The GuitarEST club night at the Mod Club on April 20 promised to be an unforgettable evening of guitar mastery, featuring the very best axemen from Estonia and Canada. And after a slow start the performance delivered on all counts – sizzling solos and musical teamwork not seen or heard in these parts for some time.
Riho Sibul and Margus Kappel from Estonia were the main draws. Their work with Ultima Thule and Rock Hotel respectively (as well as other collaborations and solo work) has earned them legions of fans. Toronto was represented by Peeter Kopvillem, Vancouver by Aarne Tork, and the rhythm section was Toronto’s Tõnis Tõllasepp on drums and the incomparable Erik Soostar on bass. New York’s Urmas Kärner served as MC and joined in the fun in the latter part of the extravaganza on rhythm guitar and vocals.
The show started with Sibul’s perhaps best-known composition, made famous with Ultima Thule, the thundering and immediately recognizable “Liivimaa pastoraal”. However, after this gripping beginning the supergroup was a little tentative. Sure sounded as if the club’s sound guy had not had enough time to adjust mike levels for the vocals and balance the guitar-heavy sound with the rhythm section. That annoyance soon passed as the performers got into the groove. Peeter Kopvillem’s compositions dominated the first half of the show, which was dedicated to mostly Estonian language songs. It had been awhile since one had heard the classic “Mari” or “Kodukäija”, and one hopes that Kopvillem will soon issue a CD featuring his timeless recordings, presently only available on cassette or vinyl. A nice mix of ballads and rockers for the first set.
But it was in the second half of the show that the guitarists truly dazzled. Aarne Tork jumpstarted the band with some serious burning blues guitar work, wailing and bending à la B.B. King, whose 1969 hit “The thrill is gone” was one of the highlights of the show. As was Tork’s dynamite rendition of the Stevie Ray Vaughan classic “Mary had a little lamb.” Unlike Sibul and Kopvillem, who are true stoic Estonians of little facial expression on stage, Tork cracked a smile once or twice, moved around with energy and actually thanked the audience! Kopvillem also demonstrated his incredible mastery of the instrument with clever and original solos that did not rely merely on speed.
Urmas Kärner joined the band for a few classic covers, notable among them was Eric Clapton’s “Before you accuse me”, and Kärner belted the lyrics into the mike with serious intent. Margus Kappel, primarily on keyboard, shone all night, notably on his unfortunately few slide guitar solos, as well as on a wicked barrelhouse piano instrumental feature. Tõllasepp was the perfect drummer for the group, holding the beat with precision and unassuming aplomb. Evening organizer Raoul Langvee also pounded the skins in the second set, his evident enjoyment expressed with a cheek-splitting grin seen across the room. Erik Soostar’s amazing bass solos proved why he is considered to be one of Ontario’s best session men. A surprise guest was Michael Kolk; a fine player whose guitar solos allowed the featured artists a brief respite.
The show ended as started – with “Liivimaa pastoral”, and the thundering guitar chords resonated with as much passion as at the onset of the show. Thanks to The Estonian National Foundation in Canada for supporting this venture, and one hopes that this is only the first such collaborative Eesti-North America presentation for Kärner and Langvee’s LURK Productions.
A rollicking blast of rock and blues guitars