Feeling it Break: Austra at Sugar Nightclub

14 10 2013

Austra’s early show at Sugar Nightclub on Saturday night came as a blessing.  Even with two encores, the show wrapped up at 10:00 PM sharp.  The show’s early curfew allowed those scheduled to run in The Goodlife Fitness Marathon on Sunday morning to go home, carb-load and get some rest, while other, more thrill seeking concert-goers, were able to make it down to Lucky Bar to catch Fucked Up; unfortunately, this reviewer was part of the carb-loading tribe, though I heard Fucked Up played a hell of a show at Lucky.

The night began with an impassioned opening set by Moon King.  Led by parka-clad singer, Daniel Benjamin, Moon King did an excellent job of warming up the non-parka clad crowd (Sugar Nightclub has a mandatory coat check*—I’m still unsure how Benjamin managed to sneak past the eagle-eyed security staff) with a rousing and energetic set.  Along with guitarist/harmonist, Maddy Wilde, Benjamin cavorted his way through an engaging set of songs ranging from beautiful pop-induced harmonies to gritty punk rock songs.  Moon King is strikingly young, and on Saturday night they proved themselves to be a band worth watching: I picked up their debut 12”, Obession, and it is most excellent.

Sugar was near capacity by the time Austra took the stage.  The first thing that struck me, aside from the band’s beautiful, and aptly fitting umbrella light display on stage, was how tiny lead singer Katie Stelmanis is.  One would never guess, from listening to Austra’s powerful and operatic vocals, that Stelmanis incredibly short in stature.  Even with platform shoes on, Stelmanis essentially peered over the monitors lining the front of the stage for most of the band’s set.

Flanked by a band clad in some similarly interesting apparel, including the keyboardist’s spandex onesie, Stelmanis gave an energetic and delightful performance to wrap up the band’s long North American tour.  The show, mostly comprised of material from Austra’s newest album, Olympia, which was released earlier this year, fully displayed how far Austra’s come since their debut, Polaris-Nominated release, Feel It Break.

While the crowd was more responsive to material from Austra’s first album, particularly standout track, “Lose It” which most of us sang along to with full vibrato, the band’s darker new tracks were every bit as stunning, proving that Austra wasn’t the slightest bit affected by the sophomore slump.  While Olympia is indeed a grower, the songs performed live on Saturday night were undoubtedly more raw and engaging in their live skin.  As we walked down Sugar’s massive staircase, and out into the early evening air, we did so with massive smiles slapped upon pink cheeks.

*I heard many-a complaint about Sugar’s mandatory coat check policy on Saturday night.  While I fully understand the safety logistics motivating the coat check, I agree with other patrons that the three dollar charge for each checked item is a bit steep (one person I talked to was charged $9, as she had to check three items).  I think it would be great if Sugar lowered their charge, or donated all monies collected from their mandatory coat check to deserving local charities.Image




Direction is No Place at All: An Intimate Evening With Colleen Brown

19 11 2012

On Sunday night, I had the opportunity to attend a house concert. I’d never heard the performer before: all I knew about her was her name (Colleen Brown) and that she came highly recommended by a friend of mine who is endowed with wonderful musical instincts. I braved the elements, walking down Dallas Road in the midst of the year’s most powerful storm. I saw octopi washed up dead on the concrete, I saw whitecaps consume a horizon that only reluctantly comes to rest at the foot of the Olympic mountain range. And then I saw Colleen Brown sing, an experience every bit as powerful and inspiring as my journey to the small, seaside duplex where she played.

Brown’s songs are a fortunate fusion of complex chord progressions and thoughtful, meditative lyrical play. While I hate to draw comparisons, Brown often reminded me of Laura Marling, Joanna Newsom and Joni Mitchell. But Brown’s is ultimately a musical style, most singular. No doubt, future generations will mould themselves in Brown’s musical image; they will be fortunate to have her as a reference point.

The highlight of the evening, for me, was Brown’s original composition, “Direction”. The song showcases Brown’s subtle graces on piano, which provide a hesitating, beautiful backdrop to poetic turns of phrase from the voice of Brown, our restless wanderer. She confesses that “Direction is no place at all”, and on Sunday night, the fortunate few who were lucky enough to be in the friendly confines of that duplex were instantly transported us a sacred place: a place in between places—not here, not there, as the wind outside blew wild.


Get Your Tickets Early: An Evening with Bahamas and Jason Collett

25 10 2012

The fortunate few who gathered at St. Anne’s Auditorium on Tuesday night couldn’t help but feel pretty lucky. The auditorium, while beautiful, is incredibly small; last minute fans were left to scour the Internet, and the park surrounding St. Anne’s where Bahamas hid the two remaining tickets, for their chance to see the show. Unfortunately many were left out in the cold, but those who got their tickets early were generously rewarded to an intimate performance courtesy of not one but two of Canada’s premier acts without the drunken distractions that inevitably detract from any given show at any given bar. St. Anne’s Auditorium was the perfect venue for Bahamas and Collett because of, not in spite of, its size.

The evening began early with Jason Collett taking the marqueed stage all by his lonesome. Collett looks and sounds much different than he did last time he came through town. His quaffed curls have given way to long hair, and the themes of his beautifully melodic songs have changed rather drastically. While Collett played some older songs, most of his set consisted of selections from this year’s _Reckon_, whose direct and austere tracks seemed even more urgent in their live skin. Yes, the subject matter of many of Collett’s new songs is bleak, but the tone of his performance was impossibly light as Collett was obviously thrilled to join his old pal and former bandmate, Afie Jurvanen, on his tour across Canada. If Bahamas’ set was any indication, the thrill was mutual.

Bahamas’ live set is perfect: maybe it’s because the band has been touring for so long, maybe it’s because of the obvious chemistry between all four of the band’s member’s, or maybe its because they draw from such rich material; whatever it is, it would be impossible to conceive of a more refined and awe-inspiring live set. Though Jurvanen constantly reminded us that he and his band has only two albums of material to draw from, and while he was well aware that he paid us a visit a mere three months ago, his band’s performance was pitch-perfect. And keep in mind that this was the first show of their cross-Canada trek, by the time Bahamas reaches Winnipeg, much less Ontario, I’m willing to bet that they’ll prove the old axiom obsolete: Bahamas will improve upon perfection… with their Victoria show, they already have.

Barchords is as perfect an album can hope to be. A precious mixture of melancholy and joy, the album refuses a passive listen. The play count on my digital version of Barchords verges on triple digits, yet I still feel compelled to revisit it often. And still, Barchords’ songs are better live. If the studio versions of the songs lay elaborate blueprint well worth consideration and reconsideration, their live counterparts are a numinous finished product: precise gives way to even more precise while excitement steps aside to make room for an unparalleled spontaneous passion.

While it’s unfortunate that more people weren’t able to witness the fine mix of Collett coupled with Bahamas, perhaps that’s what made it even more special. Without the ambient noise and chatter generated by those who might have heard “Lost in the Light” on Much Music a couple of times, the songs of two future Canadian icons has room grow, leaving their silenced crowd utterly and completely captivated. For better or for worse, it is likely the last time we’ll be able to hear either act in a venue so small; get your tickets now.

–Nick Lyons


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