Concert Review: Girls, Girls, Girls showcase (Karen Kosowski) @ Cameron House, Toronto 6/2/07

As a loyal supporter of Karen Kosowski, I made a point of clearing my schedule for her recent performance as part of a monthly show organized by singer Amanda Bentley, aptly known as Girls Girls Girls.

Taking a page from Lilith Fair, Amanda has fashioned herself the Sarah McLachlan of Toronto’s female indie music scene, organizing a monthly showcase of three local female singer-songwriters, throwing in a few songs of her own in grand ringmaster fashion.  It’s a concept long overdue in a city known for its female output (see:  Sarah Harmer, Sarah Slean, Emm Gryner…), and being a woman with a distinct soft spot for ‘chick’ music, I was quite willing to come early and see the entire show.

Amanda chooses wisely when selecting her monthly team;  sonically, they are distinct enough to keep attention of those fresh to the material, while similar enough to be targeted appropriately for cross-pollenation of fanbases.  As the hostess, she commands attention and stage presence, although her charity drive shtick became tiresome as the evening wore on (she insisted an audience member buy a breast cancer bracelet before she would proceed with each song, which I found personally uncomfortable, as some of us in the audience were tight for cash and therefore felt guilty/on the spot for being unable to help).  Her songs are well-written, catchy and dashed with wit at the appropriate places;  it’s a shame that the shilling took away from her performance.  Her enthusiasm, however, helped the sweltering crowd survive a long night without air conditioning on one of the hottest nights of the year thus far.

Up first was Rhonda Stakich, who immediately captured my attention with her voice.  For those who’ve heard New York’s Nellie McKay, you can easily imagine her throaty, jazzy and playful delivery, skipping from word to word with dexterity that Alanis Morissette wishes she’d been able to capture for Unsent.  In reading the show program, Rhonda’s stated experience in jazz bars made perfect sense;  the woman is made for sultry, bordering on burlesque cabaret/lounge music.  Stripped to solo ‘girl and guitar’, I wanted to drag in a jazz trio to back her up, as the guitar was simply not able to support the vocals.  I will definitely be looking to learn more about Rhonda, and suggest you do the same.

Second to the stage was Melanie Joy, touted in the program as a woman on the rise, with the likes of Jann Arden and Chantal Kreviazuk in her artistic palette.  I wanted to like her.  In fact, I think she has a great set of pipes, solid stage presence, and a genuine comfort with banter.  The lyrics however kept getting in the way.  Take the song My Swollen Ankle (yes, that is the title):  the backstory to the song is harrowing, haunting even, and the verses do a tremendous job of conveying raw emotion and the fear behind the music.  But then, the chorus hits, and I simply cannot take seriously the earnest lamenting of ‘my swollen ankle’.   I’d like to see Melanie sit down with, say, Ben Moody or Linda Perry (known these days for her work with Christina Aguilera’s heartbreaking ballads of late), and fully develop her raw potential.

Last to the sweatbox stage was Karen Kosowski, and I felt bad for the audience.  You see, having spent significant time witnessing Karen’s incredible live shows, a short set was simply a tease.   Favouring new material, the neophytes were not exposed to classic set staples like Don’t Assume;  they were, however, rewarded with the best rendition of Important (one of the strongest tracks on Karen’s last full-length effort, Out Here At Sea) I have ever seen – and I’ve probably seen the song performed 30 times now.  Hearts were collectively ripped out and effectively stomped with every line, every pleading wail.  It made for a stark contrast against the more uplifting feel of the new material showcased at the start of the set.  In a solo setting, the more electronic tracks (Stars In Our Eyes) seem stark, and somehow laced with a more melancholy undertone, a strange foreboding contradicting the lyrics.  Somehow, it worked.  But with a powerhouse delivery and genuine and friendly stage manner, I defy anyone to leave a Karen show unsatisfied.  To bastardize one of her songs (and undoubtedly, I will be ribbed for it later), it’s long past time for it, but perhaps this next album will be the one where her day in the sun will come along.

Karen’s Set:
Meeting The Future At Full Speed
Land On Your Feet
Can’t Fail Anymore
Life Is Short Enough
Stars In Our Eyes
New York Minute (Don Henley cover)
Important

Girls Girls Girls runs 1st Saturday of every month at Cameron House – details at http://www.amandabentley.ca
Karen’s home online:  http://www.karenkososwki.com   or  http://www.myspace.com/karenkosowski
Rhonda’s MySpace:  http://www.myspace.com/rhondastakich

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