Ron Sexsmith is too sweet for stardom. Something other than his musical output must explain the masses' chronic underappreciation of the Canadian singer/songwriter.
Early in his glorious 95-minute set at Iota on Thursday, Sexsmith apologized for his stage attire, which was topped by a very simple plaid button-down short-sleeve shirt. He'd left the more showbizzy outfit he'd planned to wear on the tour bus, and to get it he'd have had to scamper through the crowd before showtime, and thereby deprive ticket buyers of the pizzazz-y entrance that he feels they are owed. (Apparently Sexsmith thinks performers should follow decorum similar to brides on their wedding day.)
Fans disregarded the wardrobe when Sexsmith and his backup trio began going through the pages of his jangly and devastatingly lovely songbook. Sexsmith, now 40, showed himself adept at simultaneously channeling Elvis Costello and Paul McCartney, while exhibiting nary a whiff of the former's cynicism or the latter's insincerity (sorry, Paul).
Sexsmith is no whiner, but he did acknowledge his career-long lack of mainstream acceptance before playing "From Now On," a tune tailored to anybody who loves ringing Rickenbacker guitars. "This is our new single," he said. "It's a well-kept secret." In a quivering and trebly tenor, he delivered "Strawberry Blonde," a tale of seeing the prettiest girl from his grammar school days all grown up. "Least That I Can Do," "Secret Heart," "Gold in Them Hills," and "In a Flash" (the latter an existential ballad written for singer Jeff Buckley after his drowning) left listeners both swaying and wiping away tears.
He ended the night with "For the Driver," another tearjerker that has him pondering, as Sexsmith so often does, the lot of the luckless and lonely. The song is too sweet for radio. That must be it.
-- Dave McKenna