Review and Photos by Mike Bax
An intimate evening of comedic sarcasm and dialogue from both Ria Mae and Elle King made for a spectacle that was very special for the attendants of her debut live performance in Toronto. This was (surprisingly) my first time at the Drake Hotel Underground. I knew it was small, but I didn’t know HOW small until I turned the corner to enter the venue and saw the stage. At this moment I knew two things: 1) My photos would suck*, 2) the show would be an amazing experience. Right on both counts.
From the moment I first heard Love Stuff, I wanted the chance to see Elle King in a small club. She is performing again with the Edgefest line-up at Echo Beach on July 23rd (and you should DEFINITELY go and see her there), but that event will be a larger crowd, and Elle is not headlining the Edgefest show. When the Drake show was announced, I knew I HAD to be there. There are about ten shows that were added in front of King’s existing tour schedule about a month ago as what can only be described as preview warm up dates for her and her accompanying four musicians.
Ria Mae delivered a half dozen songs with some deadpan banter in between that reminded me a bit of comedian Steven Wright. The acoustic style of her song writing mixed with her pokerfaced comedic wit made for an entertaining half hour of music. I hadn’t heard of her prior to this evening, and think she’ll be a name we hear more of as she continues to tour.
Elle King strutted on stage at shortly after 9pm and kept the room engaged for about an hour with an assortment of material from her debut album and some interesting cover versions. She wrestled a bit with her banjo, eventually admitting that it wasn’t functioning the way she wanted it to and not utilizing it again after two tracks were played with it. She managed to get ‘Song Of Sorrow’ out before she dismissed the instrument, so it was all good.
Elle played a wonderful cover of ‘Oh Darling’ by The Beatles during her main set and finished off her encore with her trash-talk version of ‘My Neck, My Back (Lick It)’ by Khia which surely got more than a few people talking long after she was done playing. Elle admitted to loving Toronto and wished that her tour was ending here rather than starting here. She indicated that we are the politest people on the planet and that heading back into the USA was going to require some adjustment.
King owned the room for an hour. She is deadpan funny, a deeply talented musician and a wonderful stage presence. From the sound of things, Ex’s and Oh’s has just gone gold in Canada with no signs of slowing down. She will likely never play a room this small in Toronto again, and I’m so glad I was a part of this debut performance.
*The lighting was extremely dim. My photos aren’t that bad, I guess.