Okay, live albums are difficult things. Through the years, the live record has been either a tool of record companies to cash in on an artist that's not making records, or it's a tool for a group that's looking to make a quick buck or two between records. (Anyone remember Vanilla Ice's live album?) There's also the issue of sound quality as well; if an investment in recording's not been made, then it's going to be obvious to the listener that the recording's inferior, or that a great deal of time has been spent altering the record in the studio, leaving a recording that's not quite a live show.
Hayden's soft, acoustic-based music is perfect for a live setting, and this double-disc set is proof positive of Hayden's underappreciated genius. The performance, taken from a concert in Toronto earlier this year, is a great career retrospective, with him offering songs from all aspects of his career, as well as some new, soon-to-be classics. He's practically alone, with the occasional string and brass and backup vocals. As his music was already greatly atmospheric, listening to him play solo in front of a large audience makes his songs sound even deeper and darker. And those comparisons to Thom Yorke? Very, very apt, because at times on Live at Convocation Hall, you'd be hard-pressed to think you weren't listening to Mr. Grumpy Artist himself.
Underneath the darkness, though, is a sensitive sense of humor. His between-song is funny and thoughtful, (listen hard for a very funny exchange on disc one) and you can't help but think of Hayden as an interesting, quiet fellow who's quite literate and, well..normal! I especially liked his story about his cat, Woody. He explains the story about his new song, "Woody," and it's quite funny, and the song is heartbreaking, and I really don't think it's just about his cat.
Live at Convocation Hall is a great mid-career look-back. Though many might have thought that Hayden had been lost due to his label problems, his return earlier this year found him maturing as a songwriter. This record is a good argument for the hype about his music, as it reassures the listener that when it comes to Hayden, it's all about the words. In case you didn't get to see him live last year, or just want to enjoy an hour and a half listening to some excellent, literate acoustic music, you could do a lot worse than giving that time to Hayden.