MadToast Live with guests Blake Thomas & Josh Harty and Rigel; July 7, 2009; Brink Lounge
Now that I’ve attended a few of these MadToast shows I have a better understanding of what they are all about. Despite the fact that the weekly show is hosted by musicians, the always gregarious and often hilarious Chris Wagoner and Mary Gaines, it’s only partially about playing music. The rest of the show is spent talking about music, writing it, making it, recording it, essentially every step. It’s the talking part that seems to confuse people who show up expecting a show; even the guests sometimes don’t know exactly what they are in for. Most of the episodes (if that is the appropriate word) I’ve witnessed have featured musicians that Chris and Mary are familiar with. They’ve had no qualms about jumping in musically with artists like Blake Thomas and Peter Mulvey, but I was curious to see what they did with a guest they didn’t know so well, like the youngsters in the Irish-influenced band Rigel slated for the second hour of tonight’s show.
This was actually Blake’s second appearance on the show; the first was back in October before they started podcasting. Perhaps they wanted a document of his performance, but an equally likely motive is that they really enjoy playing with him. Indeed, they have been a part of the creatively named Blake Thomas and Josh Harty Band, joining Blake, Josh (who also played tonight) and drummer Chris Sasman on several occasions. The couple also contributed instrumentation and vocals to Blake’s second record 40 Minutes, so Mary was very comfortable doing the backing vocals to that record’s “Satisfied” tonight. Now that the show is podcast, they do an official introduction to the show to kick off the podcast, but apparently they hadn’t discussed exactly what was going to happen after that. “I thought we were going right into ‘World of War,’” Blake stage whispered to the pair in the uncomfortable silence that followed. Eventually that’s what they did, the first of many gorgeous collaborations.
As suspected, the pair weren’t quite as sure what to do with Rigel. Luckily the band had a tune in mind for the pair to join in on. As usual, I was impressed by their ability to play on a song they’ve never heard before. Wagoner had met the band’s fiddler and dancer Shay Carlson when she came in looking for violin lessons. After she demonstrated what she already knew, he could only respond, “I’m not sure what I can teach you.” She plays in the Cape Breton method of fiddling, a driving style which kept their instrumentals interesting. Her feet are always moving during the songs, tapping out Irish dance steps and adding to the drum’s percussion. Every once in awhile she would jump off the stage, fiddle by her side, and make use of the dance floor in front of it. On one occasions she demonstrated both talents at once. She explained that she had learned to dance and fiddle simultaneously after being forced to once when she didn’t get back to her seat in time.
I enjoyed Rigel more than I thought I would, but it will always be Blake who steals the show for me.