Plush, Sunday, April 5
The Canadians invaded the Old Pueblo, and brought with them an evening of reflective, yearning folk-pop.
Kate Maki's understated and soothing delivery provided a meditative ambiance for the decent-sized Sunday-night crowd at Plush. She opened with ragtime-y "To Please," from her latest release, On High, a track gently nudging listeners to toss caution to the breeze and put themselves first.
A schoolteacher from Sudbury, Ontario, Maki is no stranger to Tucson. Local legend Howe Gelb, co-producer of On High, appeared onstage playing the guitar along with Thøger Lund, Gelb's usual upright bassist. Occupying a space obscured by shadows, Gelb's playing reflected the haphazard experimentation his fans have grown to know and love. While the Tucson contingent could've used a few more hours in rehearsal to get on the same page with Maki, things were anchored down by Brent Randall's solid piano work and outstanding percussion from the Great Lake Swimmers' Greg Millson.
The second song in Maki's set, "White Noise," a mysterious, loungy, piano-drenched number, provided the performance's apex. The song is a bit more subdued on the album; the live performance brought out a new dimension in the graveness of the lyrics, "White noise, black holes / lost your song, lost your sight / you will make it right."
Toronto's Great Lake Swimmers, led by frontman Tony Dekker, embodied the beauty and grace of the folk-pop genre. Their latest album, Lost Channels, was released March 31, and the hype surrounding it is well-deserved. The harmonies stuck out as a high point in the recording, so I was dismayed when I saw only one microphone on the stage. No matter; Dekker's voice is laced with the vulnerability and introspection of Iron and Wine's Sam Beam, and he didn't need anyone backing him up. Erik Arnesen's magnificent banjo-picking added a finely spun layer of Americana, and once again, drummer Millson showed how simple-sounding folk songs can contain unexpected subtleties.
Highlights included "Pulling on a Line," with flowing fits and starts, as well as "She Comes to Me in Dreams," which is vaguely reminiscent of Mark Knopfler's "Sultans of Swing." Dekker performed a couple of solo songs, and the band's encore was rounded out with "There Is a Light." It was a resplendent, uplifting and poignant performance.