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A Plaskett prescription for the 'Shoe's birthday

A Plaskett prescription for the ‘Shoe’s birthday
BRAD WHEELER – The Globe and Mail

December 12, 2007

JOEL PLASKETT EMERGENCY At the Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto on Monday

Joel Plaskett is back on the saloon stage, looking awfully secure. It’s 11 o’clock on a Monday night, with Canada’s indie-rock Buddy Holly stooping in a rustic room we thought he had outgrown. But this is a step-back, not a setback – the conceit is a night-by-night, album-by-album career retrospective, beginning with Plaskett’s debut solo album, the occasionally countrified In Need of Medical Attention. He has advanced admirably since 1999, and square one sure is a warmer, fuzzier place when you’re just visiting.

The six-night residency is part of the Horseshoe’s 60th-birthday hoopla, complete with glitzy, gold decorative streamers hung about. So, all good vibes and high fun, but the album’s loose narrative isn’t so cheery: The hospital-themed material, a response to the death of Plaskett’s grandfather, involves a rough patch of retrospection for the Halifax songwriter.

“I’m sorry, father,” are the first lyrics sung by the ever-thin Plaskett, still looking like a boy next door at the age of 33. He looks like he might be a grocery-bagging whiz, down at the Bayside Food Mart perhaps, but the affecting, piano-based The News of Your Son concerns an idle lad who would seem to be a failure: “When he lifted a finger, it was to turn out the light.”

The depressive When I Have My Vision rocks a little, with slack strings and a grungy tone. Forever In Debt is a beautifully haunting downer, with the three-piece Emergency band helped by a trombone player. Weigh It Down is dark, with a chorus about sadness, dull routines and the “lazy bastard with a spark who never left a mark.”

Plaskett has been a touring musician since he was a teenager, first making his mark with the guitar-rocking college-radio favourites Thrush Hermit in the early 1990s, when Halifax was dubbed “the Next Seattle.” On his own, his rock is tuneful and musically classic, with a conceptual bent. At the Horseshoe, he closes the album segment of the set with the calm-keyed, celestial Goodbye, Doctor, a gentle sendoff.

It’s not an upbeat album, live or otherwise, but Plaskett pulls it off with no maudlin mush. He presents himself as a generally pleased and pleasing performer, with the right mix of aw-shucks humility and a (justifiably) strong confidence in what he’s doing. He plays acoustic guitar as much as electric, he writes compelling simple songs and his tenor voice is to your liking. But he’s a rocker, not a singer-songwriter, let’s be clear.

The rest of the evening involves a few rarity requests – including All Dressed Up, with the audience helping out on the words – but mostly we hear the robust, euphoric anthems of Ashtray Rock, a recent conceptual album to be played in its entirety on Friday and Saturday. Plaskett shows his taste here for blues and classic rock, what with the clear Pete Townshend strum to Face of the Earth, the riffy, nail-tough Snowed In and the cowbell-and-doo-wop-loving Penny For Your Thoughts.

Near the night’s end, a Holly-inspired gallop has Plaskett looking to “tear a strip off these blues,” asking, “Can I go nowhere with you?” Ah, but he’s been places already, with more to go. As for us, we’ve got five more nights of Joel Plaskett and the Emergency. We’re not going anywhere.

Plaskett’s ‘Shoe-in

Paying tribute to the Horseshoe Tavern’s 60th birthday and its rich legacy of week-long residencies – from Buddy Guy to Stompin’ Tom Connors to the Rheostatics – Halifax indie-rockers Joel Plaskett and the Emergency played the first of six nights at the Toronto rock room on Monday. They continue through Saturday, performing the album Truthfully, Truthfully tonight, La De Da tomorrow and Ashtray Rock Friday and Saturday. 9:30 p.m., $15.50 to $18. 370 Queen St. W., Toronto, 416-598-4226.