The acclaimed Canadian artist brought a new sound to the Imperial
Jessica Lio // Online Editor
The Montreal-based musician greeted the crowded room with a playful entrance, reading a few lines of spoken word poetry from a weathered book as he approached the keyboard on stage with a mischievous grin spread across his face. An enchanted crowd watched intently as he sat down to play a mellow and soulful rendition of “Vancouver Time” with bassist Michael Felber and drummer Olivier Fairfield (of Timber Timbre).
Though Vollebekk is often labelled an indie folk artist, Polaris Music Prize-shortlisted Twin Solitude saw a departure from his repertoire of acoustic-guitar and harmonica ridden tracks found on his prior two albums.
Sitting behind the piano for the first few tracks, it seemed as if he couldn’t sit still, tapping his feet, yearning to move around and put his entire body into the music. “All Night Sedans” and “Big Sky Country” featured generous improvisations, with some lyrics whispered and others gently growled into the mic, words blending into each other at times. Vollebekk seemed to really step into his element when he came out from behind the keys and picked up a guitar.
After playing “Off the Main Drag”, an older tune from the 2013 album North Americana that faded out with the sounds of a harmonica, he took a moment to compliment the Imperial’s impeccable sound quality and joke with the crowd about not having prepared any banter. He shared that Felber hailed from Edmonton, while Fairfield and himself went to the same high school in Ottawa. When the crowd cheered back in response, Vollebekk responded with a light laugh, “Yeah, Ottawa! Tax Dollars!”
Although the live performance showed a casual and laid-back side of the artist, it didn’t come at the expense of that same sense of musicality and technical aptitude that’s featured on Twin Solitude, which was recorded live to tape in collaboration with a handful of acclaimed musicians, including Fairfield, harpist Sarah Pagé of The Barr Brothers, string duo Chargaux, and multi-instrumentalist Shahzad Ismaily who has played with musicians such as Lou Reed and Tom Waits.
Midway through the show, things took a creative turn, as he seamlessly worked a couple minutes of Prince’s “Little Red Corvette” into the intro for his own song “Telluride”. Back at the keyboard, he treated the crowd to a beautiful cover of Kendrick Lamar’s track “Untitled 2 (Blue Faces)” before leading into Alicia Keys’ “How Come You Don’t Call Me” which got the audience eagerly singing along. Vollebekk even managed to work the first few lines of Kate Bush’s “This Woman’s Work” in before going on to sing “East of Eden”.
Despite his lyrics being laced with themes of yearning, regret and heartache, Vollebekk has said in interviews that he doesn’t feel his songs are “sad songs”. And as he closed out the set with “Elegy”, Vollebekk sang freely with a relaxed energy in his voice, instilling a feeling of peace and serenity more than anything else. The band didn’t get very far before they were called back for an encore, and the audience revelled in the last few moments of “Into the Ether”, singing along as the night gently came to an end.