Published Apr 01, 2005Something in the heavens was properly aligned on Oscar night, because it brought M. Ward a perfect antidote to the televised parade of vapidity back to Toronto for a solo show. At precisely 10:29 p.m. he strode out from the red curtain, snatched his guitar from the floor and launched into a particularly frenzied take on an older instrumental, "Duet For Guitars #3." Fingers flying with deceptive ease, he paced the stage from side to side, brow furrowed and his boyish face fixed in a determined stare, filling the room with his strange intensity, he was rewarded by a completely rapt, silent audience by the time he opened his mouth to sing. While Transistor Radio was released only the week before, Ward alternated new songs with old favourites and a judicious selection of covers, including Joanna Newsom, which began in medias res: "this is an old song / these are old blues / this isn't my song / but it's mine to you." He was well into the set before he began fiddling with the looping pedal, sliding seamlessly from "Helicopter" into his now-trademark version of Bowie's "Let's Dance." But rather than play up the technological trickery (which admittedly would be out of step for this anachronistic character), he fore-grounded its awkwardness, letting loops play out and stomping disinterestedly on the pedal mid-bar. Given that his playing style is utterly compelling solo, it was a subtle way of both acknowledging the pedal's utility and dismissing its showy tendencies. After years on the road, Ward has indeed become a consummate performer, seemingly without compromising any of the genuineness that the crowd embraced that night. As he stood by the open door offstage before returning for the encore, he was just a nondescript figure in a dingy alleyway illuminated by the streetlights, a perfect visual metaphor to close a sublime evening.