The Great Hall in Toronto, ON
April 4, 2014
Review by: Chad Hutchings
Photos by: Katrina Thorn
Jay Malinowski and company bring the Meet Me at The Gate tour to one of Toronto's favourite spaces.
Most of us know Jay Malinowski from the front of Bedouin Soundclash, that Canadian reggae alternative hybrid that kicks around everytime the sun breaks out and pints meet patios. We all need that music sometimes. But, for better or for worse, their sound doesn't leave a lot of room for brooding and introspection, so the lead has taken to solo efforts to explore other depths of sound. And, because of this, we've met Martel, Malinowski's new album that took centre stage last week at Toronto's ever-intimate Great Hall.
It's important to note the intimacy here more than ever, because every effort was made to make it so for the show. Extra-dim lights and dozens of seats did their best to keep the crowd close and loving for a set that would surely be the same, but a huge turn-out had the audience spilling over to standing and taking up spots on the second floor. Don't worry though, this was hardly a bad thing when the show didn't suffer at all, with help from the big sounds coming from backing band The Deadcoast, this night featuring Patrick Krief (of The Dears and solo effort Krief). The extra support didn't take away from the depths of Martel and the few off-album tracks on the set-list, though - let's just call them an amplification.
Maybe a little context is necessary here. Martel came to life with inspiration from the album's namesake, Jay's seafaring ancestor Charles Martel. Through his grandfather's detailed mapping of their family history before his passing, Malinoswki discovered the lore of Martel, whose rollercoaster life was full of religious persecution, life on the sea, great battles in war, and colonization of the new world. Offshooting from his life, as Malinowski put it, "the Martels after Charles became sailors, privateers and pirates for the most part. It was a dislocation I felt deeply having been continuously travelling for all my life".
And so, moved by this history and the parallels with his own year, Jay Malinowski wove the album with celebration and introspection, combining flourishes of pop, flamenco, vaudeville, and a dozen other genres to make the listeners part of the family - to move them like he'd been moved by his history. The fear here, of course, is that this wouldn't translate to the stage. Fortunately (but not by fortune), the Great Hall audience was moved in just the same way. The real beauty of this show wasn't the musical skills shining, because these artists' talents have been tested enough over the years that nobody was shocked about how cleanly they came (not that that should be taken for granted). Instead, there was something so engaging about the presentation that was pretty difficult to define, yet it was what everyone took home; Malinowski's show was lively and full of laughs and smiles, yet it was endlessly personal, and there was always some desperately sad undertone that struck a cord from the first notes. There were times when the roof very well might have been shaking and nothing could have pleased that crowd more, and there were times when the music was hushed and a some seemed almost enraged because they couldn't hear a pin drop. It was a night of movement, defined by songs like the upbeat-yet-lip-quivering "Patience Phipps" that had the audience moving to the beat while the couples squeezed hands. That really was what the whole set offered up, when the pot boiled down; Malinowski's show made the Toronto audience's dreamers dream, lovers cry, and dancers dance.