hile the streetcars, buses and subways ground to a halt due to a city-wide strike by transit workers outside in the heart of Chinatown, inside the century-old El Mocambo, the few who found alternative transportation to witness Hayes Carll were treated to an evening of finely crafted words and music.
Some Texas talk and storied songs about whiskey, women and barnyard animals, all sung with a backyard-attitude, was what Carll dished out during his 90-minute set, backed by an accomplished group of players.
Carll opened with the ballad "Take Me Away" from his "Little Rock" CD and said it was good to be back in Toronto where just the previous month he had played a gig with Canadian compadre Corb Lund. Introducing "I Got a Gig," from his latest "Trouble in Mind," Carll told the tale of some of the joints he played when he first started slinging songs for a living. These included places on Texas's Gulf Coast like Bob's Sports Bar in Crystal Beach, where he competed with karaoke singers and TVs, and he was promoted along with the fried chicken specials.
The tongue-in-cheek "She Left Me For Jesus" was well received with laughs. As a fellow attendee remarked, "there are no fundamentalists here tonight." Carll later told another tale of how he and his band met Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper during his last visit north of the border, thanks to an invitation by Lund. He recalled how he had lost his passport, so when asked for ID by the security at the prime minister's residence, he pulled out his picture on the front of his CD, and to his surprise, he was let him in. "Only in Canada !" hooted one of the El Mo attendees.
Unfortunately, for the songwriter and for the audience, there was another band playing upstairs that could be heard during Carll's more subdued numbers. In reference to this distraction, Carll joked, "I don't need my rhythm section tonight...it's like a battle of the bands."
From songs he'd written with Guy Clark ("Rivertown") and Ray Wylie Hubbard ("Chickens") to a half dozen songs from his fine new disc, despite the small crowd and the beat boxing coming from upstairs, Carll gave an entertaining evening of storied Texas tunes. Like the copy of Carll's latest on vinyl, held by a fan awaiting an autograph after the show, his music is timeless. And, to take a turn-of-phrase from Carll's own songbook, it was a "drunken poet's dream."
Jay Harris and his all-star band, which features Blue Rodeo's Bazil Donovan (bass) and Bob Packwood (keys), Cam Giroux (drums) and Rob Gillet (guitar), opened with some inspiring songs from their upcoming debut release that echoed Elvis Costello.