There are countless shows that have left folks with little more than a ticket stub in their pocket. Some shows are tinged with regret and tend to linger longer than we like, while others stamp our memories with indelible ink. We don’t get to pick and choose when the latter occurs, but when it does, you can feel a certain magic hanging in the air. That magic was hanging in the air at the Halifax Jazz Festival in 2019 when Bahamas headlined one night.
While the headlining set was stellar, it was the relatively unknown (to me at the time) opening act The Barr Brothers that stole the show. It wasn’t long into their set that the realization set in that this was one of those special nights where the show would be stamped onto my psyche in that illustrious indelible ink. Another reason why you should always arrive early to a show, providing yourself with an opportunity to discover a new act which could quickly become one of your favourites.
Magic was in the Air at the Light House Arts Centre
Much like the Rural Alberta Advantage performance earlier this year, The Barr Brothers were not touring a new album, or on a current promotional cycle; they were here to re-introduce themselves after a lengthy absence caused in large part by the pandemic. This was a return that was more than welcome and caused folks to promptly circle the date on their calendars. One of the perks of shows such as this one is that while you may hear a new tune or two, the setlist is loaded to the brim with fan favourites. The setlist will certainly satiate the existing fan base while serving to win over a new continent of fans.
The Harp, a Barr Brothers necessity.
Walking into the room, it was clearly evident that for an indie-rock show, there was something unusual on stage. The towering pedal harp may be out of place at most other shows, but if you have listened to any of the Barr Brothers recordings you know it is an absolute necessity. On their studio recordings, you can hear those plucked strings and appreciate how they elevate the material, helping make the band’s distinct sound.
Having played Halifax on multiple occasions previously. It was a performance that built off of both the 2019 Jazz Fest appearance, and the band’s 2016 Halifax Pop Explosion set in the sense that those performances were amalgamations of multiple genres, incorporating indie-rock sensibilities, with elements of folk, blues, and Americana. These are not songs crafted to be played repeatedly on rock radio, instead, they are these expansive atmospheric tracks such as “Static Orphans” and “You Would Have to Lose Your Mind” that sparkle and shimmer throughout the venue.
The band also has these great tracks such as “Never Been a Captain” and “Song That I Heard” which feel forged in classic folk-rock and sound equally timeless. On this night “Song That I Heard” was placed towards the tail end of the set, which afforded Eveline Gregoire-Rousseau an opportunity to leave her harp and cross the stage to join Brad Barr in a beautiful delicate duet. Those harmonies were pure magic and had the entirety of the Light House Arts Centre swooning.
This was a show that also afforded me an opportunity to properly experience Villages and finally got to experience what so many before me have learned, in that it was immediately apparent why they are one of the hottest acts on the East Coast at the moment. The band has taken their indie-folk material and imbued it with a heaping dose of Cape Breton tradition and sound, resulting in a sound that is hauntingly familiar but at the same time updated and new.
In arriving at the venue earlier in the evening, it was evident that I was in pursuit of that 2019 experience and that anticipation was high. After Villages riled up the attendees, The Barr Brothers hit the stage and put on a performance that was every bit as special as their earlier stops and certainly hit the same heights as that earlier performance. This was a performance that felt intimate and introductory, and definitely gave me similar vibes as those Intimate and Interactive performances on the former Much Music (maybe with less interactivity). That indelible ink is still drying after Saturday Night’s performance.
The Barr Brothers