October 2007

Michael Pickett
at The Afrikan Millennium and Cultural Arts Feastival
October 26, 2007 Trane Studio Toronto
Michael Pickett: The One Man Band
by Laila Boulos with photo by Mike Colyer
Many years ago, I was walking down Yonge Street, late at night, on my way home, when I heard an amazing harmonica solo whooshing out of the open window of a bar. I stood there mesmerized while the band performed their (ugh!) last song of the evening. That was the first time I heard Michael Pickett. Over the years, I have been making sure my timing is better when attending his gigs.

So, upon hearing that Mr. Pickett would be performing during the The Afrikan Millennium and Cultural Arts Feastival (presented by the Caliban Arts Theatre and The Trane Studio) I was elated. The Trane Studio is a wonderful intimate cozy venue with great sight lines, a tasty Caribbean-inspired menu and easy-going, accommodating staff. Owner Frank Francis has consistently put together eclectic mixes of entertainment attracting a diverse crowd to this popular venue for their many concerts and exhibits. As usual, during this 'Feastival', which runs until December 31, 2007, the lineup is impressive.

Although I was originally introduced to Pickett in his harmonica player guise, that was only the tip of the iceberg. This performer is multifaceted. For this evening's gig at the Trane, he did play a screeching (Lee Oskar rack) harmonica. He also played a Gibson 6-string. He played his National Steel-bodied Duolian. He also sang. And when his hands were free he was thunderously clapping. As an aside, his foot stomping and hand clapping were so skillfully evocative of an erupting volcano that they could be relegated to a separate percussion section!

Over the years, Pickett has received many awards such as: Blues With a Feeling 1999 and Harmonica Player of the Year 1999, 2000 and 2002 (both Maple Blues Awards); Album of the Year 2001 for Conversation With the Blues (Canadian Indie Music Awards); and, Blues Album of the Year 1999 for Blues Money (Jazz Report Awards). He has also been nominated for, and won, countless other awards from Junos to Real Blues Awards. He has been in a number of bands including Whiskey Howl, Wooden Teeth and the Michael Pickett Band. And yes, he did actually have other people playing with him in these bands, in case you were wondering!

Michael Pickett
Although he is all about the music, Michael Pickett has a great sense of humour and his easy banter with the crowd that evening was only upstaged by his amazing musical performance. At one point he joked that this was his first road gig in Toronto. He recently moved from Toronto to Crystal Beach, Ontario and voiced his tongue-in-cheek disappointment that the crowd did not applaud his decision. This was greeted with laughter. During his performance of "Blues is a Friend of Mine", when he changed a line to sing about the Trane Studio he, once again, had the crowd laughing.

Pickett wowed his audience on this evening with many of his own compositions. Definitely not a typical blues crowd, it was a testament to Pickett's expertise that he kept them listening. Throughout the evening, images of trains barreling through sleepy towns and rolling hills covered with autumn sunshine kept flitting through one's mind, compliments of the vibe created by Pickett's own pieces and the covers he chose.

Watching Pickett play is akin to watching a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde performance. His full-steam-ahead playing is awe-inspiring. Visibly, his whole body is thrown into his craft. He gives his all when performing. Yet, taking the stage, he had a relaxed sitting-in-a-comfy-chair-in-the-rec.-room persona, which was more deeply etched as he eased his body more comfortably into that chair for the second set. Although the first song was a jolt to the senses resulting from the juxtaposition of the unassuming musician who just took the stage with the 'who opened the fire hydrant?' power of his actual performance, it was definitely a nice surprise.

"Line In Track", a working song, was powerfully and hauntingly sung by Pickett with only his thunderous clapping as stark accompaniment. And, Woody Guthrie's "Deportee" was a beautiful version in Pickett's competent hands. On many pieces, the howling of the harmonica contrasted hypnotically with his soulful strumming on the Duolian. On others, his plaintive, raw voice shone above the cradle-rock rhythms of his acoustic guitar. Pickett expertly traveled through many different styles during this concert. From pieces evocative of everyone from John Lee Hooker to Colin James, this talented musician provided many impressive guitar riffs and harmonica solos during the evening. Yet, along the way, he effectively created a gentle ebb and flow that was easy on the audience with nothing too irritating to the senses. He introduced himself and his dizzying musicianship to a number of unsuspecting fans on this evening.

> www.michaelpickett.com <
We welcome your comments and feedback
Laila Boulos
• • • • • •
Mike Colyer
• •
The Live Music Report

| Home | Archives | CD Reviews | Photo Galleries | Concert Listings | Contact |

Please contact us to secure permission for use of any material found on this website.
© The Live Music Report – 2007