Many images are bound to arise when one drops the phrase, ‘one man band’. For me, it is a rather carnivalesque caricature of a beleaguered gentleman in a pork pie hat struggling to balance his focus between the kick-drum at his feet, the harmonica on his lip, the guitar on his waist and the Wurlitzer churning monkey at his side. But this vision, while amusing, also proves to be quite outdated. The past few years have seen the rise of artists such as Owen Pallett and Andrew Bird who have consistently dazzled listeners with the depth of their respective solitary sounds — and they’ve even managed to do it without a monkey.
Jon Cohen, who is set to stop in Victoria this week, is a penultimate example of this new-wave of solo performers. Those who were fortunate enough to catch Cohen last time he came through town will surely attest that Cohen’s live show is a sight and a sound to behold. Cohen pushes the limits of what a one-man band can do. As he jumps from instrument to instrument, looping rich textures and sonic layers into his densely woven songs, one cannot help but marvel at his ability to make multi-tasking look so effortless.
“I believe that the one-man band is the ultimate test of a person’s ingenuity and a triumph of musical ability,” Cohen says. “It challenges the notion that you need five or six people to make great music and gives one the freedom to make something completely new every night.”
Cohen’s passion for one-person performance has obviously energized him. After an extensive tour in Europe, in which he played 12 countries in two and a half months, he decided to organize Montreal’s first One Man Band Festival (Festival de Musique Solitaire) this summer. Featuring 23 artists in five venues, the festival was a massive success and promises to be even bigger next year. But Cohen couldn’t wait another year to check out other solo artists while honing his own sound. He was so excited by the spirit of the festival that he decided to take it on the road, playing a series of dates across Canada with the help of similar one-person outfits.
Victorians will have two chances to see Cohen this week as he will be playing The Fort Café on Thurs., Sept. 20 with local luminary Dylan Stone supporting, and Solstice on Fri., Sept. 21 with Vancouver treasure David Parsons starting things off. One would be remiss to miss this one-man extraordinaire at the height of his powers. M