Aside from an all-too short solo set opening for Nick Cave earlier this year, it had been over three years since the last time I saw Basia Bulat perform live. But she was back at a packed Rio Theatre to support her latest album, Tall Tall Shadow with her band. Plus, she was touring with longtime friend Evening Hymns -- who had already put on one of my favourite shows of the year, a couple months prior -- so I was more than a little excited for the show.
The night started with Evening Hymns, which is to say, Jonas Bonnetta taking the stage alone. After starting off with "Spirit In The Sky", which teased a bit of looping, he explained the concept of his latest album Spectral Dusk, written about his father's passing after years of illness and the deeply personal & heartfelt songs that were born. He told a couple stories about his father and brother, but also had some levity to his banter, joking around.
Half way through the set, Basia Bulat joined him on stage for a duet for an older song "Dead Deer", their voices blending perfectly together, and he fully exploited his looping pedal as he ran around building "Mtn. Song", his self professed dance number.
Jonas ended the set with the title track "Spectral Dusk", a heart wrenching song that surely caused more than a few teary eyes in the silent theatre. Not only was it his last song of the set, and his last live show of the year, but the last song for the Spectral Dusk "album cycle", and seemed noticeably cathartic for him as he ended that chapter.
Spirit In The Sky; Arrows; You and Jake; Dead Deer; Mtn. Song; Spectral Dusk.
It wasn't long after before Basia Bulat took the stage. Joined by bassist Ben Whitely and percussionist Ian MacKay, they started with "The City With No Rivers", and Bulat playing a charango; the first of several instruments she would cycle through over the course of the set. From the charango to the pianoette, the more conventional acoustic guitar to the keyboard, and of course the autoharp, she transitioned effortlessly from instrument to instrument. And her small stature -- which she joked about a few times -- gave way to a huge voice and presence. It was hard not to be entranced as her voice soared during songs like "Five, Four" and "Heart Of My Own".
There were a couple technical difficulties in the set, but nothing that took away from it; even when having keyboard or mic stand troubles, Basia was unfazed, joking and charming the crowd before getting it right rather than slipping into an awkward silence. Other highlights of the set included the soft and gorgeous "Paris or Amsterdam", the building intensity of "Gold Rush", and the incredibly catchy "Tall Tall Shadow", which saw Bonnetta coming out to join on backup vocals and staying for the final song of the set, "Never Let Me Go"
Basia came back out, visibly overwhelmed by the crowd's reaction, and went for a more loose and seemingly unplanned encore taking suggestions from the audience. "In The Night" again showed off her world class autoharp playing, and she did a beautiful cover of Daniel Johnston's "True Love Will Find You In The End", before she bookended the set by again bringing out the charango and finishing with her voice once again soaring for "It Can't Be You".
Basia Bulat is a fantastic musician and performer, and she had the entire theatre captivated throughout the show. I just hope it's not another three years before she's back.
The City With No Rivers; Promise Not To Think About Love; Gold Rush; Heart Of My Own; Run; I Was A Daughter; Five, Four; Paris or Amsterdam; Little Waltz; The Shore; If It Rains; Wires; Someone; Tall Tall Shadow; Never Let Me Go.
(encore) Before I Knew; In The Night; True Love Will Find You In The End [Daniel Johnston cover]; It Can't Be You.