by Eric Thom
The Dakota Tavern, Toronto
Thursday, August 23rd
If you can get past the fact that fact that the this perky, 24-year old Calgary native and his band could double for Richie Cunningham & His Happy Daze, you’ll gain admission to the work of a fascinating talent who is ripening into a fully mature artist with a most promising future.
Joshua Cockerill has made Toronto his home, where he’s been constantly gigging, transforming his solo self into, now, a full-fledged band effort – Joshua Cockerill’s Animal Parts. With the release of Animal Parts’ self-titled debut, Cockerill’s creative touches achieve full bloom as his band surrounds and supports him with musicianship sounding surprisingly seasoned well beyond their years. He’s moved slightly away from the country-edged rock- pop of The Trick With Your Heart I’m Learning To Do. And on the occasion of his CD release, his more sensitive, singer-songwriter self was on full parade.
Cockerill is clearly driven and less content to milk trends towards over-accelerating his career prematurely. He’s in it for the long run and new songs like “Poets“ and “The Trick With Your Heart (Part 3)“ bear witness to his commitment to truly matter as an artist with something to say.
Things got off to a slow start, playing to a too-talkative crowd and keeping things decidedly low-energy, blending songs from both Cockerill’s debut and the new band release.
Beyond confident, content to focus intently on his art, Cockerill & Co. seemed to be playing to themselves to some extent – until you realize that these arrangements do require full concentration to deliver them as accurately as they did. Leading with a new song, “Running”, its slow-paced delivery seemed at odds with the room but the more the noisy scene-sters talked, the more Cockerill appeared to realign his focus on his band, leading them through the new material like a proud father.
Consisting of a skin-tight rhythm section in Devon Henderson (bass) and Rich Knox (drums), together with new keyboardist Aaron Comeau and Matt Bailey on guitar, they play together like they’ve been doing it for decades. One of the debut’s more interesting ballads is “A Dream Where I Break Horses”. It’s a stand-out studio track with powerful lyrics but, live, it featured some epic guitar work from both Cockerill and Bailey, lending it a ‘bigger’ sound and visions of the latter-day dB’s came into view.
“Fox Hollow” from Cockerill’s first record unleashed a strong C&W shuffle while “God Help Us All” took on a strong, somewhat surprising reggae twist, revealing the strength of the rhythm team of Henderson-Knox (and the harmonic shortcomings of Comeau). The band hit its stride with “Dance With You”, a mid-tempo country rocker that focused the crowd on why they’d come.
Likewise, the new release’s “The Trick With Your Heart (Part 3)” rattled a few rafters and added twinkle to the red lights glaring from the eye sockets of the cattle skulls behind them.
The second set was an altogether different affair – the first three songs kicking the energy of the room into overdrive. “All You Need To Break Your Heart” followed “Hey Bartender”, both off Cockerill’s debut, segued into the sultry “Poets” with its pure pop feel, buttressed by ringing guitars and a rocking rhythm section.
A so-far-unrecorded “Our Country” proved another highlight of the evening as Bailey and Cockerill’s guitars chimed in unison, Cockerill relaxing his artiste mode to jam facing Knox’s crisp drumming.
Another killer track off Animal Parts, “I Won’t Ever Let You Down”, has a chorus that injects itself under your skin like a fall burr, as the band’s vocal abilities rose to the occasion across another memorable pop song.
The fat, honky-tonk beat that was “What Our Love Is” brought out the dancers while an odd acoustic number chronicling a show-down with a squirrel – “Are You Man?” – only served to add fervor to the request for a spirited encore. The band delivered the goods with a spot-on cover of the Beatles’ “Don’t Let Me Down” as the audience lent their voice to Cockerill’s uncanny Lennon impersonation.
With the cattle skulls as backdrop and the bandana tucked into the back pocket of his jeans the only remaining clues to his Calgarian roots, Cockerill is an artist fast outgrowing his roots and is clearly capable of taking his music anywhere he wants to – and did.
You just can’t help get the feeling he’s going somewhere special and, with the release of this next chapter in the saga, he and his young band are a good part of the way there already.