Singer/songwriter Heather Hill acted as MC for the festivities, first introducing Saxe’s life partner Bryan Pickell, who opened the evening with a set that went from sweet, fun and whimsical songs to moving instrumental. Of the former, “Peter the Duck” especially made me smile. Pickell shifted from acoustic guitar to piano to play an expressive, haunting and moving piece inspired by personal health struggles (an illness originally thought to be Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or depression turned out to be Lyme Disease, and he was finally able to get treatment). Also loved his love song to YouTube, where “everyone is someone else’s weirdo.”
Hill introduced the lady of the evening, and Aynsley Saxe took to the stage, joined by her band: John Jamieson (keys and also Saxe’s producer) Tom Evans (drums), Adam Langley (guitar), Dennis Papadatos (bass), Meagan Ballantyne (cello), Alex Cheung (violin), Carson Freeman (tenor sax), and Jill Harris and Lydia Persaud (back-up vocals).
Opening with the appreciative (and surprising) nod to a glamour queen in “You Look So Fine” then shifting into cozy, warm, poppy ballad “Winter Love,” Saxe’s arrangements feature some beautiful cello and violin arrangements on the ballads, as well as on the title track, the love letter, “Take Me As I Am.” But don’t let that sweet, innocent, crystalline voice fool you, this lady can bring the heat – just wrap your ears around “Stop, Drop and Roll,” Saxes’ sexy tribute to firemen everywhere and the first track on the CD. It was especially fun that her intro to that song included GTA firefighter Jeff, who could attest that the firefighter calendar is a huge seller – and a big fundraiser for Princess Margaret Hospital. Jeff assisted Saxe with some launch party swag for the audience, passing out red t-shirts with the message “I accept non-emergency CPR from firemen” on them. Looks like Heather Hill scored one of those. And I was sorry to have missed the firetruck, which had stopped by the venue earlier – a sight that brought both joy and relief to Saxe as she waited to go onstage.
Moving to the piano, Saxe played some more lovely ballads, the heartfelt song of comfort and tribute to her mom “We Won’t Say Goodbye” – which features some of my favourite lyrics: “Cause love is stronger than steel/Higher than the sky/Love is deeper than dreams/Love is longer than time” – and “The Piano Hears Me Now,” about the connection between musician and instrument. And some gorgeous covers of “Solsbury Hill,” which is on the CD, and “Falling Slowly” from Once and Once the Musical. Each song an individual love letter, making Take Me As I Am a love letter compilation of sorts. It was a lovely evening, celebrating the birth of Saxe’s CD, made all the better by the presence of so many friends, family and fans – a lot of love and support for the artist in Hugh’s Room last night.