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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Last Night: Doug Paisley at Rickshaw Stop

Posted By on Thu, Sep 24, 2009 at 9:15 AM

Doug Paisley
Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2009
Rickshaw Stop

Better than: A Canadian talk show about American politics.

Canadian songwriter Doug Paisley learned at an early age to dress in layers. At least that's what he told us last night from the stage at Rickshaw Stop, as he peeled off his jacket only to reveal more layers of long sleeved, cold-weather clothing below. In person, he was covered in plenty of fabric. But he was also kinda naked.

Not naked enough for us to see his pasty Toronto skin, but naked in the bare songs he sketched out for us with only an acoustic guitar to help carry the heavy emotional weights he was lifting. He'd warned us he was gonna get down to his metaphorical skivvies that night. This came after he asked the crowd--the small dozen or so of us gathered, typically for a tiny show, way in the back of the room by the bar--which set list did we want to hear? Our choices were the "tried and true" or the "wild card." Of course wild sounded more fun, so Paisley went with that, mixing what he called "songs that are three-quarters baked" with banter of the same quality.

Paisley's the kind of songwriter where even his half-baked ideas blow the delicate coffee-shop-circuit variety of sensitive guitar slingers off the stage. His vocals give all of his pronouncements (which mostly focus on love) an old soul quality, his delivery weathered like the best old country singers, who in a few words evoke that "been-there, lost-that" feeling.

Even Paisley's humor had a warm, well-worn vibe. He joked about his Canadian talk show idea, which would be called "Well, Whatever," and would involve him starting to discuss his opinions on American politics before changing course, with the title of the show as his excuse.

But the real thrust of the show came from Paisley's acoustic sketches, which involved rhetorical questions about how to keep love going, or, in the case of a Stanley Brothers cover, the way a city can make you sad for part of your life long gone. (Paisley said San Francisco had that effect on him, making him mourn something he went through since the last time he played here). The songs came off his new, self-titled CD, which opens with a gorgeously sad number, "What About Us?" Last night, the piano ballad came sans keys, but Paisley still pulled off well the stunning lament about ending up alone. (You can stream the song from his MySpace page).

Musically, Paisley comes off somewhere between Nick Drake and the Band, so even his most openly wounded sentiments keep an edge, housed somewhere between his complex guitar playing and the layers of toughness and tenderness being shed in his voice.

The set ended too early, and the room was too quiet--especially given Paisley's comfortable banter charming the few of us there in club. (The guy is new to Hamm's beer, we learned, and apparently is now quiet a fan). But the way he breaks down relationships into their barest emotional strands stayed with his fans long after he put his jacket back on and took off back into the night.

Critic's Notebook:

Personal bias: I've had Doug Paisley's CD on repeat--in my house, in my car, everywhere--since I first got the CD. It's the perfect fall soundtrack.

By the way: Arthur magazine's Jay Babcock is such a Paisley fan he's currently on the road as the songwriter's manager.

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Ian S. Port


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