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Kathleen Edwards Hogtown homecoming filled with politics, poetry and passion

The Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto, Canada, April 25, 2008

Reviewed by David McPherson

A night after appearing on The Late Show with David Letterman, sassy Canadian rocker Kathleen Edwards - who fuses a shit-kicking attitude with finely-crafted songs - returned to Toronto for an energetic homecoming.

Dressed in jeans and a white T-shirt, Edwards and her band strolled onto the stage to riotous roars. She strapped on her acoustic guitar and wasted no time to get this homecoming party started by singing, "I want to get high ..." the opening lines from "Mercury" off her debut disc, "Failer" (2003).

This mellow opener featured heavenly harmony with keyboardist and fellow songwriter Jim Bryson; it was an interesting choice to start the show when the crowd was ready for a rocker, but they ate it up as they did the rest of her songs for the next 90 minutes as she plowed through nearly 20 songs from all 3 of her records.

"It's nice to be home," she said after a few songs. "We had a crazy couple of days in New York ... we're going to have some fun tonight."

She went on to recite a funny anecdote about her own near "wardrobe malfunction" on Letterman when she decided at the last minute to change her shirt and replace it with a jacket, then realized she had nothing under the jacket, so she almost exposed herself on late-night TV. The crowd cheered to which Edwards deadpanned, "They're not that big!"

Other highlights from "Asking for Flowers," included the title cut, the politically-charged "Oil Man's War," "The Cheapest Key" and "I Make the Dough, You Get the Glory," - a fun song in homage to her bandmate and longtime friend Bryson, where Edwards calls him the "Great One" - in reference to NHL legend Wayne Gretzky - and she's Marty McSorley (a former teammate of Gretzky's); she said this song was "written in a hurry with the help of lots of Chardonnay." Edwards explained how she didn't want to do a video for this song unless she could get McSorley to star in the video with her. After numerous unanswered calls, he finally agreed.

The high of the night though was the evocative "Alicia Ross." The band left the stage and with a sole spotlight shining on Edwards, she adopted the persona of a Toronto-area woman who was murdered by her next-door neighbor in 2005, to sing this haunting song, bringing to tears many in the audience. Edwards' voice cracked a couple of times as she sang with more emotion and passion than any song of the night. The extra significance of singing this heavy story in the environs where this crime occurred made the performance even more arresting.

After this pensive pause, the rest of the set was energetic and a perma-smile never left the singer's face.

Before ending the third encore of this sweat-soaked passionate performance with a Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' inspired "Back to Me," Edwards thanked the crowed and told them, "Goddamit! It was a good night for me. I hope you had fun. This is my last song because I have two bottles of pink Champagne waiting for me upstairs." And, with this frenzied finish, Edwards left her fans flowing out into the street with their own versions of the perma-smile of the passionate and poetic performance they had just witnessed.

Torontonian roots musician Justin Rutledge warmed up the sold-out crowd with a tight 40-minute set, showcasing songs from his recently released "Man Descending." Joining Rutledge was a cast of fine players, who normally grace the stage as his backing band, including Bazil Donovan - bassist from Blue Rodeo.

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