Jason Collett and some all-star friends celebrate at the Great Hall

photos and review by Michael Thomas

In the second time this year that I’ve admitted to being a bad Canadian, I must preface this review with the fact that until Tuesday night, I was not intimately familiar with Jason Collett’s vast songbook. I had of course heard a few of his songs here and there on CBC. But seeing him live (for two straight hours, without a break!) told me exactly why he’s been making music as long as he as.

Collett drew a pretty great crowd for the hometown release show for Reckon, his latest full-length album which he described as “a political rant.” According to a story he told on stage, after a show in Germany a middle-aged man told Collett that he should sing less about memories of youth and more about issues that are affecting him now. Collett joked (or maybe not) that he wrote Reckon for that German man.

Jason Collett with Bahamas, left, and Danielle Duval, right.

Supporting Collett was what can only be described as an all-star cast: members of Zeus, Bahamas, Danielle Duval, Howie Beck, Brendan Canning, Kevin Drew, Charles Spearin and even Andrew Cash, just to name a few.

The effect of this constantly rotating cast of musicians had the effect of keeping the energy level high as Collett sailed through a set comprised of many songs from Reckon along with a collection of his older work as well.

The Great Hall didn’t feel chokingly packed, but every song Collett performed met with raucous applause from the audience. He started out the set alone on stage, playing Reckon opener “Pacific Blue” before the guests began pouring out onto the stage.

Jason Collett and Andrew Cash

One of the coolest guests by far was Andrew Cash, now an MP but formerly the front man of L’Etranger. He had apparently flown straight from Ottawa to play a part in the spectacle. Despite Collett saying they hadn’t rehearsed, Cash did well, doing backup vocals in one song and playing guitar for another.

Howie Beck managed to make a pretty hilarious impression when he drummed in one song, slyly insinuating there was more to his relationship with Collett then just producer-to-musician. Afie Jurvanen, better known as Bahamas, was the sharpest-dressed man on stage, and near-wordlessly played through many songs with the ease that always seems to emanate from him as he plays.

But of course, at the heart of the spectacle was Collett himself, who didn’t seem the slightest bit tired after playing for more than 120 minutes. His songs could change from a mellow acoustic song to one that could get the crowd moving at the drop of a hat.

The crowd’s enthusiasm toward every song was apparent- normally when a musician is playing a set heavy with new material, the crowd will respectfully nod along, but as he announced that he would playing new songs like “King James Rag” and “You’re Not the Only One and Lonely One” you could hear at least a few people genuinely excited that he would be playing it.

Jason Collett and Kevin Drew, centre.

And of course his older material made fans even more enthusiastic, when he played tracks from Idols of Exile or the exceedingly catchy “Love is a Dirty Word” from Rat a Tat Tat.

For an encore, Collett brought out almost everyone who had shared the stage with him- including Collett himself, there were a staggering six people playing guitar including Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning, one bass player, a drummer, and three horn players (I may even be forgetting some). The song suited the atmosphere- Collett’s infectious “I’ll Bring the Sun.”

There is now no doubt in my mind as to why Collett’s profile is as high as it is- as a performer he is nothing short of enigmatic, expanding or shrinking his music as the need dictates.

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