Either way, Ben Caplan kicks ass like few other performers I’ve seen recently, and he positively lit up the back room at the Piston last night.
Without his usual band The Casual Smokers, Caplan took to the tiny stage alone, with a red square pinned to his shirt, dark jeans and a set of infuriating suspenders. He shaded his eyes against the light, put down his drink, and then proceeded to knock out one of the most satisfying nights of music I’ve seen in months.
Ben’s lyrics are heartfelt, as any good folk (or freak-folk) singer’s should be, but they’re also literate and well-phrased, which many singer’s words simply aren’t. “I have not been perfect for you but I think I was at the start,” he sings on ‘Drift Apart,’ a breakup song made novel by its stark honesty and surprisingly resigned tone.
His sound is definitely rooted in roots music–did I just type that?–but with really interesting overtones of gypsy jazz that help keep even the low-key solo set he was intent on playing bursting with energy.
If he had a set, it was quickly abandoned, as the audience–composed, as far as I could see, of hardcore Ben Caplan fans, who knew every word, every album, every story–started yelling requests a few songs in. He played ‘Drift Apart’ right next to ‘I Got A Woman,’ pointing out the bizarre juxtaposition of those two songs while inviting everyone to sing along—even offering to teach those of us who had perhaps not seen him before the parts.
The audience, of course, loved that, singing along at the tops of their lungs with Caplan’s madcap folk, song after song, building up to the climax of the set—opener Brett Caswell came up onstage and joined Caplan, backing him up on piano for a new tune, “Birds With Broken Wings.”
This becomes all the more impressive when you learn that Caswell had never even seen Caplan perform before, and probably didn’t know the song at all when he jumped up to back up the bearded headliner. That’s professionalism.
Caswell’s set was really impressive, as well—his very open sound was a great complement to Caplan’s raw delivery. Definitely an act to follow; Barrie residents, take note!
Check out this video shot by the incredible Mitch Fillion at Southern Souls.
At this point I feel that I should admit the only reason I titled this so controversially is because Caplan requested that any bloggers in the audience do so. I don’t really hate your suspenders, Ben; they were really cool.