And as an added bonus, they were joined by a couple of strong local acts to round out the show.
Starting off the night was John Sponarski. One half of Portage & Main, John has recently been playing more solo shows, and he took the stage armed with little more than an acoustic guitar & a harmonica, accompanied by Savannah Leigh Wellman of Redbird to lend her voice to backup vocals.
I saw Sponarski fairly recently, opening for Elliott BROOD, and he seemed much less nervous and more comfortable this time. His solo material was a little more on the country side than Portage & Main, with songs being clearly personal. From "Corn Whiskey" -- based off the traditional "Rye Whiskey" -- written after someone questioned his alcohol intake, to one written after visiting his grandmother in a resting home, the emotion put into the songs really drove them home.
He ended with a great closer; a bit of a sing along, a rousing song both lamenting and celebrating a broken up band. I mentioned it last time, but that song was my favourite of the set, and would be killer with a full band behind it.
Next up was Rolla Olak. Keeping it stripped down, he only had John Sponarski with him on pedal steel, and also kept the same mellow, folk-country vibe throughout most of his set. He had a clear passion while playing, but was lacking a bit in stage presence. I saw him recently as a part of the Peak Performance Project and liked his full band set, but couldn't quite connect to his more acoustic set; maybe it was just a bit too laid back. Which is why my favourite was the last song of the set, as he invited The Strumbellas on stage to pick up instruments and sing along to his final song, a rousing and passionate song, "It's Alright" for a strong finish.
It wasn't long before the stage filled with The Strumbellas, in stark contrast to the previous, two-piece acts. The six piece from Lindsay, Ontario started off the set with "Home Sweet Home", wasting no time showing off their tight harmonies and raucous alt-country roots rock. The whole band was full of energy, but especially keyboardist David Ritter and frontman Simon Ward, who started the show a little shy, by his own admission, but by the end of it he had opened up & was more chatty between songs, even talking directly to crowd members yelling things at the stage.
The set focused mostly on their new album, We Still Move On Dance Floors, with highlights being
the anthemic "End of an Era" and the building intensity of "Ride On". They rounded out the set with some older ones, the explosive "Lakes", and even a great cover of Modest Mouse's "Float On", with Ward getting the crowd to sing along to the chorus, a warm up for another sing along to "The Sheriff", an incredibly catchy tune.
After "ending" the set with "Rhinestone", they didn't even do the fake-leave, rather ended the night by inviting everyone up on stage to dance along with the big closing number, "Pistol"
The Strumbellas put on an incredibly fun live show, and I would not be at all surprised to see them tearing up larger venues like the Commodore in years to come.
Home Sweet Home, Lakes, Ride On, In This Life, Run, The Fire, End of an Era, Sailor's Blues, Float On [Modest Mouse cover], The Sheriff , Sailing, [mystery song], Rhinestone, Pistol.