Sean Nicholas Savage at The Comfort Zone, NXNE 2013 – Gig Review

June 16, 2013

Sean Nicholas Savage - Other Life

Who: Sean Nicholas Savage
Where: The Comfort Zone
When: Thursday, June 13, 2013
In One Word: Naked

People seem to have a hard time knowing exactly how to react to Sean Nicholas Savage. A common knee-jerk reaction is to take his bug-eyed son-of-John-Waters appearance and extremely uncool musical fixation on adult-contemporary MOR revivalism at face value. As he took the stage at The Comfort Zone on Thursday night, more than a few people in the audience were laughing, or smirking exaggeratedly to their friends in order to assure them they weren’t about to fall for any funny business. I got the impression that many seem to regard him as some kind of ironic clown. However, after witnessing him perform, I have a hard time believing that an artist as fiercely, nakedly passionate as Savage has the capacity to be that soulless.

His records have a deep, night-black sheen that suits his music perfectly, but live it’s just him up there, alone, singing along to thin, karaoke-like backing tracks playing off an iPod. Occasionally he’ll reach for a guitar plugged directly into the PA system, but that’s it. Whether this is a conscious aesthetic choice or a simple necessity due to insufficient funds with which to pay a band, it feels like the best possible way to experience Savage as a performer. Anything more would only serve to distract. His songs are deeply sad, small things, and watching the man who wrote them perform them in such cold solitude feels fitting, and incredibly bold. His voice is not necessarily a perfect instrument – outside of the controlled confines of a recording it’s much rawer, more animalistic – but even this illustrates depths that the records don’t. Watching him will his voice up into a note with such commitment, arms raised and eyes closed in surrender to focus, was mesmerizing.

Savage’s presence is undeniable. His shadow is more compelling than most musicians’ faces, and he’s magnetic in the most literal way – throughout the whole set I couldn’t help but inch closer and closer to the stage in the hopes of soaking up as much of what was happening as possible. Debuting some brand-new material and running through highlights from his recent release Other Life and older tracks, the pinnacle was a haunting, room-silencing take on Other Life opener “She Looks Like You”. With every repeat of the song’s refrain, Savage attacked the final note with such impassioned, gritty conviction it was impossible to imagine a more genuine, generous performance. It was a deeply sexy and overwhelming thing to witness, and it felt so right in the dark and the heat. I assure you, in that moment, no one was laughing.

© J. Francis, Music Vice

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J. Francis

J. Francis is a freelance music critic that sprouted like an unsightly growth from the suburbs of the Greater Toronto Area and eventually ended up in Kingston, Ontario. He is a man of deliriously firm, contradictory convictions, with a life-long dream of dismantling high-art/low-art hierarchies. He loves pop music with a passion that many find unsettling and is often mistaken as being somehow ironic or insincere (nothing could be further from the truth). His favourite album is Meat Loaf's Bat Out Of Hell. He knows that you think that's ridiculous. Regardless, he hopes you have a good day.

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