Katherine Wheatley/Shawn Colvin Koerner Hall, Friday, February 11th

Photographs by Eric Thom

Parry Sound native Katherine Wheatley was in awe both of the room and her role opening for idol Shawn Colvin. Thanks to the presence of family and friends in the room, Wheatley’s presumption of stage fright (“I usually play Legions in places like Espanola”) gave way to a delightfully relaxed performance featuring 6 tracks, primarily from her latest album, Landed.

Everyone was amazed at the quality of the sound in Koerner – the slightest foot tap was audible enough to double as a percussion section—and Wheatley applied her accomplished guitar skills to good purpose, accompanying her ‘from the heart’ songs. The full life she’s led translates to story songs representing real people and real experiences that have impacted her life.

While the too-breathy “One True Kiss” and the overly joyous, pop treatment of “Landed” seemed disconnected from her better work, “Signal Faded” and “The 3:17”—the true story of one of her Queen’s profs who lost more than his wife and daughter when they were killed in a train crash—definitely hit their mark and made her many new friends. Equipped with a clearly emotive, wide-ranging voice, she used this occasion to demonstrate sizeable skills, proving herself to be a wise choice for setting up the headliner.

If Shawn Colvin couldn’t sing a note, her case for fame could well be made with her guitar-playing alone—she wields the lowly 6-string like a painter his palette, mixing notes, chords and percussive effects like so many primary and secondary colours—lining them up from light to dark to suit the mood of the moment.  Colvin chooses each hue in expert fashion, applying them to insightful lyrics which go well beyond mere storytelling to explore more personal material with universal appeal, buoyed by the principles of pop and informed by her legendary interpretive skills.

Armed with only her guitar and a bottle of water, Colvin presented a cross-section of her career with a sampling of 17 songs which, fortunately for her audience, came with insights into the whys and whereabouts of the genesis of many of them, forming an even more personal bond with her already-rapt audience.

Beginning with Donovan’s Dylanesque ’65 hit, “Catch The Wind”, we discovered her passion for covering others’ songs across an evening crowned with selections like Neil Young’s “Birds” (she had performed this song at Carnegie for a Neil Young Tribute concert the night before) and began her encore with a phenomenal reinvention of Lennon and McCartney’s “I’ll Be Back” followed by Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy”. Yet it’s her own compositions which unleashed the night’s true magic—many of Colvin’s Grammy-friendly hits have crossed over to an ever-larger legion of dedicated fans who have committed these smart, hook-laden compositions to heart. Hearing them from the author, exhibiting complete control over both her instruments, made for absolute bewitchment.

One of the evening’s true delights was “Polaroids” which, after delivering a jaw-dropping rendition, she launched into a hilarious confession of having plagiarized the tune, proceeding to serenade us with the 2-chord evidence: Jackie DeShannon’s “Put A Little Love in Your Heart”, Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone, the Stones’ “Beast of Burden”, the Temptations “Just My Imagination” and multiple Eagles’ tracks as the audience shouted out more.

From buoyant songs like “Fill Me Up” (not “Feel Me Up”, as suggested by friends) and the breezy  “Summer Dress” to darker fare like “These Four Walls” and the challenging “Tennessee”, Colvin’s lyrics delve into complex thought, weaving a wide range of human emotions throughout, laying out relationships and elements of life for all to see and to identify with. Each song is steeped in solid hooks, while her clear, elfin voice breathes fresh life into every phrase.

Evidently comfortable in her own skin, this timeless pixie is instantly endearing if not world-weary wise, dispensing her hard-won wisdom like the confidante you never had. Another high point appeared with Colvin’s treatment of Tom Wait’s “Hold On” (Mule Variations), the artist reverently recreating the 4-part version, as performed as part of her “Three Girls and their Buddy” tour, boiling it down to a single part. Her guitar prowess was underlined as she jazzed up treatments of both “Sunny Came Home” and the breathtaking “I Don’t Know Why” while the final song of the night—“Ricochet In Time”—was driven home by her percussive plucking of the high E string, as if to send each bullet flying.

All in all, a wonderfully intimate night in a phenomenally sound-friendly room.

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