A review of the
Glenn Marais Band
‘DOWN TO THE CROSSROADS’
live at the
Newmarket Old Town Hall
Feb. 11, 2017,
by Rod Urquhart
With all apologies to our Town Fathers, the roof was completely blown off the famed Old Town Hall on Saturday night!
Well maybe not literally, but figuratively as the Glenn Marais Band brought the musical tribute to Black artists – Down to the Crossroads – to Newmarket.
I thought I was going to a Blues concert, when a movin’ picture show broke out! The ever-talented Glenn Marais, combined moving pictures, with a multimedia presentation on both sides of the stage, with an intricate movement of music through the ages of Black History.
Entitled ‘Down To the Crossroads’, Glenn Marais with The Mojo Train, it was billed as a “musical journey from the Delta Blues to Bruno Mars.” Black history is entrenched in our souls and Glenn did a marvelous job of recounting the entire black journey, from slavery, to the Underground Railroad, to a pioneer in the black movement right here in Canada. This was all done with appropriate music and movin’ pictures, not to mention commentary by the talented Glenn Marais.
And yes, there were photos in the first set of some memorable black movement figures, like the legendary Martin Luther King Jr. and some of his famed speech in Washington, people like Bob Marley, Etta James and Robert Johnston, who apparently sold his soul to the devil for fame.
This was an appreciative audience all night, with many standing ovations and Glenn even had the crowd swaying their arms, singing along and dancing in the aisles. Interspersed with the music, Glenn gave the crowd some Black history lessons, including a talk on Viola Desmond – a Canadian who refused to sit at the back of the bus and rebelled. She changed history single-handedly and will be featured on a $10 Canadian bill.
But, don’t get me wrong – there was plenty of good music, from Glenn Marais’ album ‘Preachin Down Low’, recorded at the historic Sharon Temple, to his latest album, ‘The Mojo Train’. Glenn is an incredible singer; Juno nominated songwriter and an amazing guitar player who has been compared to Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimi Hendrix.
Starting the first set with ‘Lay My Burden Down,” with Glenn on some sort of old acoustic/metal guitar similar to what Muddy Waters first used and also harmonica, then into slide guitar and electric piano featuring Jesse Karwat, with ‘The Sky is Crying’.
The Mojo Train Band really started humming when talking about Harriet Tubman, the leader of the Underground Railroad with “Them Broken Bones,” with solid drumming by drummer Jeff Saulnier. The first set was hummin’ with “Ain’t Seen Nothing Like You’, with Jesse hot again on the piano.
Backup singer Bernadette Connors was sensational singing “I Just Wanna Make Love to You” with Glenn – an Etta James tune, with some great sax by saxophonist Nick Bogoeff. All this is going on, on stage with constant photos of the Black Movement at the sides and photos of oppressed black people.
The second set started out looking at the different forms of music in the Black Movement, like Soul, Rhythm ‘N Blues, Reggae, Pop, Rock … and Glenn led off with a Muddy Waters tune, ‘Get Your Mojo Working’. But when he got into James Brown, including his big hit, 'I Feel Good’ – everybody was on their feet. It was loud; the floor was shaking; the venerable Old Town Hall roof was coming apart at the seams!
If that wasn’t enough to get the adrenalin going in the crowd, Glenn and The Mojo Train led into a medley of songs by Prince. By then the place was really rockin’ with many dancing in the aisles, and pictures of the late Prince flashed on the screens. That let into a medley of Stevie Wonder songs, like ‘Superstition’ and now the crowd was in a frenzy! (Backup singer Karen Simpson helped belt out the Glenn Marais Band tune ‘Ain’t No Other Way’ with great enthusiasm).
If this wasn’t enough to arouse the huge crowd gathered, The Glenn Marais band got ‘into’ some Michael Jackson, doing a fabulous job, with Manny DeGrandis keeping the rhythm going on bass, then into some Stevie Ray Vaughan with 16 year old phenom Peter Cardillo doing the classic ‘Pride and Joy’.
By now the sold-out crowd could hardly contain themselves! A few more tunes off the album The Mojo Train rounded out the show – a show that the humble Glen Marais said at the end “It’s a dream come true – we’ve been working on this for two years.” And of course, they had to do a couple of encores – this crowd was in no mood to go home!
Two years in the making, and what a truly memorable night for lovers of the Delta Blues and Black musicians over the years: Glenn Marais and his band did a marvelous job of introducing Glenn’s tunes, while intermixing it with Black classics – and you don’t get more classic than Michael Jackson and Prince.
Hopefully the work crews can get the roof back on the venerable Old Town Hall for the next performance. And really, folks, now that the Old Town Hall is open, we are seeing some spectacular acts come through for a relatively cheap fee – cheaper than travelling to Toronto and the Glenn Marais Band was an act not to be missed! If Glenn brings his ‘Down To The Crossroads’ show back – get a ticket – you surely won’t be disappointed!
A memorable night at the Old Town Hall! One that will not be forgotten for quite a while!