Winnipeg Jazz Festival Review: The Hold Steady with Greg MacPherson at the Burton Cummings Theatre

Filed under: Reviews, Festivals

"Jazz is not just a genre of music," announced Steve Kirby.

The Manitoba bassist had Juss Jazz packed elbow-to-elbow while his hot quartet ended their set. As the evening unwound, venues facilitated genre-spanning performances all under the Jazz Festival banner. But as Kirby emphasized in a full-blooded jazz club performance, it was all in the spirit of the event.

Earlier in the evening, drummer Mark Kelso hosted a TD Jazz Lab at the Manitoba Music Conservatory. During the workshop, the Irish-born drummer emphasized the importance of feeling in performance. He said that what makes a great performer is the ability to balance substance with panache. At a festival where genre isn't everything, style is king.

Greg MacPherson (Winnipeg)

Manitoba musical entrepreneur Greg MacPherson has dynamic in spades. Keeping his setup intimate and comfortable on a larger stage may have seemed counterintuitive, but it worked. Besides, stranger things have happened to him in the Burton Cummings Theatre.

"Last time I played here, I opened for a guy named Chris De Burgh," confessed MacPherson.

The trio's spirited set echoed influences of Joy Division and Bruce Springsteen alike. It was the subtle changes in arrangements that made this performance. Strings were pounded with cartwheel mallets, leads were looped and guitars alternated between bass, electric and baritone. The performers' degree of discipline was enough to make sound troubles during their second song seem rehearsed.

Through a selection of nine songs, heavily drawing from 2010's Mr. Invitation, MacPherson performed a new track. The song had a raw badlands rock 'n' roll style that conjured up stark imagery. One can only hope MacPherson names it after the line, "I have a motorcycle."

Even for a hometown hero like MacPherson, the audience still took its time filing into the venue. Fortunately, the band appeared to take some joy out of just performing together. And by the end of their set, the group received a standing ovation from the tardy crowd.

The Hold Steady (New York)

It speaks volumes when a band elicits applause calling fans "sniffling indie kids" in their first song. Yet the fun-loving jocks and headstrong hipsters hollering their lungs out got what they paid for.

Brooklyn, New York bar-rockers The Hold Steady know their audience. The overwhelming applause at the onset of "Stuck Between Stations" was a clear indication. Their setlist was built almost entirely on anthems. Scattering singles throughout the performance kept the energy in the Burton Cummings Theatre on a pleasurable plateau. Even songs from their least celebrated album, 2010's Heaven is Whenever, had a lasting placebo effect.

As veterans of the music industry, the band still look excited for each performance. Vocalist Craig Finn punctuated every predicate with an ear-to-ear smile, a spray of saliva and quick laugh. Accompanied by an efficient foursome, the Minnesota-born storyteller let loose and barely touched his guitar strings.

Given the nature of their song-writing, The Hold Steady are not a young band. Finn turned 40 last year. Halfway through their set, he debuted a new song called "Teeth Dreams". It was far mellower than their other material and addressed midlife crises and financial concerns. It was almost an after-school special moment juxtaposed next to "Hot Soft Light".

Still, the storytelling in Finn's lyrics has connected characters and concepts through five albums. The freedom to reassemble his repertoire in a setlist brings a bounty of brilliance. Using "Positive Jam" and "Stay Positive" as bookends was fitting. Connecting the narratives of "The Weekenders" and "Chips Ahoy!" was a nice touch. And using the bridge from "Your Little Hoodrat Friend" to connect the evolution of music scenes was heartwarming. By the end of their encore, it was hard not to believe in a unified scene.

Tags: The Hold Steady, Greg MacPherson, Winnipeg Jazz Festival, Brooklyn, Mark Kelso, Steve Kirby Quartet, Rock 'n' Roll, Burton Cummings Theatre, Winnipeg, Indie Rock

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