March 27 | Reviewed by Brannavan Gnanalingam

CANADIAN singer-songwriter Hayden boasted an unexpectedly compelling presence – he had a quiet, unassuming demeanour yet he was armed with a winning stories and lovely songs. This could easily have been a very understated, gentle gig, instead a transfixed audience at Happy were treated to a beautiful set by the Canadian veteran. It was his voice, his voice was the thing that dragged you in by the collar, paradoxically sounding both like a spade in gravel, and caramel dripping off a spoon. It matched his storytelling perfectly – it was intimate and surreal, tender and sharp.

Jess Chambers opened, on the back of a performance at WOMAD, and has an album approaching. She may end up being compared to Bic Runga a bit in her time, with her voice tonally and melodically capturing Runga’s. Her studio work is nicely instrumentally textured (and it’s lovely), and she was solid live. Lyrically she was a bit mixed, but her voice and her presence perfectly suited to the intimate Happy venue. Her guitar accompanier was particularly impressive too.

Toronto native Hayden last played here in 2004, and ran through a set full of wry observations, guitar de-tuning and harmonica-searching. He opened with ‘I Should Have Been Watching You’ from 2001’s Skyscraper National Park. ‘Home by Saturday’ from the brilliant 2004 album Elk-Lake Serenade was next (and brilliant), and he played songs from all over his career on the guitar and piano, joking about his lack of upbeat songs or the fact he once sang about loving twenty-three year olds. He also introduced his songs with witty stories, including his tribute to his scruffy herpes-infested cat ‘Woody’ (from Elk-Lake Serenade) which made it onto a Starbucks compilation and caused a complaint from a customer who misinterpreted the song as being ‘about two friends masturbating in their garden’. He talked about security guards who liked origami, or chided the audience for laughing at ‘Killbear’ – a song about a man leaving his lover to be ravaged by a grizzly bear. He was fully appreciated by a respectful crowd too, who gave him the respect he deserved. I must admit I enjoy a nice gig at Happy, its home-spun warmth working well. It is rare to see a singer-songwriter so compelling in a live performance, his hour long set flew past, and ultimately, it was a truly lovely gig.