I recently watched Toronto-based Writer/Director Sarah Polley’s new film Take This Waltz in theatres this past weekend. The film had a very obvious Toronto-themed undertone as it brilliantly showcased some of my favourite places frequent around the city. Less obvious but just as relevant was her effort to capture Toronto’s sweltering heat. Polley went through great lengths to capture the dewy, uncomfortable feeling of a Toronto summer. I couldn’t think of a better weekend to debut the film than last weekend. It was hot.
My stroll to the Great Hall from College was a no exception. I made the mad dash from Little Italy with hopes of catch a streetcar or a bus to get me there faster. I had checked the set times online, but I always feel wry about their accuracy in fear that I’d miss my favourite tune. As it turns out, I didn’t cross paths with any public transportation, but my run to the venue made the first thirty minutes of Murdoch’s set very uncomfortable and sweaty as the venue was extremely hot. Mid-way through the set Murdoch very sheepishly asked if someone could turn off the fans while he played a quieter song. The audience despite roasting cheered for fulfillment of this request.
The very sombre Murdoch played a solo set however captured so many of the full sounds he gets on his albums. He has two full-lengths to date – ‘Time Without Consequence’ and ‘Towards the Sun.’ The Scottish-born singer/songwriter is now based in Berlin but has lived in North Carolina and Los Angeles. His fame began fruition as a result of support and radio play from the Los Angeles KCRW DJ Nic Harcourt and his brilliant show ‘Morning Becomes Eclectic’ which he hosted for six years between 2002 and 2008. Despite this spurt of recognition, Murdoch has remained relatively low-profile throughout his career. Although you’ve most definitely heard him in the soundtracks of many movies you’ve likely seen – Zach Braff’s ‘Garden State,’ and Sam Mendes’ ‘Away We Go,’ just to name a few.
In 2002, he released the EP titled ‘Four Songs’ and it was just that, four songs. Three of the tunes would appear on his 2006 debut full-length, but it was the tune “Orange Sky” that was featured on both albums that “developed a life of its own” according to Murdoch.
As I was leaving the venue, I heard some folks grumbling about the absence of the tune “Orange Sky” in the set. I however could understand where he was coming from as the song has been in circulation for ten years, Murdoch’s very own “1-2-3-4” Feist-level hit. It’s very rare that you’ll hear Leslie Feist play her little ditty anymore and I assume that goes the same for Mr. Murdoch as well.
Murdoch declared in a recent interview with the Toronto-based NOW Magazine that he’s musically illiterate and that he uses all kinds of tuning. Ironically, the first thought that came to my head is how Murdoch’s tuning abilities seemed subpar with the first song her performed. Perhaps he just needed a little warm up, or it was a particularly ambitious song to begin with. I make excuses for the sometimes-out of tune performer because he came off sounding very modest and kind in his live show. I wasn’t so sure after his interview the day before on Jian Ghomeshi’s ‘Q,’ but I’m glad that my initial impression was proven wrong.
Murdoch played a good mix of tunes from his two full-length albums. Receiving a noticeably stronger praise for the songs from his 2006 release ‘Time Without Consequence.’ Perhaps this inflated praise was because Murdoch doesn’t tour Canada much. As far as I know, this tour date was the only time he’s played Toronto. I could be wrong, but some internet searching hasn’t told me otherwise yet.
It seems Murdoch’s approach to music is very minimal and modest. Over the years he’s remained independent, without any label support. He admits to associating with corporate companies, but does his best to avoid them. The avoidance of corporate culture adds an element of purity and wholeness to his music that many artists cannot own up to. From seeing his live show, it seems that that genuine, untouched approach to his music is what has propelled his career.