Review: Matt Andersen showcases vocal power before sold-out crowd at UVic

What: Matt Andersen with Donovan Woods
When: Wednesday
Where: Farquhar Auditorium, University of Victoria
Rating: 4 (out of 5)


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Matt Andersen stepped from the wings and sang the first of many words on Wednesday night, producing a soulful, bellowing sound in the process.

That caused the sold-out Farquhar Auditorium crowd to immediately roar in response to his big, bold and beautiful voice. That’s the type of vocal power that Andersen has in his possession, and he showcased it repeatedly during his University of Victoria performance, the second date of a 61-stop tour across Canada that got underway Tuesday in Duncan.

And he did so to total admiration from his audience.

Andersen — who sounds like a cross between David Wilcox and Burton Cummings — can also play all manner of guitars, on which he joined his new bandmates in the electric blues band Bona Fide. The combo ripped and roared through a 90-minute set, one with a series of sombre moments.

The songs on his soulful new recording, Honest Man, have a Joe Cocker-eque feel to them. But when he brought the tempo down for the tear-jerking waltz of Coal Mining Blues, the night’s best song, his talent showed another side of itself.

Everyone in his band offered something of note here, especially bassist Steve Marriner and his melancholic harmonica. Andersen quite clearly agreed.

“I think that’s the prettiest that’s ever sounded,” Andersen said after the song came to a close. “Well done, gentlemen.”

The Juno nominee, who was raised in New Brunswick and is now based in Nova Scotia, stripped some paint from the ceiling soon after with a bluesy mini-set of songs he delivered alone and acoustically. Subdued yet sensational, these gems — including Have You Got the Blues and When My Angel Gets the Blues — offered a nice contrast to the bombast of Bona Fide, while harking back to Andersen’s early days as a performer.

The audience of 964 favoured neither side of his set more than the other; they seemed open to anything Andersen threw at them on this night. And almost all of it stuck.

Donovan Woods, a CBC favourite, captured the attention of the crowd in the early going, despite having only an acoustic guitar for accompaniment. The Juno-nominated singer-songwriter from Sarnia, Ont., has an easy way about him on stage, and he scored big laughs with his between-song-banter. (That should come as no surprise: Woods calls himself Canada’s answer to Paul Simon, “except taller and not as good.”)

Woods was great, indeed. But he was simply outmanned. Andersen and Bona Fide had some collective rumble beneath the hood on this night, especially where the frontman’s vocals were concerned.

Andersen can scream on the guitar, but he flat-out wails on a microphone, enough so that he recently won male vocalist of the year at the Maple Blues Awards in Toronto.

Following his performance Wednesday, it would be tough to think of a singer more deserving of the honour.

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