Guitarist Michael Schatte proves himself one of Canada's best-kept secrets at Aeolian concert
When Michael Schatte plays his guitar, you get the sense that he’s not strumming an instrument so much as piloting a turbo-charged sports car through the world’s sharpest S-curve. His playing is as much a physical act as a musical one; his body jerks and thrashes through each wailing chord and riff, as if a conduit for the music’s electrical current. This energetic performing style served him well during his show at Aeolian Hall this past Saturday in promotion of his new EP, Four Songs, One Apocalypse. Over the course of the evening, Schatte made a convincing case for himself as one of Canada’s best-kept secrets, and certainly one of its most skilled rock performers.
Many in the crowd didn’t quite know what to expect, having heard Schatte’s name only though the grapevine and being unfamiliar with his music. Schatte and his band – Randy Cassidy on bass and Riley O’Connor on drums – set the tone for the evening with a honky-tonk-inflected rock number, “Final Night”. The song was fairly standard-issue, but a virtuosic guitar solo halfway through – the first of many that night – dazzled. The band followed up with the catchy “Your Lady Waits”, featuring a tumbling drum intro that brought to mind the rhythmic acrobatics of ‘80s rockers the Power Station.
Slowing down for an instrumental jam, Schatte performed some bluesy slide guitar with lots of reverb for added atmosphere. This was arguably the highlight of the show’s first half, not only for Schatte’s masterful manipulation of the guitar but for the song’s relaxed, reflective pace. Most of the evening was loud and up-tempo, the band’s meter seemingly stuck at “barnburner”, which grew a little numbing over the course of two-and-a-half hours. The skill on display throughout was undeniable, though: Schatte’s high-decibel, slightly twangy vocals were as polished as his picking, and drummer O’Connor’s unassuming presence belied his razor-sharp rhythmic prowess. The band’s set list was solid, if a little monochromatic: mostly blues-embellished rock with the occasional dip into country and high-kicking rockabilly. A cover of Richard Thompson’s “1952 Vincent Black Lightning” was emblematic of the band’s forté: smartly-written songs with an old-school vibe, designed to highlight the musicians’ talents. Throughout the night, Schatte employed foot pedals, multiple guitars, and hybrid picking techniques with a sort of mad-scientist glee; it was great fun hearing (and seeing) the inventive things that could be done with relatively simple equipment.
The show’s second half featured female guest vocals, more crowd-pleasing covers (including “Devil with a Blue Dress” performed at a fever pitch), and a finale that inspired awe at the band’s remarkable jamming skills. Seven minutes of ad-libbing might sound like a drag on paper, but Schatte and Co. pulled it off with such panache that it was compelling rather than obnoxious. If the show overall felt like too much of a good thing, it was nonetheless an impressive showcase for a musician whose talents and stage presence stand in stark contrast to his under-the-radar profile.