Blake Preston @ The Piston – 12 June 2014

This was a special concert experience for me which says a lot as I’ve had some pretty great experiences like meeting Grace Potter or having been backstage at more than one Blue Rodeo show.  This was special in a different way.  I’ve been along on Blake Preston’s music journey in some fashion since almost the beginning.  We’ve been friends for over twenty years.  I remember him playing at assemblies in high school.  I remember him rocking out on a beautiful summer day on Branion Plaza at the University of Guelph.  I remember Blake and his band Secretariat blowing the roof off Doogies as an opening act, leaving the headliners scratching their heads.  I remember unknowingly saving the “Live @ The Brass Taps” recording from disappearing into oblivion years ago.  But what I remember most is Blake putting pen to paper in our living room when he and I lived together almost 15 years ago and the early versions of songs like “519” taking shape.  So this concert was special because I got to see some of those song that I may have been the first to year all those years ago finally come to life.

I often joke with Blake that his upcoming album could be called Chinese Democracy part 2, eluding to the nearly perpetual endeavor that was the GnR album.  I joke though, because its not a purposeful procrastination that has made the new album a long time coming.  It’s life.  School.  Career.  Marriage.  Baby.  A year or two ago Blake hooked up with producer and Arcade Fire collaborator Mike Olsen and work began in earnest on a new album.  Well now that things are nearing completion, the time has come for the Blake to share some of the new material with the rest of the world.

Spurred on by some interest from a major label A&R man, Blake organized a gig to showcase his new material at the Piston on Bloor St. W. in Toronto with The Last True Gentlemen opening.  He assembled a band consisting of long time friend and drummer Noel Webb (The Skydiggers), guitarist Bruce Dies and Test Icicles bassist Shaun Idontknowhislastname.  The ninety minute set opened with a new old tune called “519”, a reference to the Guelph area code where we grew up.  I say its a new old tune because it has been kicking around since 2002ish if my memory serves me correctly.  I have various demo recordings of the song.  The current is far and away the best.  I think that is due to producer Olsen’s pushing of Blake’s studio creative boundaries.  The lyrics have changed greatly over the years and I prefer the original words because I think they fit the tempo of the song much better.  However I could be wrong.  I have this theory that people tend to like the first version they hear of a song the best.  So maybe that is what I am experiencing.  Nevertheless, take a listen to “519” for yourself.

Another of my favourites of the new tunes is a number tentatively called “Old Bull Lee” which is a re imagining of an old YouTube demo Blake did years ago called “Home” which is about growing up in Guelph ON.  I wish he had this new tune on Soundcloud.  It is a beautiful acoustic finger-picking number that builds with some great vocal harmonies as the rest of the band kicks in.  This might be the best of the new tunes in my opinion.  “Two Stars” is the other stunner of the new material.  A song about a love that almost was but never was.  I vividly remember the real life inspiration behind this song.  The early demo I have of this is nothing compared to the masterpiece it is now.  The string arrangement gives me chills, not because of its complexity but in the way it so perfectly accentuates the words and the mood of the tune.  Have a listen.

The evening was full of “old” Blake Preston classics like “Nothing Changes”, “It’s It” and “Jubilee”.  These songs took on a new life with this band.  I’ve heard them all many many times but in the hands of the talented gentleman that Blake put together for this gig, they felt new again.  Noel Webb, drummer for The Skydiggers, was behind the kit this night.  Blake and Noel and I go way back to high school.  Noel has played drums for Blake before.  As an avid enthusiast of the Canadian music scene I have to say Noel is one of the best drummers around.  Look who he plays with and who his peers are, that’s not a coincidence.  Guitarist Bruce Dies, who has pretty impressive resume in his own right, brought so much to the evening’s performance.  His solos, which were a welcome addition to old Blake standards, looked simply effortless.  Bassist Shaun added vocal harmonies and tight bass lines.  The evening closed with a crowd raising rendition of The Band’s “The Weight” with featured opening act Andrew Clark of The Last True Gentlemen.

One other thing I should mention, Blake played a nice custom Penfold Replicaster Deluxe guitar which was built by yours truly.  Check it out on my build page.

Anyway, Blake Preston put on one hell of a good show at The Piston.  I hope the A&R man was impressed.  If anyone reading this has any music industry connections, then please pass the word.  Blake deserves a shot, not because he is my very good friend but because he is goddam talented.