TORONTO - If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.
And so it went Friday night at Massey Hall as Calgary singer-songwriter Jann Arden made fun of her long derided static stage presence early in her show - the first of two at the venue - joking she’d been working hard on new choreography for her most recent trek.
“I’m doing a lot more of this,” said Arden, 49, showing off a subtle swaying movement. “I could very well tip!”
Now, of course, what the consistently funny Arden has lacked in movement in her live performances over the years, she’s often made up for with her quick wit.
And Friday night’s hour-and-55-minute show was no exception.
For example, she talked about trying to come up with a 2012 set list and that, after drinking “a box of bad wine” in her kitchen, she asked her Twitter followers to come up with a fan request for the show.
“This is for all you twa--ers,” she joked before launching into the clear favourite, Ode to a Friend.
And when she related that her mother had recently informed her that her septic tank back home had flooded the good news was: “Nothing solid though.”
“It’s hard to watch your parents get a little bit older and crazier,” she joked.
Arden, touring in support of her second album of covers, 2011’s Uncover Me 2, actually hit her musical stride early Friday night with a cover of Dorothy Moore’s Misty Blue followed by her own huge hit, Insensitive, which she said went to No. 1 in .25 countries but was a total fluke discovery.
She said she was walking to get a coffee in the late ‘80s in Calgary when she decided to take the scenic route and happened to walk by an old house and heard a woman - composer Anne Loree - singing Insensitive and later talked record executives into letting her record it for her 1994 album, Living Under June.
It became Arden’s biggest international hit ever.
“Stay open to having a moment,” was the lesson, she said.
Arden also experimented with a mashup of her own song, You Are Everything, with Adele’s Set Fire To The Rain.
“I love Adele!” said Arden, who recently posed naked in the April issue of Zoomer magazine, with Bryan Adams as photographer, in celebration of her looming 50th birthday on March 27.
The end result is positively Reubenesque, and gorgeous.
“This week you’re about to see my whole ass,” she joked after grabbing a camera out of a fan’s hands in a front row and taking a self-portrait as the show wrapped up.
Arden, in sparkly black sequined leggings and matching top - “Never bedazzle your pants while you’re wearing them!” - was another bit of advice - was backed by a six-piece band including Adams’ longtime guitarist Keith Scott and fiddler-mandolin-and-keyboardist Allison Cornell.
She dragged both Scott and Cornell to the front of the stage for a countried medley of her hits, but Arden proved to a be a generous performer, sharing the limelight with all of the band members.
She asked them to individually perform memorable covers of their own (everything from the Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams to the theme from Barney Miller), and even left the stage at one point so Cornell could play an original country tune called Rope & Tie.
But it was Arden who was at the top of her game, whether it was on her own songs, The Devil Won and Unloved, playing acoustic guitar on both, Where No One Knows Me, Waiting In Canada, I Can’t Make You Stay, Good Mother, or such covers as The Beach Boys’ In My Room, which saw Arden break out the disco ball, or Peggy Lee’s Is That All There Is, the latter which closed the show, complete with bubbles to evoke The Lawrence Welk Show.
Arden claimed that growing up in rural Springbank, outside Calgary, when she wasn’t shooting cans and small animals - “I know I’m going to hell but I am also sure I’ll probably see my dad there,” she joked - she was weirdly influenced by her Columbia Record Club collection of discs by Roger Whittaker, Nana Mouskouri, and Herb Albert.
“That Lonely Bull was a hell of a tune,” joked Arden.
And then, by some miracle, The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds arrived in the mail and she heard In My Room for the first time and it changed her life.
“I wanted to be as crazy as (Brian Wilson) when I grew up,” said Arden.
The Devil Won
Ode to a Friend
You Are Everything/Set Fire to the Rain
Medley of Sleepless / I Would Die For You / Could I Be Your Girl / The Sound Of
Bow and Tie (by fiddler player Allison Cornell)
Band snippets of Sweet Dreams, Sweet Child of Mine, Won’t Back Down, Theme From Barney Miller, Wipe Out
Where No One Knows Me
Waiting in Canada
In My Room
You Don’t Own Me
I Can’t Make You Stay
Is That All There Is