Sackville staple entertains despite objectionable opening act
Ever since seeing Julie Doiron perform on a lazy Saturday at SappyFest 9, I had been eager to experience her talents in a more intimate setting (and without a crippling afternoon hangover). While it was a great set, the cozy, quiet atmosphere of the Thunder & Lightning bowling alley – where she played last Thursday – was better suited to her mellow, solo style.
Doiron’s performance was preceded by Berlin-based songsters Clémence Freschard and Stanley Brinks; Brinks would also go on to do his own solo set, as well as accompany Doiron on electric guitar. Freschard’s set was pleasantly sultry and dreamlike with a sobering touch of apathy, and their vocal harmonies and clean guitar rhythms set the stage for a quiet and entrancing evening.
In between songs, the dimly-lit bowling alley was so silent that one could have heard a pin drop. Due to a late start time and a smaller crowd, the energy was low and the audience’s attention was directed almost exclusively toward the performers. This is not a criticism; the subtle murmurings and occasional clinking pint glass were generally well-suited for the evening’s low-key indie performances and made for an immersive concert experience.
The spell was abruptly broken by Brinks’s solo set, however. Although a talented vocalist in his own right, Brinks performed a song with uncomfortable lyrics about coercing a young woman into loving the narrator by taking her to a “wooden shack.” This strange tale was noticed by the audience, as many exchanged concerned glances or appeared appalled by the overtly misogynistic nature of the song’s lyrics. Brinks played a few more excellent numbers after this – including a jaunty tune on tin flute interspersed with acapella vocals – but this troubling moment was difficult to shake, and tainted the rest of his performance.
Needless to say, it was a bit of a relief to hear Doiron’s distinctive breathy vocals come through the mic. In between her now-classic tunes about lost loves and Sackville blues – indeed, “Swan Pond” was on the evening’s setlist – Doiron livened up the audience with some casual banter. She admitted to being slightly exhausted from touring, but this was barely visible in her performance, as her characteristic bare-bones style and expressive energy was as captivating as ever.
While Brinks’s background solos added some depth and variety to Doiron’s set, I personally could have done without; Doiron is a versatile and talented performer who sounds great with or without accompaniment, and the evening was already saturated by Brinks’s musical contributions. What’s more, Doiron picked songs based on instinct and impulse, and often Brinks seemed to struggle to settle into the flow of the song.
In spite of a few minor distractions, the evening was laid-back and enjoyable. Ultimately, Doiron seemed content to have a fellow musician join her on stage, and to play for new and familiar faces. Doiron was among friends, and this home advantage translated to a feeling of warmth and closeness, even as the audience left the bar and stepped back into the crisp Sackville air.