A Piano, an Autoharp and a Small Stage

November 2nd, 2014 by  |  Published in Concerts

Moonface - promo

Moonface and Her Harbour visit Westboro for an intimate solo performance

On October 30th I took a brisk walk up Churchill Avenue to the Bluesfest School of Music and Art (BSOMA) for a short, intimate evening with Moonface and Her Harbour—both performing sans accompaniment.

It was my first visit to this venue. Housed by a slick repurposing of the old Westboro Baptist Church, BSOMA has a mandate of “supporting cultural development within the greater Ottawa community by creating opportunities through education that will allow students to discover, explore and deepen a relationship with the arts.” Along with music and art classes, the school has a small performance space in the basement, which I assume will be used by solo performers with a desire to avoid the bar scene, (or when Spectrasonic wants a discount on venue rental. I queried, but got no response).

When I arrived, the place was slowly filling up with a diverse group of music lovers. I observed (shallowly) that ‘grunge’ was apparently making a comeback, before I remembered that it was actually just a chilly evening—hence all the wool toques. I suspected that some of them were actually students at the school. It’s a charming little room—warm lighting, hardwood flooring, and a wide, unobstructed view of the just-big-enough stage. I found a seat near the back and waited for Her Harbour.

Her Harbour haunts

Her Harbour is actually the lovely indie-folk multi-instrumentalist Gabrielle Giguere. Just on time, she sat down at 8:30 with an autoharp (à la Basia Bulat). I adore the instrument—it has an echoey, ringing quality that can project both warm and icy tones, in the right hands. Giguere held it in her lap, contemplating each note seductively, fanning chords into the audience in waves.

Giguere’s deep, operatic voice wavered through a passionate set of tortured songs—a mixture of new and old material—haunted with old pains, heartbreaks and regrets. Although the mechanics of playing them seem to come easily to her—as if she runs through her set three times a day—I got the feeling that Gabrielle relives her lyrics deeply every time she sings them, reopening old wounds along the way. And although some of them sounded more similar than they would have were they played with a full band, they never sounded stale. And I wish there was time to hear more of them.

Moonface’s first-ever Ottawa performance

Just after 9:00, Spencer Krug sat down at the piano. Krug is a veteran of Canadian indie-rock outfits like Frog Eyes, Swan Lake and Wolf Parade. Moonface is a solo-project that evolved into a band while he lived in Finland, and solo again with his return to Canada. Although the project has received polarizing reviews based on his melodramatic lyrics and delivery, Krug’s incredible bimanual coordination allows for some pretty innovative and breathtaking piano parts.

I have to say that I think Spencer’s voice is far better suited for a full band like Wolf Parade (my favourite Krug project), where his introspective lyrics are properly accompanied by guitars and a rhythm section. But perhaps that’s the point—laying his emotions bare. His songs are very personal, and the vulnerability in that is a nice counterbalance to the theatrical showmanship that he performs with, playing with one hand while emoting his lyrics with the other. He played for a long time—over an hour. It took me a few songs to adjust, but his set grew on me. I would have liked to see one (or two) of his ballads accompanied by an acoustic guitar, but to his credit, we were warned.

“It’s an awfully long time to listen to a guy play the piano,” he said. “I’m going to be up here for a while.”

See these artists when you can

I had a good time at this show, and both of the sets were winners. The mood was nice, the music was interesting and unique, and both artists had just the right attitude. During a recent reading at Raw Sugar Café, a former professor of mine talked about how it’s important for artists to take their work far more seriously than they take themselves. Both Krug and Giguere have it just right—joking and laughing about their material during breaks, gutting themselves when it’s time to play.

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