Rail-thin like a scarecrow, sporting shades underneath a mop of black hair, legendary punk-poet John Cooper Clarke remained as potent as ever to a nearly sold-out Lee’s Palace.
Having opened for the likes of Joy Division and The Clash long ago, attendees packed the Toronto venue to pay their respects to the Manchester native.
With decades having passed since his last Canadian tour, he performed his works including Beasley Street and I’ve Fallen In Love With My Wife while also throwing in newer pieces such as Hired Car.
Clarke’s wit and charm intertwined with tales of inner city poverty eroding his hometown during Thatcher’s Britain. A master storyteller, Clarke incredibly combined scathing social commentary, poetic humour and surrealistic asides at an amphetamine-fueled speed.
Honest to a fault, Clarke’s mental flexibility and rapturous love of language enveloped the set, holding the audience captive. With pitch perfect sound provided by the always venerable Lee’s Palace, every world was digested and savoured.
Set against a minimalistic backdrop, only a stack of notebooks kept Clarke company, from which he selected his poems – old or new to deliver like a roadside preacher. It was very much a one man show: A lone microphone amplifying his monotone, clipped way of speaking, all presented at centre stage.
At 69, the incomparable wordsmith closed the final minutes with Evidentially Chickentown, a classic critique of his dysfunctional inner-city neighbourhood, famously used on The Sopranos.
It is the concise simplicity that made every line spring to life, creating an electrifying atmosphere for all to behold.
Spitting words to the very end, Clarke has ceased to lose any of his edge, humour or vigor all these years later.