The intimate Drake Underground got even more personal last Tuesday when William Fitzsimmons took to the stage. Through a subdued, mainly acoustic set of melancholic songs and personal anecdotes about his life. Fitzsimmons connected deeply with the small crowd and made a lasting impression.
Stuart Smith opened the set with slow country charisma. The long time friend of Fitzsimmons performed a short half hour opening set which perfectly crafted the mood for the night. Smith’s warm voice and sound instantly struck me and charmed the crowd with his charisma and humour. Smith played many slow soothing songs including his new single ‘Lost War’ and tracks from his album ‘War Horse’. The set was seamless and created a relaxing environment for Fitzsimmons.
Smith’s masterful guitar skills were a standout and I much preferred the songs accompanied by guitar to those he played on the keyboard. The final song ‘Into My Arms’ closed the set perfectly, with its soft caring and thoughtful melodies. He was incredibly vulnerable, which created intimacy and trust from the crowd. Smith expressed his thankfulness to perform in Toronto for the first time and hoped he could give the crowd as much joy as they gave him. His clear love for music and connection with his craft truly radiated.
As Fitzsimmons took the stage, the crowd moved closer and were clearly overjoyed to hear him open with ‘So This Is Goodbye’. His careful, almost whispering voice managed to fill the space and garnered impressive applause from the audience of about 50 dedicated fans. His set consisted of a variety of electric and acoustic self proclaimed “depressing songs” from the entirety of his career, accompanied by multiple reimagined covers of pop and rock classics. The first cover and second song of the night was a slow angsty rendition of the Backstreet Boys ‘I Want It That Way’, which many were shocked yet happy to hear.
The crowd work consisted of self deprecating jokes mixed in with the deeply personal stories behind each song. He was extremely open, honest and connected with the audience. Fitzsimmons spoke about mental illness, suicide, divorce and many other heavy topics but was able to maintain a humorous spark throughout. While he did talk a generous amount, the crowd didn’t seem to mind. His emotional lyrics resonated even more deeply when the context for their creation was explained.
He played a few songs from the record ‘Lions’ which explored his relationship with his daughters. I was impressed by his guitar skills and the many riffs throughout each song. Most songs were fairly monotone with an occasional melodic highlight. If anything the melody resided within the guitar and was complemented by straight yet deeply emotional storytelling. Fitsimmons’ airy restrained delivery created a timid yet intense sound.
Fitzsimmons stated right away that “All my shit sounds the exact same,” and he wasn’t wrong. While it wasn’t a bad sound it made me wonder, if he’s aware of the similarity, why not switch things up? I was taken aback by the difference between his singing and speaking voices, which made me wonder what he could sound like if he were to try other styles?
Later into the set came songs from one of Fitzsimmons newest albums ‘Ready The Astronaut’ which tackles themes of suicide. These songs possessed an edgier sound, mainly played on electric guitar with cleverly implemented reverb and echo. While slightly different from the previous acoustic tracks, ‘Ready the Astronaut’ was definitely not from another planet. Despite the raw sound, the concert continued to remain self-awarely one-note.
Throughout the night Fitzsimmons played multiple covers, and without failure, made each song increasingly dismal. These include The Beatles ‘Blackbird’, a full rendition of ‘Annie’s Song’ by John Denver and a touching version of Elton John’s ‘Your Song’, which he dedicated to his wife. Stand out songs from the night included ‘Angela’, ‘Hear Your Heart’ and ‘Never Really Mine’ which featured quality guitar breaks, humble verses and memorable choruses. These songs were bold and strong compared to the rest of the set and drew me in when I was losing interest.
Ultimately Fitzsimmons is an acquired taste for those looking to linger on life’s struggles. His mellow, leisurely sound is perfect for those looking for a folk artist willing to dive deep. I would describe his music as poetry and stories plucked to guitar. I appreciated the short length of each song, and his dedication to his music.
To finish off the night Smith joined Fitzsimmons back on stage and the two played a few songs together. Smith joined on the keyboard while Fitzsimmons strummed the acoustic guitar, unfortunately the two did not sing together which I think could’ve been the highlight of the night. What did impress me was when the pair stepped off the stage and into the middle of the crowd. They played a true acoustic set within a circle of their fans.
During these moments they were able to truly connect with the crowd and each other, creating the most touching and intimate moment of the show, that was already extremely intimate to begin with. Fitzsimmons thanked everyone for coming and closed the night on his own with ‘Everywhere’. He then walked through the crowd and proceeded backstage, and the audience quickly streamed out of the venue left with only memories of a touching yet slightly boring concert, and possibly a T-shirt or CD.