As of late, I have found myself ambling into concerts, missing the opening act, and getting stuck behind 6’5 people that completely block the stage. (Which is a new experience for me since I’m 5’9 and used to happily towering over everyone around me).
So for my second Bernhoft show I decided that I was arriving early and grabbing a prime location. And I did just that. I found my cosy spot, stretched out and began my count down to the opening act.
Opening acts are fascinating experiments. As a fan, you’re hyped to see the main act, but the opening act is out of your control. You either leave having discovered a new band or artist that you’re now in love with, or you don’t.
My initial reaction to Sun Rai (aka. Rai Thistlethwayte ) was the following:
Eighties. Mellow. Pleasant voice. Why did I come early?
The Australian musician was both bashful and excited. He had released his EP, Pocket Music, that day and was opening for soul man, Bernhoft. Who wouldn’t be pleased? And it’s not that he was bad. He was just boring.
In songs like ‘San Francisco Street’ his voice was reminiscent of the popular Eighties singer Christopher Cross with a minute hint of Jamiroquai, creating a nice enough sound. The problem began – quickly I must add – when he tried to adopt a soulful jazzy persona. Unlike soulful singer Kimbra – from New Zealand – or Norwegian Bernhoft, his attempt at soul in songs like ‘Chase the Clouds,’ seemed trite and formulaic. His stage presence was kind of like a guy jamming in his basement. And his attempt at scatting was, well, odd.
Speaking of odd, I found myself eavesdropping on a couple sitting beside me – a short koala like man who openly discussed his love of women’s minds with his date, and later drunkenly harassed Bernhoft by screaming “Cmon Talk” 10 times to get Bernhoft to sing it – which Bernhoft didn’t do until well after the man gave up.
Back to Sun Rai. With the shoulder popping I witnessed by a segment of the crowd, it was clear that Sun Rai had his fans. And his EP seems free from much of his misguided attempt at soul. Then again, maybe in a four-song EP, it’s just more palatable.
I was excited to see Bernhoft again. So excited that even though I was going there to cover the concert, I brought my two besties with me so that they could see what I’ve been gushing about for months. The man can put on a show, and live his voice is thrilling.
I also came with an agenda. Would Bernhoft give a fresh performance or try to rehash what he had done at the Drake Hotel four months earlier? Years ago, I saw an-upcoming soul artist, who is now an A-lister, and I was amazed to hear them recite the same stories and jokes, verbatim, during their Toronto show that they had “shared” during their New York show. I was so turned off by the experience that I’ve never seen them live again.
Dressed casually, Bernhoft’s tall lanky physique had filled out – attractively – in the past four months. (And so had his hair, which was not buzzed real low on the sides as its become known for.) He began the show with ‘Control,’ the same song he started with during his Drake performance in March, and I thought, “I gotcha!”
But from that point on he mixed up the set-list, veering off into new directions. Taking the crowd through popular songs like “Choices” and ‘Cmon” and lesser known ones.
By the time he got to the gospel tinged love song ‘Stay with Me’ and ‘Space in My Heart’, the women -and some of the men – in the room were gazing at him as if he was singing directly to them. And everyone looked on admiringly, marveling at his skill at working his two guitars and Fender Rhodes. Creating that big seamless soulful sound is not easy, and often rare even with a full band. And he has become so adept at his one man show that I wonder how audiences will react when a full band is behind him. We will see.
But for now he remains a one-man band and he brings it every time. Emanating a verve and excitement on stage that made the large venue feel like a small basement where the party would keep going till six in the mornin’. Throughout the show Bernhoft was playful and silly, flashing his fantastic smile, and throwing his arms into the air triumphantly like he was scoring goals left and right.
This is probably his last Toronto performance until the release of his up-coming album, scheduled to debut this fall. (Hopefully he doesn’t wait that long to release his catchy single ‘Come Around,’ because I’m tired of singing it in my head.)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Chaka V. is a writer, journalist and the creator of The Winehouse Mag.