Aengus Finnan
at the Church Theatre,
St. Jacobs, Ontario
(6 October 2002)

Sometimes I just feel the need to wander, to get in the car all by myself and drive. That feeling hit me on a Sunday afternoon, so I took to the road that led me to the tiny town of St. Jacobs in southwestern Ontario (about 90 minutes west of Toronto). I arrived to the sound of church bells ... and the mood was set. The Church Theatre is a wonderful little spot with amazing acoustics and no sound system. It provides for a purity of music and performance not easy to find anymore. But where better to celebrate the third CD release in four days of Aengus Finnan's latest masterpiece? I saw him play here last November (which was amazing even with no heat in the building) and couldn't wait to get back. And I wasn't the only one -- there was a lot of applause when he asked who had been at that first show.

This time, he brought along local singer songwriter and artist Kristin Sweetland to open the show. Her new record, Root, Heart, and Crown was recently released -- she sang us a few songs from it in a too-short set. Her voice was high and lilting one minute and deep and husky the next; and she's a phenomenal guitar player. I look forward to hearing more of her work.

Finnan soon took to the stage with bandmates Trevor Mills (bass) and David Rogers (guitar) and delighted the audience with two sets (and two encores) of songs. Finnan sang all the songs from his new album, North Wind, as well as one (an emotional tribute to Gordon Lightfoot) that is a work in progress, one written by a friend of his (David Newland's excellent "When the Whistle Blows") and a couple of traditional gems. I love seeing him play with Mills and Rogers -- their considerable talents as musicians and vocalists add another dimension to the sound of his songs and allow them to experiment and play off each other (I've never heard "Wayfaring Stranger" done quite that way!). Finnan has been touring with them for about a year -- including on the six-week tour this spring that took them from Ontario to the Yukon and back -- and it shows that they love playing together.

As always, the night was filled with stories and more than a few laughs. Some highlights: "Ruins," from the new record, which Finnan wrote after a meeting with an old man in a nursing home. This man said that if he'd known how much it would hurt to see auctioneers sell off his family farm, he would have torched the place before he left. The song had a special resonance in this rural community. "Apple Blossom Tyme," a jazzy number about love in Northumberland County, has definitely evolved since Mills and Rogers joined the band. The harmonies sounded perfect with the acoustics of the building. At the end of the first set, we got to exercise our choir voices in a singalong on the chorus of "My Heart Has Wings," fitting for a show in a church. Finnan introduced my favourite song on the new record, "Last Dance," by saying, "Where's the tension in a song about someone who makes it?" I couldn't agree more.

Finally, as we cheered and called him up for a second encore, he came out with a grin and asked: "Do you want to tap your toes or weep?" This being an Aengus Finnan concert, I wasn't the only one who shouted that we wanted to weep, so he obliged with his most heartbreaking ballad, the a cappella "O'Shaughnessy's Lament." The room fell so silent that I could hear the lights buzzing overhead. It was beautiful. Unwilling to send us into the night with such a sad song, Finnan called the boys back onstage to end the night with "Wayfaring Stranger," which turned into a bass/guitar jam session that even had Finnan looking surprised.

It was a wonderful show -- the perfect venue for a folk concert. I can't wait to get back there.

- Rambles
written by Rachel Jagt
published 30 November 2002

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