Bob Bennett In Concert: A Review
Bob Bennett played last night (25 October, 2002) to an audience in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada and touched our hearts in this, the centre of Canadian bureaucracy. The concert as a whole was a marvellous success, and it was wonderful to see and hear all three musicians playing on stage together. I am sure that others will review Steve’s and Carolyn’s performances, and the this review will focus on Bob’s part in the concert. Bob was one of the trio that was performing; along with Carolyn Arends and Steve Bell.
The concert was held at Dominion Chalmers United Church; an 85 year old structure with a Byzantine sanctuary that is perfect for intimate acoustic concerts. The sanctuary of the church building is acoustically live, but not so much so that echoes drown out the primary sound. The seating is semicircular, everyone had a good view of the stage, and the volume was full but not deafening.
The trio came to town as part of The Living Room Tour. Steve Bell’s label put together a set of CD releases along with this tour. The releases are simple acoustic recordings where the artists and their songs are featured—as opposed to elaborate musical arrangements with cadres of talented musicians. The concerts match the CDs in flavour: Steve, Carolyn, and Bob sit in a semi-circle with their guitars and take turns introducing and then playing songs. They appeared to be very relaxed with one another, and spontaneously sung and played along with each other. A few of the songs were more formally arranged so that all three played and sung together. Concerts locations and dates for this tour are as follows…
— Winnipeg, MB
— Winkler, MB
— Thunder Bay, ON
— Ottawa, ON
— Cambridge, ON
— Burlington, ON
— Calgary, AB
— Red Deer, AB
— Edmonton, AB
— Kelowna, BC
— Victoria, BC
— Abbotsford, BC
The concert opened to loud and enthusiastic applause. Steve and Carolyn both regularly play concerts in Ottawa and the crowd was pleased to see them here again. After getting settled on stage, they played a couple of Steve’s tunes and then settled into the evening’s routine: each artist would introduce and play a song. While these songs were generally their own, they joined together to play a Bruce Cockburn song and Bob played played a Mark Heard favourite. Carolyn started the rotation (after the first to Steve Bell songs which they all participated in), followed by Bob, and then back to Steve again.
Steve acted as the host for the evening, and he did initial introductions of Carolyn and Bob; with the introduction taking place immediately prior to Carolyn’s and then Bob’s first solo song of the evening.
Bob’s set list for the evening turned out to be:
Save Me [Songs From Bright Avenue]
Psalm 149:1–4 [Lord Of The Past]
Our Codependent Love [Songs From Bright Avenue]
Man Of The Tombs [Lord Of The Past, The View From Here]
The Kings Of Summer St. [The View From Here]
We Were The Kings [The View From Here]
Heart Of Hearts [The View From Here]
After Bob was introduced, the audience welcomed him with what I would call “warm applause”. Most people in the audience were not familiar with Bob’s music, but based upon Steve’s endorsement, they were willing to give this newcomer a chance.
The arrangement of Save Me necessarily differs from the one that appears on Songs From Bright Avenue. Bob opened the song with an almost-tentative and quiet instrumental introduction, and then proceeded to attack his guitar with a confidence and ferocity that took everyone by surprise. After Bob’s first song, the audience responded with enthusiastic and loud applause; a much louder and a greater response than either Steve or Carolyn had received following their opening songs. Each time Bob played he took the audience by surprise, and wowed us.
Psalm 149:1–4 (a.k.a. Praise Ye The Lord) was a request shouted from the audience. Again, a fresh and vibrant arrangement that set the audience back on its heels and evoked a thunderous response from everyone.
Our Codependent Love is a wonderful song to hear for the first time, and most members of the Ottawa audience were indeed hearing it for the first time. Everyone laughed in the right places and the song lifted the mood of the concert—which had become quite introspective—lifting the emotional weight that had begun to settle upon the crowd. Bob's arrangement of the song was spectacular; I enjoyed this acoustic solo version better than the originally recorded version.
Prior to the playing of Codependent Love, the sensitive songs and the tangible sense of God’s love with us had evoked tears from Bob as well as members of the audience. Bob’s song choice at that moment was exactly right: it gave us all a respite from the serious side of the evening and allowed us to catch a second wind for more serious songs again later in the evening.
Each of Bob’s songs were fresh and wonderful, and I won’t write further about individual songs. After the concert, our eldest daughter remarked that while she doesn’t enjoy listening to Bob at home on our stereo, she greatly enjoyed listening to Bob live.
For me, this was the first time I had been to see Bob play. I have been listening to his music since 1983, but this was his first trip to Ottawa and my first opportunity to see him perform. What we all encountered last evening was Bob Bennett, the deeply ordinary guy. Steve and Carolyn are not glitzy superstars, but even they appeared somehow greater than ordinary when seated next to Bob. We all resonated with Bob and his songs last night, and my only regret is that I couldn’t save last night in a bottle-to be opened and savoured again later. Seeing him play in person made me want to get to know him better; maybe one day I’ll have that opportunity.
Bob’s guitar playing was masterful. Steve’s and Carolyn’s guitar playing pales in comparison, and often after a particularly difficult riff Steve Bell would smile and shaking his head in admiration. With the songs he has written, his playing, and his singing ability, who would have thought that after 20 plus years in the business Bob Bennett would still be playing church venues. I was very appreciative last night that Bob is still playing small rooms and is closely in touch with God. That said, I also hope that he receives more recognition in the future than he has in the past.
At the close of the evening, Steve, Carolyn, and Bob all made themselves available to sign autographs: seated at a long table together. The largest throng of autograph seekers stood in front of Carolyn’s section of the table, and the second largest group of adults gathered in front of Steve. As I reflected upon the scene later, I was struck by how the kids all gathered around Bob. Many families had brought their children with them (as had my wife and I). Bob was sensitive and careful with each one of them; something that I am sure will stick with the kids as they look back on the event later in their lives.
Bob joked about his size during the concert; and while he is large, he isn’t larger than life. This was a great blessing to all of us who went to listen to him yesterday night, but I’m not sure that it has always been a blessing to Bob: being an ordinary guy isn’t how you become a rock star (Christian or otherwise). We were richly blessed last evening by how Bob and God touched the strings of our hearts. May the One who made Bob warmly embrace and reward him forever.