Review – Cam Penner and John Wood 18th Jan at Celtic Connections by Mike Ritchie
Don’t ever under estimate Cam Penner’s unerring ability to astound or beguile – and with the music conjurer, Jon Wood shadowing and prodding masterfully, he keeps promises, too.
“We want to make a real joyful noise,” said the bearded Canadian en route to the duo’s second Celtic Connections’ appearance in four years. And this they duly did in an inspired 75-minute set that was celebratory, commanding, intimate, intense, dreamy, poised, and overall glorious and unforgettable.
Two guitarists, a drum kit and technically discrete loops stirred into the fiery, magical cauldron create something otherworldly and unique to hush the crowd gathered to be warmed around this musical campfire on a bitterly cold Scottish night.
Penner prowls from drum kit to microphone, centre stage. He wears a black beanie hat then swaps it for a faux-fur job with earflaps. His restlessness is tempered by Wood, the epitome of calm, with his searing guitar work and control of the technology. The combination is hypnotic.
Filtered into the songs the contrasts continue. Penner’s vocals can be a mountain-top angry roar, a bellow from the deep or as hushed and whispered as someone calming another in pain or distress, which he does in his volunteer work at a homeless shelter. The delivery, strident or mellow, is unbelievably moving on both scores.
Early set entry, East Side, from their most recent release, ‘At War With Reason’ is delivered with a great charge, an onslaught of drums and guitars while Lights On (High School Musical) from the same album is furiously rock solid, a telling retort to the madness of shootings in schools and elsewhere.
Flip a switch and This Could Be Your Anthem – from 2013’s ‘To Build A Fire’ – merges strident, spoken words with feather light singing, breathlesslessly. The surprises and shifts of tone are deft – all of a sudden a heart-rending version of John Prine’s 1991 track All The Best appears and it is just brilliant.
From 2016 album, ‘Sex And Politics’, comes Honey. It’s like a storm building up as the duo noodle and tease before the gates are thrown open allowing it all to crash out before us in a full-frontal blitz.
It is a jubilant and mesmerising performance with no shortage of drama or corners left unexplored. Instead, the power and delicacy of Penner and Wood’s “joyful noise” prevailed and won our hearts, once again.
My first gig of the decade was a memorable one in every sense.
By Mike Ritchie