by Jeremy Owen
I’m stationed behind the CD table at the Elmdale Tavern and the anticipation is palpable: very shortly 2 local giants of folk will take the stage with a talented out-of-towner, like some sort of musical equinox, an aligning of the cosmos rarely seen and never to be repeated again.
There’s the scraping of chairs as their occupants maneuver for sightlines, the muted hum of a dozen conversations ready to fall silent at a moments notice. And you can just tell it’s going to be a good night for the Spirit.
Just when I think the room can’t hold anymore, it miraculously does; the walls seem to swell to accommodate the masses. Musicians armed with acoustic guitars storm the stage and the show begins. Tony Turner opens with an overview of the history of Rasputin’s, briefly detailing her rise and fall and recent resurrection. It’s an uplifting note to begin the evening on and after this introduction, Rob Heath from Edmonton plays the first song of the night, ‘Mystery of You’, followed by Tom Lips, followed by Tony himself.
It’s a merry-go-round of contrasting styles and vocals, woven together by a common thread; something which I can’t put my finger on but which transcends a lone performer with an acoustic guitar. A generosity of spirit perhaps, wedded to the sort of talent and ability that is honed through a lifetime of dedication to the craft. Whatever the case, all three men are in top form as they sing songs of love and life (Rob), history and death (Tony) and everything else beyond and between (Tom).
Tom Lips, a thinking man’s lyricist, sings and plays as though there’s a tempest somewhere deep inside him, one that he’s mastered and releases only in these short controlled bursts; Rob’s voice is the gentle touch of a true humanitarian (his generosity evidenced by his donation of CD sales to the Unitarian Service Committee). Bridging these extremes is Tony’s rock-solid baritone, around which the notes of his guitar seem to glitter and dance. Honestly, there are times when Tony is playing where you have to check the stage to confirm that only one guitar is being played – the sound is just so impossibly full, his hands working with the unhurried speed of a master.
All told, the trio provides a night of acoustic music as pure as the peeling of steeple bells; 2 sets that leave no one unsatisfied and everybody wanting more. The universal call for an encore does not go unanswered, as each performer takes one last song and gives us one last gift. Tony Turner closes the evening out with the crowd-pleasing sing-along “Kingpin”.
Afterward, the tavern empties as people go to their cars and their bus-stops, call their cabs or begin walking to those places which their feet can take them. They leave in groups and in gaggles, alone or in pairs, but each with just that much more spring in their step. That spring which is the true Spirit of Rasputin’s.
(The highlight of this magnificent evening, for me, was Tom Lips whom I knew but didn’t know that I knew. Tom wrote and performed a song about ghosts for this year’s Song-Along that completely sunk my ghost song’s battleship and some small part of me has been singing it ever since. Happily, he played that song again this night and it was like seeing an old friend.)
There are more photos here.
Jeremy Owen had some awkward issues with the present vs. the past tense in the writing of this review; these struggles bear an eerie similarity to those same issues he has with the past and present tense in real life. He lives in Ottawa and has a new kitten, Napolean.