Basia Bulat @ St James Hall -- 03/05/10

This seems familiar. It was September the last time Basia Bulat was in town, playing the same place, St James Hall. I'll dispense with the bad-sequel-title jokes* and get on with the show itself.

Opening was Katie Stelmanis. She came out and took a seat at the piano on stage and promptly silenced the room with her superb voice and masterful piano skills. It was no surprise to find out after she is classically trained. After the first song she tried to get some backup from her laptop, but when that failed, she ended up doing an acoustic set, more or less, with just the keyboard. She also had a pair of mics, one normal and one which I'll call the "epic chorus" mic. I quite liked her set and am intrigued to hear what she sounds like normally, what it would have sounded like if she had got the computer up and running properly. Hopefully she'll be back soon and I'll be able to find out.
(fun fact: Katie is on blocks recording club records, the same label as Owen Pallett. I first heard Basia Bulat when she opened for him, when he was still Final Fantasy, a couple years ago)

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. They started out with a couple of her more well known songs like new single "Heart of my Own" and the incredibly infectious "In The Night". That started the night with a high energy, and even with a simple three-peice of drums, viola and guitar/autoharp/piano (whatever Basia was playing that that moment), they had no problem maintaining that energy throughout the set. There was a great moment where Bulat said something along the lines of "How do you make folk music more rock & roll? Add some distortion pedal to the viola!"
Though there were song of her slower songs; at one point Allison & Bobby took leave of the stage for Basia to play of the mellower songs alone. After a few songs they came back with Katie Stelmanis to join them for a song on the piano, and closed out the set.
The encore started off with Basia Bulat wanting to do something she did last time she was here, which was to come to the front of the stage with her ukulele, and Allison for backing vocals and handclaps, and sing "Before I Knew" with no amplification for her voice. As I said last time, I have no doubt she'd be able to pull that off in a larger venue. It's also kind of funny that every time I've seen a show at St James Hall, the performers have done a song without the aide of microphones.
They played another couple songs before Basia Bulat took to the front of the stage again, this time alone and without an instrument, and sang one last, gorgeous, song before thanking us again and taking off. However, the crowd was still hungry for more, and in what may have been a rare for-reals-encore, they came back out to do one last song.

And it was a great crowd, too. Very respectful and silent during the songs. There were even a couple songs that slowly faded to nothing, and the crowd waited to go crazy only when the final note was played.
Even though the hall was starting to get kind of warm and stuffy (again) and the seating -- church pews -- was not very friendly to tell people, St James Hall is still a pretty damn nice & intimate venue, and perfect for someone like Basia Bulat. I'm glad that I was able to see her there (twice), as her next show here will probably be somewhere bigger since this show sold out.

*Bad sequel title jokes (as in, both the sequel titles, and the jokes, are bad): Basia Bulat 2: Folk Harder. 2 Basia 2 Bulat. Basia Bulat 2: Autoharp Boogaloo.