Spencer Burton The Rivoli, Toronto ON, November 27
Published Nov 28, 2014The arctic winds blowing down Queen West passed in stark contrast to the warm glow of the back room of the Rivoli. Now adorned with driftwood and candles, the room was set for a performance that opener Eons' frontman promised would "rock your face off and charm your pants off," leaving the audience "faceless and pants-less, the Spencer Burton guarantee." A spectacular show was promised, and with a blend of charming, self-deprecating humour and beautiful country-folk balladry, something uniquely Burton was to be delivered.
The band stepped onto the stage and immediately broke into "Wild Mountain Thyme" and "No One Like You," bridged by a brief anecdote from Burton about listening to the latter tune with an old friend. The friend made a comment about the song describing Burton's life, to which he replied "If it's the story of my life, then my life is shit." A big grin went across his face as he played the opening chords.
Burton and his band played a set made up almost exclusively of cuts from his newest record, Don't Let the World See Your Love, neglecting any of his songs made under his Grey Kingdom moniker. From subtle folk ballads like "Diamond" and "Garden Path" to full band jams like the record's title track and "A Body Is All She Ever Let Me Hold," each song put Burton's crystal clear, soothing vocals front and centre, all seamlessly executed with help from his brilliant band, which featured the Weather Station's Tamara Lindeman singing harmonies and pedal steel virtuoso Aaron Goldstein. A series of hilariously tragic stories tied together each song, from a tale describing the origins of Burton's discomfort using other people's bathrooms to his brush with psychic powers on a motorcycle trip across the east coast, each one leaving the audience in stitches.
They weren't brief stories, and Burton ended up spending just as much time telling them as he did playing his songs, opening up songs with titles like "I Don't Love You Like I Used You" with comments and stories about his love for National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation or his interest in mushrooms ("Not magic mushrooms," Burton assured). Too much banter can easily ruin a show, but in this case, it enhanced it; each story was told with charm and wit, and though the stories and songs were rarely related in an obvious way, they all had an expectedly dark edge, keeping the audience in his hands. If there's a songwriter out there who truly deserves a live album, it's Spencer Burton.
The show closed with "Death of Gold," the pedal steel-heavy opener from his new record, and after a brief moment backstage, Burton returned for a quick encore. After describing the song as being inspired by Usher and R. Kelly's "Same Girl," Burton began playing "Dear Danny," a new song about two men romantically involved with the same woman that, needless to say, sounded very little like an R&B track. With a final goodbye, Burton walked off stage, leaving his audience both enchanted and amused. Spencer Burton puts on an unconventional show, but with lovely music and some good laughs, it would be a surprise if anyone left the Rivoli without a story to tell.