Published Aug 29, 2013With Young Canadians, Toronto musician Eamon McGrath painted himself as the all-Canadian singer-songwriter. But as apt as the tag is given the record's rich imagery and regional references, it does McGrath and his music a disservice. The Edmonton transplant is far more of a chameleon, deftly moving between genres, always willing to rework an old song in a new way.
Nowhere does this become more apparent than onstage. McGrath is currently in the middle of a month-long residency at the Dakota, dubbed "Celebrated Summer." Each week we get a different incarnation of the singer and his songs, based on who's backing him at the time.
Following a subdued set from recent Hogtown immigrant Nick Everett and a rollicking set by country singer Kayla Howran, McGrath set up with acoustic guitar and mic, backed only by pedal steel guitarist Darrek Anderson. He offered up half a dozen acoustic renditions of selections from his last couple of records, as well as one new song, promised to be part of his upcoming serialized record rollout. It was the obvious way to showcase tracks like the haunting "Auditorium." Others, like "Instrument of My Release" and the usually adrenaline-fueled "Signals" were reworked for the setting, yet never felt out of place.
After a brief break, McGrath returned to the stage, now sporting his electric guitar and backed by a drummer. Again, some songs were obvious targets for this setting, while he breathed new life into others like "Welcome to the Heart" and "Cut Knife City Blues."
The reworkings didn't distract, though. Shifting between folk, blues-rock and straight-ahead punk, McGrath and his soulful croon, which can turn into a tortured growl in a heartbeat, was the centre of attention. However, long pauses between songs created lulls in the energy, and the particularly chatty audience was easily distracted. A little more onstage banter could have helped to hold people's attention. But McGrath appeared content to let his songs do the talking.
A number of new songs trotted out shared the sense of yearning that mark McGrath's best material. Whether they remain in the form presented this night, however, remains to be seen, as McGrath once again kept himself and his fans on their toes.