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Last night, June 12th, three all-Canadian, all Albertan bands, Born Gold, Braids, and Purity Ring, took the stage of Calgary’s Macewan ballroom by storms for a night of awe-inducing music.  Unfortunately, due to my lack of navigation skills at finding university parking, I arrived to Mac hall just as the members of Born Gold were loading their instruments off stage.  I was sad to miss their set, but managed to weasel my way through a tightly packed, all-ages crowd to the very front to catch the start of Braids set.    

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Braids is a trio of three young Calgary-born musicians, Raphaelle Standell-Preston, Austin Tufts, and Taylor Smith.  I have been watching the progression of this band for awhile now.  As a youngin’ I was fortunate enough to watch them (or a younger version of them) kill it at my highschool’s ‘battle of the bands’ one year, and as the years of passed I’ve found myself enthralled with the Braids-grapevine, hearing news of this bands transformation and growth as they made Montreal their home base. and I know most of their songs off by heart, but I admit this is the first time I have seen this group play live (since highschool!) as Braids. 

Despite their ever-growing global success and fame, the three walked on stage with humbled intention, faces aglow with the contentment at being back home.  “We cheered when we crossed the border,” said Raphaelle, as the band took their places.  “It feels so good to be home.”

The performance aspect to promoting this new album, Deep in the Iris – an immensely content-loaded, and musically complex product – requires a multifaceted level of chemistry and communication between these musicians to give a satisfying delivery, and Braids did not disappoint.

A highlight song for me was this night’s particular performance version of “Happy When”, where Tufts embarked on a hyper-dexterous drumming tangent, alongside some mean melodies from Smith, blanketing the audience in a kaleidoscopically textured world of awesome.  Raphaelle is one of the few singers I have seen who maximizes her voice to express a huge range of otherworldy incarnations, everything from witchy shrieks to tender and lush croons.  It’s refreshing to see someone who isn’t scared to use their voice in ways that aren’t always necessarily “pretty.” Listening to it is enough to make a person melt (which I did.)

The last tune “Miniskirt”, so far their most promoted and popular song off Deep in the Iris, ended their set.  The immediately recognizable melancholia-evoking keyboard immediately shifted the dance party to a halt.  We all stood there, spellbound and covered in goosebumps at the powerful delivery of this very emotionally stirring and defiant piece.  For me, the best part about watching a band like Braids, is seeing how happy and moved they are just to be playing.  The onstage flow and chemistry between the three, the closed eyes and enchanted smiles as they are washed away by their own tunes, is very stirring phenomenon to witness and feel you’re a part of.

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As if this performance wasn’t awesome enough, Edmonton’s Purity Ring, who have also been elevated to high realms of fame in these past years, hit the stage next.  Purity Ring is the electronic, witchy-space-age sounding project of Megan James and Corrin Roddick.  I think it’s much harder for electronic musicians to keep audiences engaged in live performances in the same way that live instrumented bands can, so I really appreciated Purity Ring’s efforts to go beyond just sound, in creating an entire aesthetic to express what they are about.  Their onstage appearance and interactive light set totally fit the bill for their sound.  Corrin rigged up a sort of dark-crystal inspired (at least I think so) ‘light xylophone’ attached to his midi-pad, so instead of looking down and hitting buttons, he could play their songs on a set of larger-then life gems.  On either side of his center-stage pedestal, strings of lights, perfectly timed to beat drops and instrumental builds kept the visual aspect of the performance in tact and exciting.  Megan James also greatly surpassed my expectations with her animated stage energy.  Like a most coveted and delicate bijou (though uttering some morbid things sometimes), her voice on recordings gives me the impression of meekness, but truly she owned the stage with a powerful presence I did not see coming. 

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Unlike Braids, who altered the execution of some songs, Purity Ring sounded exactly like their recordings.  I don’t know if I find this a good thing or a bit disappointing when I go out to see live shows.  Spontaneity is always interesting, but with pre-dialed songs improvisation becomes hard.  Then again, its satisfying to here something you already know, played in exactly the way you have come to know it, you don’t feel like you have been duped by not receiving what you had expected.  But, where this kind of music has certain limitations, at least Purity Ring made up for it in their delivery. 

The sound quality was also flawless, and really carried.  Literally feeling the low bass in your body, the trademark euphoria-inducing chords of “Lofticries”, I don’t think there was a single person in Mac hall who could keep still.  Purity Ring has this sinister, ecstatic beauty to their sound, and experiencing that alongside a crowd of people is really cool.  You look around, checking to see if everyone else is going through the same stages of seduction and hypnosis as you, and yes, yes they are.  Marvelous.