Mojave 3: Toronto Lee’s Palace

Mojave 3's lush country-rock warms up a freezing Toronto crowd...

Nothing thwarts the late-winter blues like a warm dose of country-rock. And Toronto – which counts Neil Young and The Cowboy Junkies amongst its favourite sons and daughters – is as expert with this genre as it is with frigid Februarys. Nonetheless, Mojave 3’s Neil Halstead doesn’t say anything to suggest he’s intimidated (he doesn’t say much, actually). Shuffling onto the stage, he swigs a beer, and with nary a sound, drifts into the set-opener, ‘My Life In Art’.

It’s all very lush, though Halstead has some formidable help. Alan Forrester’s gorgeous organ lifts the set to ever-sweeter plateaus, while pedal-steel guitarist Raymond Richards (pinched from openers The Sid Hillman Quartet) instills a shimmering levity to the songs. Not to be outdone, Halstead and bassist Rachel Goswell create harmonies that at times sound like one sublime voice.

Alas, the tranquil vibe puts the audience into an noticeably quiet state, perhaps causing Halstead and Goswell a little consternation (surely they’ve experienced Toronto’s appreciative-but-mute audiences before). But gradually, as liquor loosens up the packed room, the ex-Slowdive duo relaxes as well.

The ice is broken for good when Halstead sings “Canadian winters, at home with your sisters”, during ‘In Love With A View’. Drummer Ian McCutcheon suddenly thrashes the song to another level, and Mojave 3 has won this crowd.

There are numerous requests now. “That’s Coldplay, isn’t it?” asks Halstead, smiling, but a little baffled at the audience’s abrupt change of spirits. “This will be the last one, ’cause my mind’s temporarily gone funny.” Despite this disappointing news, the group plays several more songs, closing with the luscious, pedal-steel driven ‘Mercy’. Tonight, spring seems just a little bit closer.

Chris Rolfe