The Professor Is In – Kim Mitchell

Clad in a long-sleeved blue paisley shirt and wearing variable tint glasses with severe black frames, Kim Mitchell, the professor, strode on stage and proceeded to give a master class in the art of the rock guitar. Without fanfare he and his band mates launched into lesson one: “Roll n Roll Duty.” Accentuating the finer parts of the song with precise chords and a voice crisp like the collar of his shirt, Mitchell gestured and smiled at the rapt audience and before they could digest this gem of wisdom, the band slid into the next lesson “In My Shoes,” which, like a well worn and well read novel, was comfortable to the senses. Harder edged than often heard on stage, the song was anchored by Peter Fredette’s lock solid bass and perfectly paired backup vocals.

Fredette, the longtime companion and stalwart in Mitchell’s kinetic career was in fine form, emphasizing the moments as necessary and then stepping back to allow Mitchell to wail. And wail he did with blistering solos that dripped from his guitar, Mitchell was the consummate player and effortless in his delivery. With arms loose, his hands caressed his guitar like a favorite lover and pulled notes out of it that could make metal guitarists weep. Though the crowd was pretty much empty of leather, the intense and focused stares of many a young man suggested a return to their guitars would soon be in order; they were soaking up the lessons and making their mental movies, leaving the digital pictures to a few women brave enough to stand with cameras held high.

Deerfoot Casino, Calgary | March 30, 2013
Photography by: Charles Hope

Mitchell, smilied boldly at the audience with a full-toothed grin after another masterful solo, as if to say, ‘did you hear that!’ Not to say he was showing off, just that he was so much in the moment of his own playing that he couldn’t contain his enthusiasm; ‘holy Beefheart Zappa, this is damn fun!’

The first Max song of the night, “Paradise Skies,” was greeted with a huge cheer. People were singing along and enthused by the extended keyboard solo by former Honeymoon Suite’s Ray Coburn, acting as himself and not that infamous Smash Hitley fellow. The song was capped by a perfect Mithchellism: as he worked to get his guitar in tune, he quickly asked for his Strat and slyly stated, “You paid a good buck, might as well have it in tune.”

“Blue River Liquor Shine” followed, a song that is often requested through Mitchell’s social media network, and which he hasn’t played since the Max days was blistering and dark like one would expect from moonshine, including a fitting piano solo where Mitchell stood back to watch and allow Coburn a few moments of adoration. Mitchell was in the zone now and the words were flowing as he sincerely stated, “you lost Iggy, that’s too bad.” Warming to his class and showing that he cared. The class cheered and hooted at this reference.

He immediately launched into the screaming opening of the indomitable “High Class in Borrowed Shoes,” bringing the class along with him; they knew the words and they knew when to bob and weave. By this time they were lost in reverie, absorbing every note from their dear professor. There was little movement in the class, but their faces revealed all; entranced, attentive, and amazed. The chorus response for “I Am A Wild Party” was sharp and strong with nearly everyone chanting the words without any coaxing from the band.

Introducing “Ain’t Life Amazing” Mitchell noted that all download earnings from the song were going to women’s shelters. He didn’t bother explaining or contextualizing the reasons for this, but that didn’t matter, this was a fact to be noted and it further illustrated his approach to life: there’s a time for fun and a time to be serious, but this serious tone was quickly packed away, as he coaxed everyone to sing the chorus, coyly asking, “it’s a simple melody to sing, ain’t it?”

Other songs during the night included the hits “Rocklandwonderland,” “Lager and Ale,” and the ubiquitous “Go For Soda,” though one of the highlights of a highlight-filled night was a rocking rendition of Stompin’ Tom Connors’ “Sudbury Saturday Night” driven by the thumping beat of Chris Sutherland. Mitchell had to apply a second pair of glasses to be able to read the lyrics taped to his monitor, adding to the humour of the song and the performance, being that it was a new addition to the set list and he hadn’t been able to memorize the words, but he invoked the spirit of the late Canadian musical hero, singing in a harsh growly voice, which the crowd drank up.

Tonight was a night for intensity as the songs leapt out of their studio confines and found increased energy on stage, the place where Mitchell has always made his mark. His band was hot and precise. He was cool and focused. And by the end of the night, the class had heard their lessons, had their brains expanded, and quite possibly, their minds blown. One can only hope.

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