Royal Wood Show Review

There is something unnerving about witnessing true sincerity in a performer. And I don’t mean ‘unnerving’ in the bad way that makes you feel uncomfortable. I mean in a way that when it happens it catches you so offside that it takes you a couple of minutes to recuperate and find your bearings. Musically, I can’t remember the last time that happened to me, but it was probably the night Sarah Slean opened for Ron Sexsmith at the Commodore Ballroom back in 2004. Anyway kids, I’m here to tell you that I saw just such a show last night at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre when Royal Wood opened for Sarah Slean. Funny how that works out huh? So who is Royal Wood? That’s what I was wondering too! Based out of the Toronto musical wheelhouse, Wood is a singer/songwriter who first stepped onto the music scene in 2002 with The Milkweed EP, followed by his first full-length release Tall Tales in 2004. However it was not until the 2007 release A Good Enough Day that he began attracting recognition for his efforts, landing songs in the backgrounds of several Canadian television programs.

The title track of Wood’s newest album is a two-minutes-and-change beauty with gorgeous rolling piano and a sweet, almost Randy Newman-esque ‘You’ve Got a Friend in Me’ kind of feel. And, as with the concert itself, the album and its opener immediately catch you off-guard primarily because of how well Wood can sing. Independent music has always been populated with acts that tend to sound more raw and unrefined than their heavily packaged and radio-friendly contemporaries. In contrast, however, Royal Wood takes that independent spirit and earnestness and backs it up with amazing vocals and fantastic piano and guitar playing. His website states that he started playing piano when he was four years old and his efforts really, really showed last night as he seamlessly shifted between ballads, waltzes and more traditional pop-oriented songs. Pop in the true sense of the word, of course; think early-Paul McCartney and Elton John. Oh, and he even covered the Oompa Loompa song from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory because, as he explained, he was watching the movie while packing merch for the tour.

Seriously though, one only need listen to ‘Juliet’ to understand what I’m rambling on about. I swear that when Wood opened his set with the lyrics ‘Follow me down to the edge of the town, the edge of the town where the graves are!’ It made the hair stand up on my arms. I was quite literally shocked at the level of sincerity and authenticity that was pouring out of the man who had only seconds earlier unassumingly stepped out on the stage in a suit and quietly sat down at the piano. What took place in the next three and a half minutes (and, indeed for the rest of the evening really) was a performance so sweet and so genuine that all I could think of was that I hoped my girlfriend and I would be able to pick up some of his music during the intermission. When Venus bought his record Wood was even gracious enough to sign it for her and thank her for coming to the show. And as for myself? Whenever I’m around musicians who I really like I usually end up making a dipstick out of myself. Venus is much cooler than I am (probably because she’s a singer/songwriter herself) so I usually send her in as my ambassador.

Later during Sarah Slean’s set – of which Royal Wood was frequently a backup player – Slean mused that certain songs can have the same effect on a listener as soul food. On Wednesday night, it was Wood who firstly and most memorably captured this sentiment with his quiet songs of love, loss and growing older. Like soul food, Royal Wood writes beautiful and true songs that warm the head and the heart. His albums and EPs can be purchased from his record label Maple Music. If you’re looking for something to raise your spirits, see you through some rough times, or just renew your faith in the integrity of music, you would do well to check him out.