greatlakeswimmers

Saturday’s dual-performance by up-and-coming artist The Weather Station, and Canadian-folk rock treasures, Great Lake Swimmers, had the seats of downtown Calgary’s Central United Church packed to the brim with young and old folk-music heads alike.  Though attendance was large in numbers, around 500 people, the Church with its interiors of old wood and red velvet hues, and stage space no more then two feet from the ground, gave the performance space a very special, communal feel. 

theweatherstation

Toronto’s The Weather Station, who also goes by the off-stage name of Tamara Lindeman, kicked things off at 8:00 pm sharp.  Tamara’s slightly sheepish and deeply serious stage presence, with the occasional murmurs of dry-humored remarks on her songwriting journey thus far – like for instance, a particularly funny jab at her own stage name (“They call me station, weather station..”) – was a modest paring to the absolute wonder of her music. 

The Weather Station’s voice, with her deep and full lows and airy, flute-ish high notes, resembles in many ways, jazz-folk legend Joni Mitchell.  A soft and quick finger-picking style of simple yet haunting progressions, accompanied The Weather Stations lyrics, flushed full of poetic, nature-bound images and internal grappling’s of the heart, kept the audience spellbound from start to finish.   The most enigmatic song in my opinion, was Shy Woman, a seemingly self-descriptive song off her latest album.

Though Tamara kept things contemplative and mellow, there was a certain air of hushed excitement rippling throughout the crowd last night.  Perhaps it was the thrill of realizing how lucky we, the audience were, to be witnessing this gem of an artist in such an intimate and close-knit space, right as Tamara’s career is really starting to take off. 

Already, her third album entitled Loyalty (though she’s joked, its more like her first) has received rave reviews by Pitchfork and has even made it across the seas to caress the ears of Folk Radio UK, this is an artist destined to follow suite in the canon of Canadian folk nobility like Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen.

After an intermission, Great Lake Swimmers leapt on-stage around 9:30, immediately breaking the audience from our lingering dream-state of post-Weather Station hypnosis with a swift burst of fiery grace.  Also promoting a new album, A Forest of Arms, released last month, their performance featured some brand new tunes as well as old favorites that many adoring audience members were able to sing along with. 

Though I am a huge fan of every Great Lake Swimmer song I’ve heard to date, I can now say without a doubt that these recordings have nothing on the magnitude of dynamic energy and musical enchantment this band exudes in a live setting.  Violinist Miranda Mulholland was a fluid extension of her instrument; her entire being overcome with the fast trills, strokes, and slides of the violin which she operates with amazing sensitivity. Tony’s stage presence is so humble and compassionate, and its obvious he is just as honored to impart some truth about his world onto the audience as we are to have it imparted on us.

Pulling On a Line, a hit single from their album Lost Channels, pulled at our heartstrings as it always does, and even more so live.  Another song, The Great Bear, is a song of deep importance to the band, for it is a song written for an area of Canada that also has a deeply important message to share. It comes from the new album and is inspired by Tony’s trip to the Great Bear Rainforest, where he was able to see much of the ecologically sensitive Canadian coast that few have seen, but many talk about as it is the area being targeted by tankers and pipelines.

About halfway through the set, the band left Tony with the stage to himself to play a few older tunes, as well a cover of Chad Vangaalen’s Willow Tree. The highlight, I think, of Great Lake Swimmer’s performance was the rendition of their hit Your Rocky Spine, which Erik Arnesen absolutely killed on banjo.  A love song of sorts, for a particular human being, but also for the vividness of the Canadian landscape, it seemed every person in the audience had a deep connection to this piece and was able to sing or hum along.  A captivating, and moving performance by Great Lake Swimmers.   

No better way to be inspired for the upcoming summer music season then by this lovely performance by two amazing Canadian treasures.