The Joel Plaskett Emergency and TUNS in Ottawa Were More Like Vaudeville Than a Rock Show

Babs Asper Theatre, May 14

Photo: Ming Wu

BY Daniel SylvesterPublished May 15, 2022

An scorching mid-May evening in Ottawa found the National Arts Centre lobby intermingled with stunning gowns, stylish suits and the coolest '90s concert tees. As the crowd parted ways between Southam Hall (for Storgårds & Bruckner with the NAC Orchestra) and the Babs Asper Theatre (for the Joel Plaskett Emergency), the latter looked completely prepared for a casual evening with an old friend.

Featuring Plaskett's contemporaries from his Thrush Hermit days, indie rock supergroup TUNS opened the evening's festivities. Including the Super Friendz's Matt Murphy on guitar, the Inbreds' Mike O'Neill on bass and Sloan's Chris Murphy on drums, the trio bashed though a set of buoyant, melody-first songs from their two full-lengths. Trading off vocals and breezing through three-part harmonies (accented by Chris' unhinged drum style), TUNS were met with an enthusiastic response by the end of their 30-minute set.

Entered the stage with his two-member "Emergency" (Chris Pennell on bass and Dave Marsh), Joel Plaskett looked relieved and humbled, exclaiming "Do you believe it?" before kicking into a spirited renditions of early-2000s songs "Maybe We Should Just Go Home" and "Work Out Fine." Bringing out longtime friend and one-time protégé Mo Kenney, who would add guitar and backing vocals throughout the rest of the set, the quartet blazed through numbers from Plaskett's latest LP, the excellent quadruple LP 44. Songs like "The Wizard of Taz" and "Brand New and Brokenhearted" came complete with full stories about Plaskett's upbringing in Halifax.

As his band members left the stage, Plaskett solicited the crowd for song suggestions, which found the audience exploding into a cacophony of requests. Playing the "only two song names I could make out," Plaskett strummed though gentle renditions of "Nina and Albert" and "I'm Yours." Playing "Face of the Earth," "Rollin', Rollin', Rollin'" and a cover of Lucinda Williams's "I Lost It," Plaskett interrupted "Love This Town" mid-song to explain the "I hate this town" lyric and how he no longer holds a grudge against Kelowna.

Greeted again by the Emergency and Kenney, the crowd grew more spirited through the band's last four songs, as a woman interrupted "Nowhere with You" to ask if he'd play her wedding, spawning shouts for an impromptu onstage ceremony that never materialized.

Returning with members of TUNS in tow, Plaskett strutted and danced across the stage for a rollicking encore, in which he jumped on the drums for "Fashionable People" and challenged Chis Murphy to an impromptu basketball game (with an actual basketball) for show closer, "Come On, Teacher."

Blending crowd-pleasing songs with captivating storytelling, crowd participation and a healthy dose of humour, Plaskett gave Ottawa an unforgettable evening that resembled more of a charming vaudeville performance than a run-of-the-mill rock show.

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