Hillsburn have been enjoying a steadily increasing career trajectory since the release of their 2016 album In The Battle Years; crowds have been growing, as have the band’s media appearances. The cachet that the band’s name carries makes it more surprising that their show on Friday night at the Seahorse was one of the largest they’ve played in town. Not only did lead vocalist Rosanna proclaim this fact, but for a late Friday show, the room was deservedly packed as it was a fantastic local bill, which also included HAFILAX favourites Hello Delaware.
The room was buzzing in anticipation of the evening’s show, tables were full, and there wasn’t a seat to be had around the perimeter of the dance floor. However, as packed as the bar area was, there was nothing more than a tumbleweed and a photographer on the dance floor. When you see this sort of activity in a room, you know something is afoot. At 10:30pm, Dana Beeler, Aaron Green, Tori Cameron and Eamonn Slattery (aka Hello Delaware) hit the stage, and tore into a set largely comprised of tunes from the band’s full length debut My Mistake. The set also featured a cover of Dance Movie’s “An Inelegant Fade”, which was dedicated to songwriter/performer/all-round great human Tara Thorne. It was a fun set that comfortably filled the dance floor.
Hillsburn is one of those local acts that is somewhat mythical for me. They are beloved in the Maritimes and far outside of those borders, and a band that is constantly under a barrage of critical praise (for good reason), but for whatever reason I’ve never been fortunate enough to catch this local five-piece indie-folk band. That is, until Friday evening at The Seahorse, but before this show I had only been exposed to the band via either local morning talk shows, or late afternoon news programs. Up until this show, my knowledge of the band had been scant, so I was looking forward to rectifying that fact.
Knowing full-well that Friday was quickly closing in on Saturday, I had given up on watching the time and gave in to the music. When Rosanna, Clare, Paul, Clayton and Jackson (Hillsburn) hit the stage, the dance floor was more than comfortably packed. Any apprehension dissipated once the band launched into their set, and for the most part I felt largely unprepared, as the crowd sang along in unison with lead vocalists Rosanna Burrill and Paul Aarntzen. While there is a distinctively traditional Maritime sound woven into the band’s more indie-rock facing sound, it never detracts from it.
The vocal harmonies between Paul and Rosanna are pure ear candy, and immediately accessible. At times Rosanna’s vocal styling reminded me of Alabama Shakes’ Brittany Howard, from the power and control to the soulful vocal expression. It’s not hard to see why the band has enjoyed a great deal of success on stages across this country; the way in which these 5 talented musicians work together is awe-inspiring. Not to mention, that as much fun as the crowd was having (a longtime fan even hopped up to join the band onstage in his Hillsburn lyric t-shirt), Rosanna and company were having an even better time, it was a mutual adoration.
Even now, tracks such as “Farther in the Fire”, “Run Down”, “Billy” and “Hold me Now” sound great digitally, but live the band elevates the material. If you haven’t had a chance to see Hillsburn play live, do yourself a favour and make it a point to get there. While it was well past my bedtime on a Friday night (Saturday morning?), it was more than worth it to catch one of the great gems playing out here on the East Coast.