NXNE Review: Ben Caplan & The Casual Smokers @ The Legendary Horseshoe Tavern, June 14, 2012
Despite being saddled with the unenviable opening band slow, Caplan, who looks like he could be Brendan Canning from Broken Social Scene’s younger brother, still managed to attract a sizable crowd. He announced that it was their first time playing as a four-piece with the addition of a fiddle player. When he commented that Toronto music fans didn’t know how to clap, they happily proved him wrong.
There was a definite Tom Waits vibe to many of Caplan’s songs which he led T.O’s normally complacent music fans in several rousing sing-a-longs of, including one memorable moment where he asked the audience to respond as though they had, had a fantastic orgasm.
He provided anecdotes for each band member including meeting his drummer while hitchhiking to Halifax. The drummer was on his way there to be a rock star. Caplan wondered why anyone would move to Halifax to be a rock star. He also shared an ironic nickname for upright bass player Kathryn ‘Jumbo’ Palumbo.
“We call her ‘Jumbo’ because she’s so huge!,” Caplan said. It was funny since Palumbo was so slender.
The definite highlight came towards the end of the set when he invited the audience to, “Lose (their) shit” and scream, a drunk guy in the front row was playing cheerleader the entire time. The song, called ‘Stranger’, was about walking on the bridge between Halifax and Dartmouth.
At one point, he left the stage to dance with the audience and a couple people came on stage to take his place. When he returned, he had a saxophone and played a somewhat stilted solo. He admitted that he learned to play the alto saxophone in a day and a half but ended up playing a tenor instead.
If the charismatic Caplan and his talented bandmates aren’t better known by this time next time, there is something seriously wrong!