Basia Bulat @ St James Hall -- 09/23/09

With both Transmission and Rifflandia going on this week(end), it seems like a few of the artists involved in those festivals are making the short jaunt over for shows here. This probably helped create a record breaking five shows in a row for me (and seven in ten days). So screw Victoria, I'll have a festival of my own! I don't have a name for it (yet! Suggestions?) but it is bound to be legendary.

Opening the night was Woodpigeon. Or rather, Mark Hamilton (no relation) from Woodpigeon going it alone. Armed with just his guitar (and some backtracking and looping for a couple songs) he seemed a bit shaky to start, admitting "I am nervous because Basia Bulat is in the next room. She's probably just like 'pffft!'". Over the coarse of the half hour, though, he seemed to relax, and was only really showing nerves in the banter between songs. The music itself was solid. His light and sort of folksy sound was a perfect opening for someone like Basia and reminded me a little of a stripped down Sufjan Stevens or a less bizarre Grizzly Bear... maybe a little Iron & Wine-y (but not whiny). He also gets major "props" for not only breaking out a cover song in the middle of his set, but covering an ABBA song. I knew the band name from from R3, but couldn't think of anything from them before the show... but after the show, I have to say he won me over. At least enough to want to hear them as a full band.
Sidebar: They're playing as a six piece Saturday night at Little Mountain Gallery... shame I can't make it though, I wish I could.

After a short break, Basia Bulat hit the stage with band mates Allison “Wonderland” Stewart on viola and backing vocals and brother Bobby Bulat on drums. The one thing that struck me right off the bat is how tiny she is. I didn't realize she was so short, which made it all the more impressive that such a powerful voice -- which is even more amazing live -- comes from such a small stature. She started the set with The Pilgriming Vine, which began with just her & her guitar before exploding energetically half way through as the other two joined in. The high energy was kept up through the entire night, even during the slower songs. There was a good mix of old & new, giving us a preview of the album due out next January. Most of the newer songs were pretty high energy and a bit faster, and got me really excited for the new album... there was even a song where they added a distortion pedal... to the viola!!
The older songs were great, too, with the seated crowd bopping along to In The Night, I Was A Daughter and Snakes & Ladders, but the highlight of the show was most definitely Before I Knew, which saw Bulat take to the front of the stage with her ukulele and Allison for backing vocals and handclaps, and proceeded to sing the song with no amplification for her voice. That was a pretty amazing sight, and even though St James Hall is not very large, I have no doubt she would be able to pull that off at a venue of any size. It was a testament to the raw power, and beauty, of her voice.
Through the set, she seemed incredibly grateful to be there, and that the audience was there. It was her first Vancouver show of her own, and even if it was just the generic "[TOWN] is the best city to play in!" banter, she managed to sound incredibly sincere. She was charismatic and goofed off quite a bit between songs, joking about introducing her glasses too early in our "relationship" and her Beatles guitar picks... I'm not gonna lie, I think I developed a bit of a musician-crush on her last night.

I don't know why, but I wasn't really expecting anything from the show -- not low expectations, but rather... no expectations. I saw her once before, opening for Final Fantasy, but that was before I knew her, really, and since she was the first of three, the crowd was pretty noisy. (HATE) After the show, though, I was pretty blown away and now I can't wait to get my hands on the new album, and I really hope she is back for a tour then.

All in all, an excellent start to Kirkapalooza.
(ok, terrible name)