Having crossed the Great White North from coast to coast countless times as a member of his big “bruv” Matt Mays’ band, Adam Baldwin is no stranger to those big stages and sold-out shows. What many may not realize is that Adam is a talented musician in his own right, having released his first EP of solo material back in 2013, which was followed by his solo full-length debut in 2016 (No Telling When (Precisely Nineteen Eighty-Five)). 2019 saw the release of No Rest For The Wicked, a deeply personal EP that outlined Adam’s own battle with addiction and recovery.
Then, like many of us, he was forced to isolate due to the pandemic that shut down much of the globe. That isolation stretched over long periods of time, and for a touring musician wrestling with their own demons, that idle time could be a certain recipe for disaster. But instead Adam found a way to soothe that internal turmoil. That catharsis came by way of legendary recording studio The Sonic Temple (eventually) and a webcam, but originated in New Scotland Brewing, and The Barrington Steakhouse.
It started out as little more than a conduit for the talented musician, and quickly became appointment viewing as the pandemic stretched on, keeping venues empty and fans socially distanced. Fans of Adam flocked to their computers for each subsequent Cross-Canada Chin-Up, to indulge in some great music, a bit of community and a much-needed dose of normalcy.
All in all, over the course of 26 performances, Baldwin’s fanbase certainly grew as folks across the country and abroad tuned in to hear the classics “Love You With My Eyes Closed”, “Arms” and the occasional cover of the Golden Girls theme song. During these sessions, we were first introduced to songs about a certain “Lighthouse in Little Lorraine”, or the community forged at a local gas station owned by Gerald Burgess. Eventually, they were worked into regular rotation, and found their way onto 2022’s Concertos and Serenades, alongside the dark and dirty betrayal on that “Causeway Road”.
As the pandemic restrictions eventually loosened, Adam was able to return to the stage and took his Cross-Canada Chin-Ups to the Carleton stage, a show that quickly sold out to the surprise of no one. Not only did Adam find an outlet for his creative instincts, but he provided a solace for those tuning in, and along the way honed his talents as a storyteller, and showcased his prowess on the piano. That sold-out show saw Baldwin merge those two musical personas, seamlessly shifting from guitar to piano and back again, all the while using his wry self-deprecating humour to keep the crowd smiling when the material gradually grew a bit bleak.
Then, in 2023, it was announced that Adam was taking his show on the road and touring the Maritimes with longtime favourite Old Man Luedecke as his road companion. When the Halifax date went on sale, tickets were quickly snapped up and landed the show (like many on this tour) a sold-out status, necessitating a second night be added, which also was a near sell-out. This was one of the first times that I can recall seeing Adam taking to this stage in a solo configuration, without Zack MacLean, Ryan Stanley, Brodie Hunter, Serge Sampson, or Leith Fleming-Smith accompanying him.
The crowds on both nights were ready to celebrate Adam’s growing catalogue, as it had been far too long since many of us were able to see him perform live. It also goes to show the cachet that Adam has grown for himself, to not only have Old Man Luedecke open the show but also to have Afie Jurvanen (aka Bahamas) play alongside the popular folk singer. After a fantastic opening set from Luedecke and Jurvanen which included the always emotional “Early Days”, and always delicious “Sardine Song”, it was time for Adam to take to the stage.
It was one of the sparsest setups I’ve seen in the Rebecca Cohn in quite some time. With little more than two guitars and a well-loved grand piano, it reminded me of Hayden’s setup (sans piano) a couple of decades earlier. You could see, when Adam put on the guitar and stood looking out over the packed room, his emotions were right at the surface, and he eventually settled in and accepted the adulation from the room. It was a crowd made up of many longtime fans, but no one longer than Adam’s own dad who put in a special request to hear “Sparrow Song” (which only made the cut on Wednesday night).
The stories interspersed throughout the show added a fair bit of levity for a catalogue of incredible songs that tell some rather grim tales of betrayal, revenge and heartbreak. We heard the story behind one of Adam’s earliest songs (“Burning Man”) and his ill-fated trek to Toronto for a morning show spot that found him drooling on the shoulder of a well-known pro-wrestler and being jolted awake at 5:30 am by the son of a former Prime Minister.
On both nights, the crowd was treated to the newly minted song “Sincerely”. Adam asked us to let him know if it was any good, otherwise it might find its way onto a record, and of course, it was another solid track from the talented songwriter. After roughly 90 minutes, we reached the conclusion of the main set, which saw Adam settle in at the keys to play a song that he plucked from the ethos and was written for his partner Jess: the much beloved “Love You With My Eyes Closed”.
After a quick game of peek-a-boo, Adam revealed the ace up his sleeve, and welcomed Greg Keelor to the stage to close the night out with the Blue Rodeo classic “Hasn’t Hit Me Yet”. A spot made even more special by the fact that newly-married Keelor and his wife flew out here specifically to support Adam on these two sold-out shows. On Thursday night, Keelor made his way to the stage, but this time Jenn Grant was also joining Adam, Keelor and Luedecke to perform not only “Hasn’t Hit Me Yet”, but also “Lost Together” (which felt somewhat spur of the moment).
As the George Patton Jr. quote goes, “Pressure Makes Diamonds”. Baldwin has taken the adversity put on him and managed to craft some beautiful gems from the chaos and pressure. Having come out on the other side of the pandemic, it was a treat to see the Fall River native keep the intimacy of his Carleton show and scale it up to a large soft-seater like the Cohn, all the while retaining that same intimacy and connection with his growing fan base. After ferrying many of us through the pandemic, these sold-out shows were well deserved.