Thursday, 14 February 2013

The Haligonians Klezmerizer: Ben Caplan at Quai des Brumes

Ben Caplan at Quai des Brumes

The Haligonians Klezmerizer | Vino

I knew Ben Caplan was going to be quite the character, going into the show, but I still wasn't prepared for the sheer magic of what awaited me...

Upon walking into Quai des Brumes, I notice framed arches and stained glass decorating the interior of the bar. The excited buzz in the cozy room is undeniable. Everyone seems to be in a good mood, relaxed and unwinding with friends in anticipation of what is sure to be a great show. A focused, humble-looking Ben Caplan weaves through the crowd, dressed in a pink button-down, beige pants tucked into thick woollen socks, and worn leather loafers. (He later reveals that he saves his pink shirts for our great city, where he believes he can really get away with it). As we approach the 9:30PM mark, people gather around every table, and fill every empty space between the main doors and the bar at the back of the room. 

The Jimmyriggers open, though the four-person band has been stripped down to David Pearce and a harmony vocalist Laurel Jackson for the night. An excited chatter pervades the room even as they begin their set, but the crowd quickly falls silent, entranced by the sweet, sad lyrics, as well as the beautiful blending of David’s rasp with a smooth, female croon. The first two songs they play are decidedly country, but the third song introduces a blues-y spin that lingers for the rest of their set, as they sing about lost romance and leaving jobs. Recognizing his position as an opening act, David honourably riles the crowd's excitement for Ben Caplan. Not before jokingly adding "How thrilled I am that you all came out to see me. This is the biggest audience I've ever played for. We'll that's not true, I'm actually part of an awesome band!"

When Ben Caplan hops on stage, the room is filled with great energy and anticipation. Ben throws his guitar strap over his shoulder and growls a rousing “Salut Montreal!” into the mic, getting an enthusiastic roar from the crowd. With his thick-rimmed glasses, striped blazer, and majestic beard, his appearance is intimidating, but his presence is warm and effortlessly charming (and I do mean effortless. During our pre-show interview, he propped himself up against a wall while he answered questions, looking more at ease and debonair than this writer probably ever could).

He opens with “Birds With Broken Wings”, a song full of his signature wailing and drawled words. He stomps along firmly, and vibrations resonate through to the back of the room. Next up is “Southbound”, a song with wonderful instrumentation on the EP, I worry if it will lack dimension since Ben’s here "sans" band. I am quickly proven wrong, of course, as Ben puts forth a great performance with nothing but that gravelly voice and sunburst guitar.

Ben introduces his next song, “I’ve Got Me a Woman” and jokes about YouTube changing the game when, despite this track being unreleased, the crowd recognizes the title and cheers excitedly. This one’s a sing-along, and the audience is shockingly impressive in how confident and pleasant their collective sound actually is. I take a moment to look around, and people are smiling as they sing, swaying with their eyes closed. It’s ethereal moments like this, in which everyone is lost in the music that take a show from being great to amazing.

Ben takes a sip of a cloudy beverage before sitting down at the keyboard and revealing that his solution to fighting off the flu is “Jameson, lemon, water, and a shitload of Tabasco”. His next few songs are slower, and kind of smoky, with a little growl sneaking into his words. Coming from a background of Theater and Philosophy, Ben’s energy is explosive even when he’s sitting at the keyboard, and his songs hint at a thought-provoking darkness. When asked about where he draws his inspiration, he says, “I try to be open to inspiration wherever it might find me. Just walking around the city, I keep my eyes open to whimsical characters. I also watch movies, documentaries, and read vociferously, to pick up ideas in books”.

The bearded musician gets up and picks up his guitar again, pausing to comment on the “amazing culture of Montreal, that the rest of Canada is sinfully ignorant of”, before throwing himself into a wild, frenzied rendition of “Stranger”, complete with klezmer vocal runs. The crowd is so captivated that they engage in a “call and answer” game with Ben.

Ben wraps up the show with a duet, joined by Taryn Kawaja. The two of them squeeze onto the same seat before the keyboard, and play a lovely untitled piece that juxtaposes the depth of his voice with the softness of hers. It’s beautifully intricate, and as Ben remarked during our interview, “things are becoming more complex as (he’s) going”. The song he wrote when he was 13 (“Rest Your Head”) was much simpler than the newer work he’s sharing today.

Called back for an encore, Ben plays “Drift Apart” (“I’ll be taking requests all night! As long as you buy us alcohol”, he jokes), a beautiful, striking song about a one-sided breakup and the painful resignation involved in losing someone you’re not ready to let go of. It’s much softer and less theatric than a lot of his songs, and really stands out in a sincere, understated way.

Ben Caplan is a spirited performer with undeniable energy. He has very quickly garnered a lot of attention and praise, to which he says: “That’s what I’ve been working towards. My goal isn’t fame or fortune, it is to do what I like to do, which is performing and writing. And to be able to hold a captive audience every night I play a show…what a blessing”. This man is as humble as he is talented.

And as for the beard? “Started out of laziness more than anything, I’ve just been rolling with it.”
B.C. at Quai Des Brumes
Talking with Hot Soupe

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