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Stellar, Stellar, Stellar

NXEW – guest post by Greg Amos

Joel Plaskett doesn’t disappoint in first visit to Prince George.

It’s safe to say Joel Plaskett’s first visit to Prince George played out better than expected, after a relaxed night of catchy folk rock, genuine lyrics, and tales from his 15 years as a touring musician.

More importantly, Plaskett avoided repeating the history that played out in a visit to the province a dozen years ago.

“You treat me wrong, I’ll get back at you in a song,” grinned the amiable Plaskett before a rendition of “Love This Town,” a song written after a disastrous 1997 performance in Kelowna by Plaskett’s previous band, Thrush Hermit.

The Nova Scotian singer-songwriter veered between rock, pop, country and folk during his Sunday night (January 25) performance at the Prince George Playhouse Theatre, and proved equally adept at each genre – no small feat considering he sang and played alone for most of the night.

It began with Plaskett taking the stage in a black cowboy shirt along with his father and backup guitarist, Bill Plaskett.

The show kicked off with “a love song for you, from my neck of the woods to yours,” Plaskett told the crowd before launching into “Happen Now”.

After warming up the crowd with “Deny, Deny, Deny” and the light-hearted “You Let Me Down”, Plaskett launched into “Through and Through and Through”, the first single from his acclaimed 2009 triple-album, “Three”.

The show was one of several sold-out performances during the Coldsnap Festival, which is taking place throughout Prince George until January 30. It’s also part of a truncated tour for Plaskett in support of “Three”, which was shortlisted for the Polaris Prize and virtually swept the 2009 East Coast Music Awards.

The disc was not to be found at the merch table, as all 75 copies brought on tour had sold out the night before during Plaskett’s opening performance for Steve Earle in Vancouver.

Plaskett proved he’s not just a great musician – he’s also a fine showman. With too much wit to contain in between-song banter, Plaskett let his wisecracks infiltrate the spaces between the lines he sung. In “Lying on a Beach,” Plaskett delighted the crowd with wry and self-depreciating observations on his former job archiving tapes for the CBC. Emphasizing the boredom conveyed in the lyrics, Plaskett stopped to check his own pulse, then literally slapped himself awake.

A fond recollection of the final days of his Chevy Suburban touring van, taken down to Mesa, Arizona to record “La De Da” in 2004, gave way to a brilliant rendition of “Natural Disaster.” Without his band The Emergency in tow, Plaskett took full advantage of performing solo, making powerful use of his vocal range and open-tuned acoustic guitars. He revealed his hit song “True Patriot Love” drew inspiration from Billy Joel, but cautioned the crowd: “If I ever get to ‘We Didn’t Start the Fire’, send me a letter, and I’ll retire.”

A Casio keyboard and the airport security stories it spawned gave way to “Rewind, Rewind, Rewind”, and a stripped-down version of “Fashionable People” with voices from the crowd filling in on falsetto vocals.

Stepping back onstage for an encore, Plaskett laughed off a request for his 12-minute epic “On, On, On”, yet couldn’t resist playing the verse about his cat, White Fang. He rocked out the radio-rejection frustration of “Radio Fly” before going back to the archives to pull out an acoustic cover of Thrush Hermit’s “Before You Leave”.

Plaskett wrapped up the night with “Wishful Thinking”, buying time during a verse to ad-lib an ode to Prince George: “It’s rated PG /It’s sometimes adult /When I got off the plane /I said ‘it smells a lot like pulp’.

Opener Hannah Georgas made a few new fans with her heartfelt and poignant acoustic pop. The singer-songwriter won 2009’s CBC Radio 3 award for Best New Artists, and captivated the crowd with songs like “The National” and “Shine”. Her first full-length album is due out in April.