Ron Sexsmith Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Toronto ON May 17

Ron Sexsmith Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Toronto ON May 17
Given the setup -- comfy seats, precise lighting, extended runtime and an affable raconteur -- Ron Sexsmith's homecoming might have been billed "An evening with..."

Sexsmith has a penchant for crafting intimate songs and dressing them up in cozy melodies. Unfortunately much of that closeness fell victim to an austere theatre, creating a polished yet often aloof gig.

From a listening standpoint, the Queen Elizabeth Theatre boasts near-perfect sound, but its stateliness makes it better suited to a lecture or a play than a rock show. Thus, the singer and his four-piece backing band had to contend with an inherent distance. Nevertheless, Sexsmith and co. worked to bridge the gulf, delivering a taster plate of tunes from his extensive back catalogue, all rendered in tight, easy-to-swallow parcels.

Checking off selections from more than 20 years of recorded material, he covered a lot of sonic ground. Dusty cuts like fan favourite "Strawberry Blonde," mid-career standout "Gold in Them Hills" and recent single "Believe It When I See It" all fared particularly well. Throughout, Sexsmith's spotless voice stood out, though his nuanced acoustic picking -- particularly on "Love Shines" and honky tonk romper "Cheap Hotel" -- added depth.

Well into the current tour, the singer pointed out, "I think we're in the zone," and his crack band backed up the claim. "Late Bloomer" fused a pretty piano with a boozy whammy bar (that's a thing), for a playful jaunt; "In This Love" featured deft four-piece vocals; and "I Think We're Lost" enjoyed pretty slide work.

Still, despite the polish and pleasantness, a staid crowd and airy confines resisted a deeper connection. On paper and in the ear, it was a solid outing, yet it ultimately lacked a visceral impact. An excellent barroom troubadour, Sexsmith would have been better off with bottles clinking in the background.