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Concert Mon Oct 26 2009

Review: Hawksley Workman @ Schubas Tavern

Full disclosure - about 75% of the reason I went to see this show was that according to the press release, Pitchfork has compared Hawksley Workman's voice to Freddie Mercury. The other 25% is that he's Canadian, and I have a fascination with cultural exports from our neighbor to the north.

I prepared myself by visiting Hawksley Workman's website, and was immediately confronted with his image, which seemed so, um, un-Canadian. I was expecting something a little more self-deprecating than a man lazily draped over a love seat wearing double-decker headgear. Its a look that's more Justin Timberlake bringing sexy back than Neil Young dancing under the harvest moon, but first impressions can be misleading. Then I watched a few of the videos, and a strange thing happened - the experience of listening to the music while being confronted with his video presence was completely different from listening to the music while I surfed other websites. I became very curious as to how it would affect me live.

I arrived at Schubas in time for the opening act, the very likable Jenn Grant, whose singable lyrics and whimsical staging (she wore a pair of kid-sized costume bug wings for a song about fireflies) created a cozy, down to earth atmosphere.

Then Hawksley Workman took to the stage, and although his puzzling choice of headgear was still very much present, the rest of his outward persona seemed to fade away. In addition to his impressive vocal range (hence the Freddie Mercury comparison), Workman is a skilled guitar player and percussionist. He's funny, very funny, telling some of the best between-song patter I've heard in a long time. "All these stories are free," he said at one point, "included in the price of the ticket." He even does bird calls.

Much of his music mixes an 80's pop sensibility with a kind of folk honesty, carried by sparse arrangements. During the bridge of the song City Is A Drag I unexpectedly heard familiar lyrics, and only at the chorus realized that he was singing Karma Chameleon, which segued into Starship's We Built This City. The show became progressively funkier as Workman took a turn on the drums, digitally looping the live beat and playing outrageous Price-style guitar solos.

Before heading home to Toronto, Hawksley Workman will be playing in New York at the City Winery, and in Philadelphia at the Tin Angel. For more information visit Hawksley Workman.

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Jordan / October 27, 2009 12:39 AM

This was the fourth time I've seen Hawksley live, and not only does he never disappoint, he always delivers a show that refuses to be shaken from memory. It is a rare experience to see a performer so honed and effortless, so engaging and playful, so spontaneous yet precise, so self-assured yet humble. He is equal parts Garrison Keillor and Jeff Buckley. Truly one of a kind. I am glad you enjoyed the show.

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

Our Final Transmission Days

By The Gapers Block Transmission Staff

Transmission staffers share their most cherished memories and moments while writing for Gapers Block.

Read this feature »


  Chicago Music Media

Alarm Magazine
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