“Send him the money. Thank me later.”

They night after I moved to Toronto, my friend Laura took me to Graffiti’s in Kensington to see Kevin Quain play. It was a Monday, I remember. Earlier that evening we watched the sun go down and the city light up from the top deck of a ferry on its way back from Centre Island.

And I was really excited to see Kevin Quain.

Not long before I moved, my friend Neil had seen Kevin play in someone’s living room.* Neil bought both of Kevin’s CDs, Hangover Honeymoon and Tequila Vampire Matinee, and had lent them to me. I was amazed. The songs were wild and raw, with lyrics about vampires and hangmen. Kevin’s voice was gravelly as hell. And he played the accordion. The accordion!

But more than anything, it was the lyrics that got me. For me, Kevin Quain’s songs do the thing that all great songs do; they make me feel like they were written just for me. Take “Hangover Square:”

What if your dreams don’t come true?

What if your nightmares come looking for you?

Listen kid, you’re gonna love it here.

Doubt, fear, and hope.

In three lines, exactly how I felt after leaving everything I knew to follow my dreams in a city I didn’t understand.

The first night I saw Kevin Quain perform, it was just his voice and a guitar. It was everything I’d expected.

A few Sundays ago, for the first time in almost a year, I went to see Kevin Quain and the Mad Bastards play at the Cameron House. And I picked up a copy of his new-ish live solo CD, Dog Show Volume 1. Listening to it now brings me right back to that first night in Toronto. The songs are bare, and sad, and beautiful and perfect.

Honestly, I cannot recommend this man’s music enough. Trying to explain how good it is is really frustrating. But perhaps that’s a testament to his songs.

Go to Kevin’s website. Or his MySpace. Listen to his music. If you live in Toronto, go see Kevin play. If not, follow Ralph Alfonso’s advice and buy his CDs: “Send him the money. Thank me later.”

* I honestly cannot recall why this performance took place in someone’s living room. I do, however, remember that Neil’s explanation included really greasy hamburgers