Dark but for a few single candles illuminating the tabletops, the Emerald’s cabaret felt intimate. The band was still doing sound check when I walked in and Cary Pratt, otherwise known as Prairie Cat and whose album release we were celebrating, greeted me graciously, shaking my hand and thanking me for coming. He was nothing short of lovely — genuine and sincere, it would be a tone set for the remainder of the evening.
The tavern was jam-packed, with only standing room that had people leaning against the bar. Ford Pier, plugged in with just an electric guitar, started things off without warning. Seeing Pier, a veteran of the local scene usually attached to one of his two groups (rock band The Vengeance Trio and string quartet Strength of Materials), play solo is a rarity and a privilege. A man of deliberate off-kilter contradictions, he sounded like a combination of a Shakespearean actor and a leather jacketed punk — a fusion that was, simply, brilliant.
Performing an array from his catalogue, he dove into “Finer Qualities,” strumming powerfully and headbanging sharply between chords. “Occam’s Depilatory” was riotous and full of cheeky smirks. Hilarious lyrics like “Now I’ve got a Facebook page / Like every twat my age” had the crowd roaring, as did an anecdote about pies. Pier’s raw talent, however, was at the forefront when he played “Lions and Tigers and Bears,” an intense song that explored the fragility of the human condition. Pier squeezed his eyes shut, in passion—the laughter died; the audience, captivated.
With a mop of curly hair and a burgundy blazer, Prairie Cat resembled a young Prince more than a grassland-inhabiting feline. After encouraging the crowd to “get a drink and grab a dance partner,” he sat behind his keyboard and jumped into the bouncy title track of his new release, Who Knows Where to Begin?. The album—bright, infectious, and wonderfully wry—made for a joyful show and Prairie Cat’s performance was spirited. His fingers danced across the keys on “Got Nothin'” and his voice was pure magic on “Beautiful Baby.” Saxophonist Joshua Capri accompanied the singer on the catchy “No Bedroom,” adding sophisticated depth to the musically gorgeous number.
Aside from his performance, Prairie Cat’s humble gratitude stood out most. He constantly praised his band — who were stellar — and after thanking his producer Ryan Dahle, Dahle jumped onstage, beer in one hand, the other clasped upon Prairie Cat’s shoulder, and harmonized on “Upright Beast” before pulling the singer in for a hug. Prairie Cat was happy to be up there and we were happy to have him.
Who Knows Where to Begin? is gloriously charming and as much fun to hear live as it is on the record. Grateful to the crowd for their attendance, Prairie Cat leapt off stage to a flurry of embraces, back slaps, and congratulations. He was the darling of the evening — and it was easy to see why. Making his way over to me, he asked, “Did you enjoy the show?” Yes, I certainly did.