to occur, and it did.

Lanois began with a pedal steel piece, which segued into one of DeLuca's new songs, "Nightingale." Lanois then picked up his Les Paul and the pair launched into a mesmerizing jam that showed off Daniel's complete mastery of tone and texture; even within such small confines, the volume was far from overpowering, despite Lanois delivering riffs with Neil Young-like intensity. He provided equally strong support on other DeLuca songs such as "I Trust You To Kill Me" and "Congregate," the latter a preview from DeLuca's new album that Lanois is mixing.

It seemed as though Daniel wasn't prepared to sing himself, but he eventually offered gorgeous versions of "Still Water," "Here Is What Is" and "Rocky World," the last augmented by a childhood reminiscence of hopping a train near his boyhood home in Hamilton and winding up in Sault Ste. Marie. DeLuca wrapped up the night with a tender rendition of Etta James' "At Last" that left Lanois as speechless as the rest of the room. As Lanois mentioned earlier in the performance, it's events like these that build communities, and he seems totally committed to his current location. I'm sure the lifetime of free coffee and carrot cake he requested as payment won't be a problem.