As if the holiday season isn't hectic enough, Toronto troubadour Jason Collett has kept things even busier each December for the past three years with his weekly "Basement Revue" series at the Dakota Tavern, a cozy saloon in the city's west end. The Tuesday-night gigs, which feature a surprise assortment of some of the city's best musicians, grew out of Collett's previous role as host of Radio Mondays, an influential songwriters' circle that showcased members of acts such as Broken Social Scene, Stars, and Metric long before they were well-known beyond Toronto.
Collett, now an established artist in his own right (and sometime member of BSS), has drawn on his deep connections within the local scene to curate and host the series, which has become rabidly popular with local live-music fans thanks to its laid-back vibe and unpredictable lineup: previous years have seen Collett's former backing musician Michael P. Clive, now a working chef, whipping up elaborate desserts on a hotplate on the Dakota's tiny stage; another night, Metric's Jimmy Shaw and Stars' Torquil Campbell revived their little-known '90s-era duo.
That eclecticism, and the potential chance to see some favourite artists in an intimate, casual setting, has fuelled word of mouth about the series to the point that nearly all five of this year's Basement Revue shows were sold out well in advance, despite the fact that the performers aren't even announced ahead of time.
But while it's heartening to see crowds supporting what's ostensibly supposed to be a showcase of homegrown talent, both new and old, it's worth noting there was some grumbling over this year's slate of largely lesser-known names. Using the series to shine the spotlight on skilled artists who might otherwise go largely overlooked is certainly a canny move,