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Kathleen Edwards shows she's hard to top

Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto, February 11, 2012

Reviewed by Jason MacNeil

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Without going into too much detail, a 48-hour string of events this past weekend was as follows for singer-songwriter Kathleen Edwards: awaiting the birth of her brother's child and finding a substitute for keyboardist Jim Bryson, who also became a father again.

Then there was the Hamilton, Ontario concert Friday night that was hampered by concert goers who called the fire department, stating the place was over-crowded, but simply annoyed that it wasn't a seated show.

Oh and then there was a flight to Los Angeles Sunday morning to attend the Grammy Awards with her new beau Justin Vernon whose band Bon Iver took home Best New Artist.

But on Saturday night, Edwards delivered a very solid 100-minute, 17-song set that capped off the first leg of her North American tour before a sold-out, enthusiastic crowd. And while Edwards has said in recent interviews she's trying to shed the "Americana/alt-country" association with her new album "Voyageur," some of the more memorable moments came with just her tender, heart-on-her-sleeve pipes and a simple guitar in support.

After opening with the warm, roots-based Empty Threat, Edwards and her five-piece band (including opener Hannah Georgas as backing vocalist) tackled the more deliberate and darker Chameleon/Comedian with stellar results. However the pretty arrangement belied the darker lyrical content Edwards has been working through of late.

Taking a break to say she was working through things and how vulnerable the song lyrics left her after she and former guitarist Colin Cripps divorced, Edwards said she realized "people heard all my s�"t." "We love your s�"t," a fan shouted in reply which broke some of the tension. From there another new charmer Pink Champagne soared, bringing to mind a musical relative of the wistful Tom Petty tune Southern Accents.

As for the overall set, Edwards as expected borrowed heavily from the new record, churning out 9 of the 10 songs leaving only For The Record as the exception. And it was that new material that generally blended in very well with songs off of "Failer" and also "Back To Me." For example Mint quickly brought to mind Lucinda Williams even with its dreamy sunny California harmonies. Later on, House Full Of Empty Rooms, which Edwards described as realizing one chapter of her life was closing, was almost tear-inducing tender. The same could be said for A Soft Place To Land, which featured her playing violin in portions.

Unfortunately, not everything she touched turned to immediate gold. Going To Hell was something of a miss despite a Coldplay-like wall of sound to close. And she would also flub a few lines of some songs including Six O'Clock News when not nipping at her keyboardist's arm and noticing his Jeff Healey Band t-shirt during In State. Fortunately Goodnight, California had none of that, resulting in a fully fleshed out jewel that surprised many.

Closing the main set with Change The Sheets and returning for an encore that ended with a cover of Big Star's September Gurls that Edwards and Georgas shared vocals on, Edwards again proved she's hard to top despite her personal life recently having some lows.

Setlist
Empty Threat
Chameleon/Comedian
Asking For Flowers
Pink Champagne
Goodnight, California
In State
Mint
Hockey Skates
House Full Of Empty Rooms
Going To Hell
Sidecar
Back To Me
A Soft Place To Land
12 Bellevue
Change The Sheets
Six O'Clock News
September Gurls (Big Star)