As in other forms of art and performance, there are many aspects of music that come and go with changing tastes and preferences. But even though instruments, lyrics, and genres can cyclically arrive and then fall out of fashion, I do think that there should always be room for authenticity and emotion. Together, Tom Odell and Jane’s Party showed the crowd at the Corona Theatre that while some musical trends move around in waves, sentiment can never go out of style.
Toronto quartet Jane’s Party opened the show with a contained burst of pop-rock joy that is tailor-made for festivals and dance-floors alike. But while their time-tested bouncy basslines, trebly guitar hooks, and liberal use of harmonized ooh-woo-woo‘s feel expertly designed to get bodies and heart-rates moving on a sun-drenched afternoon, nothing about these tunes comes off as derivative or manufactured.
Tapping into the same vein as bands like Said the Whale, Yukon Blonde, and Death Cab for Cutie (after Narrow Stairs), Jane’s Party have figured out the age-old secret that feelings can be fun. Songs like “You’re the Light” (which opened both the set and their 2019 release Casual Islands), “Wait for You”, and the aptly-titled “Straight From the Heart” don’t play coy with metaphors. Instead, they rocket straight into plain-spoken emotion as the boys in the band trade lead vocal duties like a Gen-Y version of Sloan and bounce around the stage with Springsteen arm pumps and controlled chaos.
Having already accompanied him on tour in Poland this is not the first time that Jane’s Party opened up for Tom Odell – and the band performed their self-described duties as Odell’s “Canadian attachés” with poise and swagger. But it seemed to me like that crowd needed no introduction to Mr. Odell, erupting in screams as soon as he took the stage with his band and sat down at his grand piano in the darkness.
Playing the first notes of the gospel-tinged title-track from last year’s Jubilee Road, Odell started the evening with an appropriate “It’s a late Friday night…” and a wry portrait of bittersweet neighbourhood life that would make Closing Time-era Tom Waits grin. Soon enough, however, the band kicks in and Odell swings for the Sir Elton fences as the song crescendos into a piano-driven rock that I haven’t seen live in a long time.
Hailing from Chichester, West Sussex, the 28-year-old Odell has an accent and self-effacing charm that made the couples I saw around me swoon in unison. The quieter moments on songs like “You’re Gonna Break My Heart Tonight” and “Sparrow” show Odell wearing his heart on his sleeve and putting his nearly theatrical vocal mastery of falsetto, vibrato, range, and projection through its paces. But it’s truly special to see Odell kick into higher-gear, stand up, bash his boogie-woogie keys like it’s “Crocodile Rock”, climb on top of the piano, and then say during the cool-down, “I don’t know what came over me!”. It’s equally heartening to see a crowd of many young showgoers respond with so much love to a kind of music that doesn’t always get much play in modern mainstream media.
Odell’s set spans a wide mix of songs old and new, reading as far back as 2013’s “See If I Care”. While he may have grown a strong following with tearjerker appearances on soundtracks to The Fault In Our Stars and Grey’s Anatomy, he also moves between baroque pop, torch songs, and piano rock (in classic and modern flavours) as gracefully as his fingers dance across the 88. The audience follows along with him too, singing along with all of the lyrics by the end of the second song (“I Know”), continuing throughout the solo and full-band portions of the evening, and even taking the microphone as Odell wanders out into the crowd during “Hold Me”.
They also joined in on a jubilant set-closing cover of Billy Joel’s “Piano Man”, celebrating one of Odell’s clear influences along with a surprise appearance from Half Moon Run’s Conner Molander. While that song can come off in the wrong hands as cheesy, overdone, or karaoke-lite, Odell and his hold band belted Billy with true reverence and feeling. This put a memorable button on the main set before a lengthy encore of new hits (“Son of an Only Child”) and old favourites (“Somehow”, “Concrete”). Ending with the final punctuation of “Another Love”, Odell sent his fans off with a little bit of sadness and a little bit of anger. But after the whole evening’s journey, you can bet that everyone’s heart was full to the brim.
Review – Dan Corber
Photos – Arianne Bergeron