Jennifer Castle Drake Underground, Toronto ON, June 1

Jennifer Castle Drake Underground, Toronto ON, June 1
Photo: Jennifer Hyc
Jennifer Castle's latest record Angels of Death is, among other things, about death. Death was also part of Castle's stage setup for the album's sold out release show in Toronto. The stage was lined with fresh-cut flowers, like how an altar might be dressed. Castle herself was clad in a black dress with a black Stetson hung low, covering her eyes for the majority of the show. The only pop of colour was the red ribbon tied around her wrist, just like the one she sings about in the new track "Texas": "I'll tie a ribbon in your name."
Right before Castle took the stage, five representatives of the Soaring Eagle's Camp, a Toronto-based Indigenous youth-run protest camp that aims to raise awareness about the deep injustices Indigenous people face across Canada, took the stage to tell the audience about their cause. Castle's red ribbon, in retrospect, felt like it was for Colten Boushie and Tina Fontaine.
And yet despite all of this, Castle's show was not mournful, but instead felt like a display of resiliency and an embrace from a friend.
Castle's set was a ruckus-y affair compared to her recorded material. The honky-tonk, folk-rock tones of the show entranced the audience into a near perpetual sway and sometimes full-on dance. Castle, wielding an electric guitar, was backed by Paul Mortimer on lead guitar, Jonathan Adjemian on keyboard, Mike Smith on bass, Robbie Gordon on drums, and Victoria Cheong and Isla Craig on backing vocals. By the end of the show, Castle, with a string dangling from her guitar's neck, exclaimed, "It's been a long time since I broke a string!"
Castle started the night with the same trio of tracks that open Angels of Death: "Tomorrow's Mourning," "Crying Shame" and "Texas." Dynamite single "Crying Shame" was electric and, despite its melancholy, Castle earned a round of applause when she belted out "It's a shame when I cry myself to sleep" while the already quick-step of "Texas" was kicked-up a notch to a playful trot that really got the audience moving. On "Rose Waterfalls," another new track, Castle's warm warble was particularly sublime, tumbling magnificently like its titular falls.
As much as the night was about Angels of Death, Castle was eager to dip into her back catalogue to "shine up some old ones," as she put it. Although she only played one track ("Truth is the Freshest Fruit") from her 2014 Polaris Music Prize-shortlisted record Pink City, she played a number of songs from the 2011 record, Castlemusic. "You Don't Have to Be," felt declarative; "Way of the Crow" was transformed into a bluesy number; and the frisky "Poor as Him" was turned into a psych-rock jam for the ages.
When it was time to say goodnight, Castle moved the flowers to the front of the stage and encouraged the audience to take them home. A member of the audience with a baby strapped to her front floated in and out of the crowd throughout the night. During a tuning break, Castle gave a shout-out to the midwives in the audience. The night was a celebration of being alive.

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