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I wasn’t quite sure what to expect as I walked into the Bonfire Ball on Saturday night. A friend of mine had seen the show in Seattle a couple nights prior and simply told me that I was in for a surprise—and to be sure that I got there right on time. His predictions were sound; instead of doing the usual opener/headliner thing, Jason Collett, Zeus and Bahamas put on a more organic, and collaborative show. The bands morphed into one, with amazing results.
Sugar Nightclub was eerily desolate when Jason Collett took the stage. Many of the candle lit tables were empty; there was no line up at the bar. He slipped onto the stage unannounced and encouraged the handful of people in front of him to move a bit closer as he started into a couple of solo renditions of old songs on his battered acoustic guitar. The disco balls were set a-spin, their freckling light splayed across Collett’s road-weary face.
Collett is a striking figure: tall and lithe, he has a natural rhythm about him that manifests itself in the little shuffle he does as he looks to the sky for the right words to sing. It occurred to me, as Collett performed his solo set, that he is a man who looks out of place alone on stage. While he can boast of four ‘solo’ records to date, Collett is probably best known for his work with Broken Social Scene, a musical collective based out of Toronto. It is not uncommon, at any given Broken Social Scene show, for there to be up to fourteen people to be on the stage; Collett, one of four guitarists.
Collett’s newest offering, Rat a Tat Tat, is his best, and most collaborative, record to date. While all three of his previous albums are great, there is a spark and a soul on the new album that his previous work has merely hinted at. When Collett called Zeus down from their greenroom on high, it was immediately apparent that he owes a lot to his new band; on Saturday night, they infused Collett’s older songs with a renewed sense of power and tension.
Zeus was as tight as the jeans of many of the hipsters in attendance that night. They are a difficult band to write about, as any reference to ‘the guitarist’ or ‘the drummer’ or even, ‘the singer’ is problematic; the musicians changed instruments after every song with a delicate ease. Further complicating identification matters, is the fact that every member had a moustache. I have resigned myself to only refer to the band collectively, which, upon thinking about it, is much in the spirit of the Bonfire Ball itself.
The Bonfire Ball was much more dynamic and complex than most shows; in many ways, it was like a Hootenanny. Collett’s material, old and new, was interspersed throughout two long sets, which also featured works from Zeus and Bahamas. While Collett’s material was more familiar to me, it was Zeus’ original compositions (and covers—they even did a Genesis song toward the end of the set (!)) that got the crowd dancing. Collett seemed to be quite content backing up his ‘back up band’ on guitar throughout the show, and even gave up the stage to them on several occasions.
Collett, whose music often explores what it means to be Canadian, is on to something with the Bonfire Ball. Canadian identity has long emphasized the collective over the individual, and the unique structure of Saturday night’s show was a perfect musical representation of the Canadian collectivist sentiment. Drawing from the repertoires of three musical outfits allowed Collett and Co. to contrast their respective songs with the songs two other outfits; the whole was greater than the sum of the parts. It was a uniquely Canadian experience.