Review by: Rebecca Costie
JOE’S CAFÉ is a two-man musical revue of 14 original songs about the lives of everyday Americans – true stories shaped by transformative forces and events in American history.
The stars of the show are Rupert Wates, the composer, vocalist, and guitarist, and Bartosz Hadala, the pianist. Wates is a gifted singer-songwriter whose style of music and lyrics are Gordon Lightfoot-like. His lyrics are rich with social commentary, humour, sorrow, and sweetness, and his music can make you tap your toes or stomp your feet or sit silent and still.
I thoroughly enjoyed every song, but three of my favourites are about the power of love and courage (“The Loving Kind”), the killing of Sean Bell (“Fifty Shots”), and the strength of women (“Days of Mercy”).
What should a performer do if the power goes out and he is left with only the faint glimmer of a venue’s tiny emergency lights? If he is a skilled and confident artist, he keeps going and wins over his audience – completely. Wates did this when the power supply disappeared at the end of the eighth song. He didn’t fumble at all and even managed to crack a funny line. Unfortunately, Hadala was silenced, as no alternative power source for his keyboard was available.
There are a few small disconnections. The promotional art for JOE’S CAFÉ suggests music and a set and costume design inspired by the neat and tidy version of America in the late 1950s and early 1960s, but Wates’ songs are not about that America. The props, a chair and small café table topped with a pink gingham cloth, salt and pepper shakers and a small menu, are not a perfect fit but are appropriate enough. It is Wates’ costume that seems most out of place. He wears a pinstripe suit, black dress shirt, and white tie. It’s too much “Smooth Criminal” (Do you remember that Michael Jackson video?) and not enough (early) Dylan. But these tiny inconsistencies can and should be forgiven and forgotten.
You know you are experiencing something special when the power goes out and the show goes on and continues to be engaging. JOE’S CAFÉ is something special, indeed.