Colin James @ MTelus

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Colin James in Montreal

Sunday night, I was reminded again why I loved my city. Walking down St. Catherine street towards the MTelus, the smell of cinnamon and vanilla sugar wafted through the air as churro vendors and children smiled openly with maskless faces. Couples of all colours, ages and genders walked hand in hand, swaying to beats from all nations, and I was transported to my happy place.

Is there anything more flavourful and electric than the Montreal Jazz Festival?

There were so many brilliant artists scheduled for the same night that it was difficult to pick just one, but I chose Canada’s most underrated and least appreciated guitar virtuoso Colin James. The last time I saw him was in 1989 at The Spectrum when he released his self-titled debut album.

Gliding onto the stage with a youthful bounce and a Springsteen vibe, dressed in black in a tight T-shirt, skinny jeans and fitted vest, Colin wasted no time riling up the crowd. He took over the Mtelus with such force that I had to google his age. (He’ll be 58 on August 17). His hair may have greyed a little since I last saw him, but his energy was definitely the same, if not stronger.

Colin played at a frenetic pace, trying to fit in as many hits as he could from his prolific career. He belted out songs like a man who really missed performing for a live audience, and we all felt it. He made his guitar techs scramble as he switched instruments, sometimes mid-song, black Strat, white Strat, Dano (I lost count).

Building up the excitement to massive hits like “Why’d You Lie” and “Just Came Back,” which really stood the test of time. Colin not only reminded everyone what a truly gifted musician he was but told a lot of fantastic stories about hanging with some incredible musicians in between tracks. From touring with Stevie Ray Vaughan and performing at Les Foufounes Electric to meeting Prince backstage at a George Thorogood show at Metropolis.

Truly a musician’s musician, he wasn’t name-dropping but expressing great admiration for his fellow artists. Casually mentioning that this was his 20th appearance at the Montreal jazz fest and he was just presented with the BB King Blues Award backstage by festival founder Andre Menard, as though it was no big deal.

I have not followed his career for the last 20 years, so I felt truly lucky to discover some of his newer music. I really enjoyed “As The Crow Flies,” “There’s A Fire,” and “That’s Why I’m Crying” from his latest album, “Open Road” (2021).

I loved his acoustic cover of Van Morrison’s “Into The Mystic,” which was part of his encore. And the great energy in “Leave This House” had people dancing around the stage. But my favourite moment would have to be when he got the whole room to sing the chorus of “Freedom.” After two years of quarantines and cancelled shows, it felt really good to hear a room full of people chant.

“Nothing is better than freedom.”

Supporting act was another great guitarist, Ariel Posen. He did a fine job warming up the audience with his bluesy, folksy vibe. He reminded me of the early Eagles, smooth but moody, sounding more Californian than Canadian. I really enjoyed “Be Enough.”

Annette Aghazarian

July 3, 20222

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