aniel Lanois brought a preview of his new album (Shine, out April 22, 2003) to Toronto's venerable El Mocambo. The "Elmo" recently re-opened in its original location after having been turned into a dance studio and the name moved to another club down the street. For live music fans in Toronto, it is as though hallowed ground has been returned, albeit with a facelift. This is the first album that Lanois has released since 1993's "For the Beauty of Wynonna" which was a huge critical success, coming on the heels of his production work on U2's "Achtung Baby". The new record is being released on Epitaph Records "Anti" imprint. In itself this is an interesting move as Epitaph (Founded by Bad Religion's Brett Gurewitz) made its name as a punk label. The "Anti" branch of Epitaph has released albums by a diverse range of artists such as the Tom Waits, Merle Haggard, Tricky and others. Lanois has been busy creating an impressive resume as producer of international renown. Having worked with an eclectic list of artists such as U2, Peter Gabriel, The Tea Party, Robbie Robertson and others ensures that his name appears in most CD collections. His fans have been anticipating the release of a new album for quite some time, as was evidenced by the full room and line-up outside the club. The show took place fittingly enough during Canadian Music Week (actually its down to 4 days, but who's counting).
He began the show with an instrumental piece that featured his exquisite guitar playing over a slow beat. His guitar solos are reminiscent of Neil Young's style, focusing on primal sounds and raw intensity, but tending to be a bit more melodic. After the band had settled in, he moved on to play material off his forthcoming disc. If the songs he played are any indication, the new album looks as though it is going to be a collection of personal songs, perhaps answering why it has taken so long for him to release a follow-up solo disc of his own. Highlights included the title track "Shine" and "Falling at Your Feet" which is slated to appear on the record with guest vocals by U2's Bono. Before launching into this piece he quipped that Bono, with whom he wrote the track, unfortunately couldn't join him that particular night so his drummer would have to do the job of filling in the vocals. In introducing another of his new songs he began with speaking about how nice it would be to have a guardian angel around to warn you before you make mistakes. Ironically, he had to start the song three times after forgetting the chord progression and apologizing that it was a new song. Nonetheless, the performance was still beautiful.
Aside from serving up slow, emotive rock songs, Daniel also spent some time playing the pedal steel guitar, which he told the audience he learned as a child when given the choice between playing it or the Accordion. Luckily he chose this instrument as his playing was in fine form, showing that he is an adept multi-instrumentalist. A native of Quebec, Lanois moved to Hamilton Ontario at an early age. Paying homage to his roots, he worked in a number of traditional Quebecois folk songs - ending one with an incendiary guitar solo over a blues shuffle after translating the lyrics for the French impaired in attendance. He also experimented with a strange instrument called the "Omnichord" (an electronic chord synthesizer) to which he had been introduced by Brian Eno. Playing chords on the machine over a synthesized drumbeat, he proved that even a terrible sounding instrument could be used to stunning and simple effect in the right context. He moved the piece over to the real instruments to kick the emotional elements up a notch into an extended jam with his rock solid drummer. As with other times in the show, his intense guitar playing noticeably entranced the audience. It was as if the entire room held their breath, closed their eyes and were pulled in. The only drawback was that at times the diverse styles he presented over the course of the set did not seem to flow into each other and the difference in styles seemed to alternately alienate certain segments of the audience. Conversation in the back of the bar was much more noticeable over the folk songs than when he was playing a rock piece. Yet, few musicians would ever have the confidence to even attempt such a mix. While all the songs worked incredibly well own their own, the changes in mood and style seemed, at times, haphazard. About three songs into the set Lanois apologized that he had left his set list upstairs and was going to "wing it", which may explain the pacing.
The show came across as an intimate evening with a performer who is poised to release a very personal statement. It was likewise a bit rough around the edges, but in the end that only helped to foster a sense of intimacy with the band. As with all of Lanois' work in both performer and producer roles the emphasis was on the substance and the feeling of the music, rather than attempting to get a perfect sound. It was a great night at a Toronto landmark club, showcasing new intimate material from a Canadian artist who should rightfully be seen as a cultural treasure.