The Levellers: Toronto Lee’s Palace

A stripped-down acoustic Levellers get intimate with Toronto's crusty massive...

“We’re supposed to fuck off now and pretend we’ve had a break,” says The Levellers’ Mark Chadwick, smiling. It’s a cold Monday night, and the singer obviously realizes his audience is the nine-to-five variety, calling for an early, no-bollocks performance. Still, it’s very warm in the room – and Canadians, especially those with east coast roots (they’re the ones with a beer in each hand) love groups like this, despite trends that would dissuade from Celtic pop.

But The Levellers have never worried about trends. Tonight it’s all rather intimate, and even non-fans would find it hard to dislike the group. Whittled down to an acoustic trio, Chadwick and cohorts turn the often chilly spaces of Lee’s Palace into something resembling a Newfie kitchen party. Sprucing up their set with oddballs like Abba’s ‘SOS’, along with numerous instrumental reels (highlighted by Jon Sevink’s spirited fiddle playing), the Brighton act elicits somewhat more than the usual, polite-but-not-too-outrageous, Toronto reaction.

Of course, it is The Levellers’ biggest hit, ‘One Way’, that brings the room to full, rapt attention, driving some audience members into a frenzy of pseudo-Celtic bopping (despite the lack of any percussion instruments). Yet, after this singalong crowd-pleaser, the band does finally disappear, to much bottle stomping.

Returning, the trio breaks into the sombre ‘Another Man’s Cause’, featuring guitarist Simon Friend’s melancholy harmonica playing. But the gloom is soon lifted by more folky instrumentals (“we just make up songs as we go along, ’cause we’ve run out”, says Chadwick). Finally, someone in the audience calls out for ‘Elation’, which the lads perform with breathtaking ease. Afterwards, Chadwick says something about not really knowing that tune – but no one believes him.

It’s not often that a band sounds most convincing in a stripped-down setting, but judging by all the post-show crowd noise, The Levellers have pulled it off.

Chris Rolfe