A Night of Music and Life Advice with Andrew Johnston at The Central

Andrew Johnston @ The Central, 17-05-12

Date of show: May 17, 2012

Written by: Chiara DiAngelo

Montreal-based indie folk-pop-rock singer-songwriter Andrew Johnston headlined a night of folk-rock at the Central. No stranger to the indie music scene, he is a former member of The Gentleman’s Club and most recently played guitar on fellow Montrealer JF Robitaille’s album “Calendar.” While Johnston’s latest album The Wake of the Wonder Years was released last October, this was his first visit to Toronto to support it.

Backed by a full band – guitar/keys, bass, drums – the tiny stage at The Central was more than slightly cramped for Johnston’s set. They started with “Get Ready For a Hurricane,” an upbeat, almost danceable rock number. Proud to be from Montreal, and of the current student demonstrations underway, next song “The Dark Place” was sent out to those who stand up for what they believe in. With a Cat Stevens-like sound to his vocals, Johnston let his guitar lay idle halfway through and picked up the mic to just sing. There was real emotion behind the lyrics, which made this song one of my favourites.

A seasoned musician, his set was peppered with (often long-winded) between-song banter, as he described the stories behind many of his songs and doled out both industry and life advice. Referring to a “dark place” he’d been in that spurned a couple of his songs – “Beat Down the Stereo” and “Long Lost Sounds” – it is obvious that Johnston has been through a lot to get to the point in his career that he is now. He urged the audience to “keep pursuing your dream.” While he is “just a guy who plays music,” Johnston also works a regular job, but is trying to make a life in music work – because it’s his “religion” up on stage and sometimes you “just have to say fuck it and be afraid.” Whether in the music business or not, I think everyone in attendance walked out of the show with something to think about – music and life lessons all in one!

Another highlight of Johnston’s set was his invitation to vocalist Amanda Mabro to join the band on a few tracks, including “Big Blue Apple,” a song about a magically intense night in New York City that had an exuberantly full sound. The female backup vocals added a nice addition to their sound. Somewhere along the way, the drummer hit his head on a cymbal, breaking the skin, yet he just kept going. In another between-song talk, Mabro called the drummer “bad-ass,” and while it was for a more PG13 reason that I won’t mention here, I’d say anyone who rocks out with a bleeding gash on their forehead is indeed quite badass (*Note: he was alright).

After covering Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin,’” Johnston finished his set with a new song, “Living In a Free World.” Having grown up listening to songs about freedom, Johnston mentioned he wanted to try writing one of his own. While the song was still rough, it was coming from a place of meaning that I could appreciate. He ended the night by once again thanking the audience for supporting him and live music, especially a band from out of town.

If you missed him this time around, Andrew Johnston will be back in Toronto on July 5, this time playing at The Piston.

Andrew Johnston @ The Central, 17-05-12 Andrew Johnston @ The Central, 17-05-12 Andrew Johnston @ The Central, 17-05-12 Andrew Johnston @ The Central, 17-05-12 Andrew Johnston @ The Central, 17-05-12 Andrew Johnston @ The Central, 17-05-12

The National Shield

From Toronto/Vancouver, support act The National Shield warmed the stage for Andrew Johnston. Playing poppy folk-rock, much of their set centred around songs from their latest album Weird Lines, which was just released the week prior.

Playing as a three-piece, the band had a great foot-stomping, punchy, classic folk-rock sound, with a little bit of wailing guitar thrown in for good measure. I especially enjoyed when they slowed the tempo down on “Farwell Creek,” a song apparently about drowning your love. In beer. Another highlight of their set was the song “To Say Goodbye.” While this one was upbeat almost all the way until the end, it closed with just the morose strumming of the guitar and the three voices singing “can you tell us why you love to say goodbye?” Haunting and beautiful to say the least.

There was unfortunately a lot of intra-band discussion between songs about what to play next and the bassist kept referring to a notebook for her parts in the songs, giving me the impression they may not have been as prepared for the set as they could have been. However, when they were playing, their set was filled with powerfully pretty guitars and lovely harmonic vocals.

Their last song was once again drawn out and slower, with a darker sound. It ended with deep a capella voices before the guitar came back in again, just briefly. The band drew in for a group hug before heading off stage – the camaraderie was really special to see and their set was a great pairing with Johnston.

The National Shield @ The Central, 17-05-12The National Shield @ The Central, 17-05-12 The National Shield @ The Central, 17-05-12

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Categories: Live Music


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