The Gig: Alberta Cross
Where: El Mocambo, Toronto, Canada
When: 6 September 2012
In One Word: Cowboys
A tale of three cowboys at El Mocambo. For starters, there were the cowboys imitating cowboys, Gentleman Husbands, who by their lead singer’s own admission before introducing a song about writing songs, said: “We’ve been doing this five years and still can’t get it to stick.” Sounds about right. Bad country rock music, with pub band status confirmed as they finished their set with a cover of Springsteen’s “Born To Run”.
Then there were the headliners, Alberta Cross. More cowboys, but this time with an English accent as Alberta Cross give an imitation of American blues rock. It really is quite bizarre that a band whose founder members Petter Ericson Stakee (lead guitar/vocals) and Terry Wolfers (bass) with a British upbringing would play Southern rock, but hey, it’s fully convincing. You would think Stakee was straight outta Georgia until he speaks between songs with an English accent. But while Alberta Cross are indeed, by all accounts, a bonafide Southern rock band, they are also a pretty boring one. There was a lack of good hooks or anything immediate in the music to draw my interest. Songwriting is about telling stories through music, and your stories suck if they are not believable, not original or are simply not worth hearing. There’s a reason why Jimi Hendrix asked, Are You Experienced?
There was one more cowboy on the stage tonight at El Mocambo, and this kid was the real McCoy. Aaron Lee Tasjan was billed simply as Aaron and had the opening half hour slot at 8pm. I would have missed him otherwise but as luck would have it, things were running late and I caught his whole set. Sometimes the opening act is the best artist you’ll hear all night. Aaron Lee Tasjan is the real deal: a real cowboy, with real songs, and real dirt. Standing on stage by himself with just his guitar for backing, Aaron played a set which was full of character, some banter and some memorable hooks and lyrics. I enjoyed a song possibly called “Young Lovers” which featured the lyric, “Like a gospel in the June coming around, the Lord’s named turned upside down”. Another song about a hole in the wall was cool too – and no, for our readers back in the UK, he wasn’t singing about an ATM – while I also enjoyed “Dirty Angel”, which I found so relatable that it could have been a song about my own tattoo. Meanwhile, a tale about getting his laptop and passport stolen last time he played Toronto, added to the edge of this kid. True grit.
The reason why I found Aaron both believable and likeable, is because he is real: A young guy who lives life, writes about it and then sings about it. No bullshit or imitating. And he has some songs worth hearing. Next time he plays Toronto, he deserves a better billing and less anonymonity.
© Brian Banks, Editor, Music Vice