A small congregation of people gathered at the Dakota Tavern this past Tuesday, unsure of what lied in store for the night. They had come for the fourth in a series of five sold-out Basement Revues this December hosted by Jason Collett. The Basement Revues are typically a surprise – Collett claims that this tradition is not because he and co-curator Damian Rogers strive for mystery, but rather because they “don’t have their shit together” and performers are often thrown together at the last minute. Still, the event has been a success for many years. In fact, if you ask Collett, 2014 marks the seventh straight year that he has put on the event (though others will contend that it’s the eighth).
Earlier this month, he broke tradition and announced the lineup (which included Kevin Drew, Gord Downie, and A Tribe Called Red) in advance of a larger show held at The Opera House to raise awareness for missing First Nations women. But whether a result of disorganization or not, the lineups of Collett’s other more intimate Revues, however, each of which features of a different mix of local musicians and writers, have remained unannounced. The mystery lends itself well to eliminating the barriers between audience members and performers. This is furthered by the cozy ambiance of the Dakota Tavern, which served as a warm venue for the celebration of the Toronto arts community and local talent. Indeed, I could literally (and probably did) rub shoulders with many of the evening’s performers.
Though a prolific musician in his own right, Collett opened with only three songs of his own and quickly moved on to introduce writer Emma Healey as his first guest. She read a handful of charming and winsome poems: “The National Student Loans Centre, Not Calling You” and “The National Research Council Official Time Signal”.
Next up was Felicity WIlliams, accompanied on stage by guitarist Justin Haynes and vibraphonist (!) Michael Davidson. Williams, known for her work with Toronto’s beloved Bahamas, offered up a couple songs. She opened with “Common Girls”, a tribute to her favourite coffee shop “The Common” on Bloor and closed with her breathy and lovely rendition of Neil Young’s “Philadelphia”.
Writer David Balzer (also Associate Editor of Canadian Art magazine) followed with another reading of (dare I say curated?) selections from his recently published book Curationism: How Curating Took Over the Art World and Everything Else.
After a short intermission, Collett took the stage again with a stripped down version of the mellow favourite “Blue Sky” from his Motor Motel Love Songs.
Co-host Damian Rogers read a collection of poignant and dark poems. Of note was “Dear Leader”: “Is he revisiting the vines of Vietnam, or caressing his cache of semi-automatics, the collection he kept in case of coup?” Rogers read her poems with a tone much lighter their subject matter, but recognizing the grim nature of her work, apologized profusely all the same.
Julie Doiron came on donning a Herman Dune t-shirt (a nod to her friend and frequent collaborator). “Will You Still Love Me in December” was beautiful in its gentle desperation. Later, she and proclaimed best friend Will Kidman sang a playful cover of Sam Cooke’s “Bring It On Home To Me”.
The night ended with Michelle McAdorey, honoured with the longest set of the night consisting of four songs.
Just around midnight, Collett, who all night stood listening just several feet away from the stage, thanked the crowd for their support. We’re looking forward to the eighth (or ninth) Annual Basement Revue in 2015.
Review by Katrina Hui (@aujourdkhui) | Photo by Jeremy Amaudruz