With Hawksley Workman’s vast and varied catalogue, it’s hard to consider anything a deep cut, but last night in Victoria’s Alix Goolden Music Hall, an old church turned venue, he and his band treated the crowd to a set mostly devoid of the more popular staples. I was personally a bit taken aback when the quartet opened with “Tonight Romanticize the Automobile.” It was obvious it was going to be a special show.
Throughout the first section of Workman’s set the band was in full flight, plugged in and driving hard. “Teenage Cats” and “Make Up Your Mind Tonight” (a straight-up disco killer) from his recent album Old Cheetah popped even more than they do on the record, and gave Workman the perfect platform for his numerous and vigorous power-kicks. Those new songs, nestled among selections spanning his entire career, were proof that Workman hasn’t lost his penchant for writing catchy songs that straddle pop-rock and art-rock with incredible dexterity. I think if Prince and Tragically Hip’s Gord Downie had a baby, it would be Workman.
Even though his voice was overwhelmed in the show’s early moments, it would rise up above the wall of sound giving hints of what was to come. When the electric guitars were traded for acoustics, everything mellowed down and Workman’s vocals filled the room from top to bottom. Quieter songs like “Song for Sarah Jane” and “Old Bloody Orange” (accompanied by opener Fiona Bevan) swelled with feeling each time Workman’s voice built up to one of those amazing peaks.
Even Hawksley’s banter was in top form. He thanked people repeatedly for enjoying live music instead of watching the ever-captivating programming on Home and Garden Television. He told tales of his cats, his new taking-a-break-from-the-news way of life and being moved to to tears with Bevan in the BC Ferries buffet area traveling from Vancouver. Workman may look like my cousin the accountant now, but he still works a crowd as well as anyone, with equal parts talent, flare and warmth.