A Treeful of Starling fell short of any expectations I had for Mr.Workman's greatly anticipated 5th full length release, so I wasn't sure what to expect of the show to promote the album. Having never been to Massey Hall I wasn't exactly sure what all the fuss was about, but hoped it would be a good time either way. In his typical fashion Hawksley came on moments after 8, the scheduled time for the show to start, sans openers. He kicked off the show with himself on a stool and acoustic guitar accompanied by Mr. Lonely, his faithful piano player beside him, and they went straight into "A Moth is Not a Butterfly" which in my opinion is probably the worst song ever written and created by the Hawk. Not off to a very good start, he went into a couple others off of the latest album, which all translated well into live performance, even if they aren't his best work. Then came the stories.
Hawksley shows are always amusing because he not only is a phenomenal multi-talented performer, he talks and talks and sips his wine (usually out of a plastic cup) and the facetious stories get longer and more interesting. So after a few songs he would interject with another tale about saving allowances to buy a television to tape onto his bicycle and watch Dr. Who throughout the summers or about how he 'gave up being cool' for Lent. His charismatic character shines through in these animated tales as he chuckles to himself as he tells them, with the audience in tears of laughter. But never one to disappoint, Mr. Workman delivered with the songs as well, which was what made me completely understand the honour around playing Massey Hall. I was blown away with the acoustics, his voice carrying throughout the entire hall perfectly whether it be a whisper or long, beautifully executed long note he carried on and on.
Keeping the show mostly low key and intimate, the entire set was himself and Mr. Lonely on piano, playing older classics like "Paper Shoes" and "Jealous of your Cigarette," as well as "Don't Be Crushed," which he played alone on the piano. Playing a handful of his last two albums as well, the set list was well chosen, but what really made the show was his charm. After gracefully thanking the audience and letting us know several times how proud they were to be playing at Massey Hall and how appreciative they were of the fans, they finished the set with his bassist Derek coming out to accompany them on "Ice Age". Adding some extra beats courtesy of Lonely, the song had a real chill, slow groove feel to it that finished up the show nicely. But the roar of the audience wouldn't die down, so they came back out for several encores.
Hawksley came back out and perched right on the edge of the stage with a banjo and nothing else saying that he felt like he was so far back all night, it was like we came to Toronto to see the show that was happening in Mississauga. With his banjo and powerful voice, he launched into "We Will Still Need a Song" that the audience sang along with, and it really began to feel almost like a circle of friends singing to each other around a fire. I'm getting ridiculously sappy here, but Hawksley has a way of taking a couple thousand people and bringing them together with their common love of his talent, and making the entire room feel like some sort of reunion of long lost friends. Throughout the show, Hawksley would stand to deliver his jagged and hard guitar playing throughout harder songs that eventually lead to a broken string, that didn't slow him down one bit. In slower more sensual tracks such as "Tarantulove" he let himself go, almost as though he had slipped into a daydream, stroking the guitar and moaning and breathing into the microphone for minutes on end.
His music recreates itself every time he's on the stage, and you can see his emotions surrounding each song pouring out through his fingers as he plays. With plenty of anecdotes surrounding each song and how it came to be, and about growing up in Toronto, and the surrounding area, the show went on for hours. As he delivered each song, he sang his heart out with his eyes closed shut, every so often taking a peek at Lonely and they would exchange an ecstatic smile. It's surreal to watch them play together; seeing them feed of each other's energy so much, and even after all the years of playing together it's obvious they still are blown away by the other's talent. At one point Workman stopped playing and just watched Lonely as the spotlight illuminated him pounding away at the keys, switching back and forth between instruments. He spent the evening surrounded in a cocoon of a keyboard, piano and mixer all of which he played with tremendous skill. Overall the show was breathtaking, beating out any performance I'd seen from Mr. Workman in the past, his animation and allure as he played and spoke to the adoring crowd leaving me giddy for hours afterwards.