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Time marches on...

Concert Review: Steven Page, House of Blues, Cleveland, OH November, 2, 2010

“Time marches forward” and “Nothing remains the same” may be two clichés rooted in truth, but what we sometimes forget is that change can be a good – and even a freeing — thing.

I’d been living with and enjoying Steven Page’s new album (Page One) for a while and was looking forward to seeing the tracks from this — and possibly his previous solo album The Vanity Project — performed live. But what of those perfectly classic Steven Page songs that could be classified as belonging to that other part of his life (For those who’ve been living under a rock Page left Barenaked Ladies, the band he co-founded twenty years ago, last year)? Would there be none of them? If so, would I leave disappointed?

There was no reason to worry.

As the starting time neared, I was struck by the size of the crowd – much smaller than I anticipated. Don’t get me wrong, I happen to be a huge fan of intimate performances, which is exactly how I would describe what followed, but it somehow felt wrong for there to be so few bodies. Surely, this small group weren’t the only ones who knew what a master-vocalist and expert song stylist was about to take the stage?

This well kept secret certainly needs to be shared.

In the near two hours Page performed, he delivered a good chunk of the new album; treated us to a few well-chosen covers; and, yes, spattered in some of those classics. But one thing was evidently clear from note one: this night wasn’t going to be a heart-warming stroll down memory lane, it was about fresh starts and a new lease.

My first glance at the set stage spoke volumes as to what we were about to be treated to. With more like a small orchestra than a band behind him, he launched into “A New Shore” the first track from  Page One. With the strong voice and crystal clear tone that drew me to this artist years ago, he sang of facing life’s changes head on. An autobiographical slice of life? Perhaps. But it also served as a reminder that as much as things change, they tend to stay the same.

New songs. A different sort of stage. But still the same amazing voice, warm wit, and engaging humor. Affectionate applause from the crowd greeted an old friend who’d been gone too long, and drew an appreciative smile that didn’t leave Page’s face all evening.

From there he see-sawed back and forth between new tracks and those classic songs I mentioned above. (Highlights from the night: “A New Shore,” “Entourage,” “The Chorus Girl,” “Jane,” “The Old Apartment,” “Enid,” “Brian Wilson,” and “Powder Blue”). Entertaining and engaging those who’d come out, he showed off his large range and kept the intimate crowd hanging at the stage’s edge.

He seemed comfortable and relaxed and some of those older songs were given a bit of facelift to blend in with the sound of the new album: Pop hooks, laced with jazz influences and some hipster nuances. Or perhaps that was how he’d always intended those songs to be performed. Either way, for this listener, the updates only improved the tracks.

As he often stated, it was a night of firsts: first show of a new tour for a new album, and it wasn’t all smooth sailing, but the couple of technical glitches were met with trademarked humor and the moments were used to connect with the audience (“Remember back in ‘Jane’ [the previously sung song] when the guitar worked?”).

So, yes, time marches on and it may be awhile before Page is playing the large stadiums he was a couple of years ago, but the important thing – the music – is still the same: smart and infectious. His voice is still as clear as ever and those incredible high notes still pierce the air. If he’s coming to a city near you, this is an evening you do not want to let pass you by and if you’ve yet to pick up Page One, I strongly recommend you do.

Below is a treat, a video of “Indecision” from the new album.

Steven Page is touring in support of the new album. Tour dates, news, and a blog can be found at his official website.

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