Friday night, MTelus was PACKED with people, songs & instruments, for the electric and eclectic melodies of The Barrs Brothers. Who have been gathering a steady stream of listeners over the last few years.
This concert had them showcasing some of their old favourites along with their entire new and critically acclaimed album “Queens of the Breakers.” They opened with the lead song of the same name, and “Hideous Glorious.” Going from bluegrass twang led by the pedal steel guitar, to a rock song with Morgan Moore, a lively bassist who clearly understands rythym, then switching to an Electric Sarangi solo played by Sarah Page. If you don’t know what an Electric Sarangi is, you are not alone. It turns out to be a prototype made by Sarah’s Friend- fellow montrealer & Luthier, Lenny Robert.
The third song “Look Before it Changes” is mellower. And after the complexity of sounds we’ve just heard, it feels easy to listen to.
Brad addresses the audience, with “you don’t know how happy we are to see you.”
Ironically, its hard for us to say them same, as most of their performance leaves them in the dark, with only an occasional play of lights, highlighting certain parts of the stage, but not usually the band members themselves or their faces.
Then they end a blues inspired “ Come in the water” and the bassist switches to the Cello, offering us a woodsy echo in the room. Leading into another transition of a twangy “Even the Darkness has Arms” from their 2014 album “Sleeping Operator.” Which I thought was one of my personal favourite “undiscovered gems.” But not for this crowd, who starts clapping along immediately at the familiar first few notes.
Then the drummer, Andrew Barr, leaves his drumsticks and starts slapping his hands back and forth as his percussion contribution for this song. They are experimental after all. And following an interview I had seen, where Andrew, uses a milk jug from a cattle farm as a percussion instrument, I shouldn’t be surprised. Joe grass who is on the pedal steel guitar, and has been consistently in the dark so far, now appears, at least his arms do. In fact all you see on stage are his arms lit by a red tinge of light. …which was a great touch, for this song.
So how many instruments did you count so far?
They next go to the aptly named “You Would Have to Loose Your Mind”, with a more prominent bass drum sound, catches Andrew, using a shaker as drum sticks. Brad’s guitar solo, which was once again in the dark, only seemed to emote how electric it was and had us feeling…he was in fact loosing his mind.
This turns out to be a great segue into “Defribillation” were the instruments took over, and a nameless performer appeared on the stage dancing, shrouded in darkness. She & Sarah end the song with a stirring harmony, that matched the lyrics “heart shaking, soul-breaking, overwhelming undertaking”.
Next up is “Maybe Someday” where Brad uses a voice box and a harmonica for a rock number. Time to take a pause. Did you catch how many instruments are being used? Are you overwhelmed by the all the changes in direction? Engaged by the variety? Either way, there’s more to come, because this song turns out to be an electric cacophony, but one that works and is absorbing. And it gets increasingly experimental, feeling unscripted. Fast forward to “Kompromat” which even though was a bit spastic for my taste, really cements how talented of a guitar player Brad is, and makes you feel that he has synesthesia.
One of my favourites of the night was “Half Crazy”. Starting off as alternating solos between guitarist Brad and Harpist Sara, it’s as if they are having a conversation. The crowd really likes this exchange, and adds in their two cents after each dialogue. As they continue, the sentences between them get shorter, progressively becoming a duet of strings. It was a treat to hear such an underrepresented instrument get the spotlight. GO Harps GO.
We are then introduced to the Highland Monkey Horns a trio of saxophone, french horn and either a trumpet or another type of horn ( it’s too dark to tell), for their blues rendition of “How the Heroine Dies” and “The Song that I heard.”
Brad asks the audience, “ can you hear this?” as he plays lightly and builds into the next couple of songs.
It’s about this time, that most concerts start to wrap up, but the Barrs Brothers are showing no sign that they are slowing down. And Brad tells us why, ”it feels so good to play for you guys, we’ve been touring for about a month or so & have been playing 30 minutes sets, it feels so good to just play.” And play they did, how much of it was improvised and how much was planned was hard to tell. At times, they were so entranced with their own instruments, head down, that it seemed as though they were playing in their own world, and yet it blended harmoniously.
“There’s a reason I wanted you to listen, ” he later adds. And that’s how I would best described most of the night. The audience was very attentive, which I could see from the birds eye view that I had. Attentive and quiet, other than a few interjections here and there. As though we were all listening to every note, every exchange, to see where this was going. This was not a casual auditory experience. I felt that I was being taught something every step of the way, and moved by it and I sure had to keep up.
At around “Ready for War”, & “Love Ain’t Enough”, the crowd starts to thin out a bit, perhaps feeling that they have gotten their fill of education for the evening. Unfortunately, for those who left, they missed out on what came next.
Their encore, delightfully showcased an acapella blues version of “Beggar in the Morning” with the whole band standing around a center mic. Shaker and banjo in hand. The rousing “It Came to Me” with the final touch of a ukulele, was the perfect ending. The band graciously says goodbye to the audience, on a now lit stage and we notice Brad is holding an almost empty glass of beer. When did he have time to drink this? one wonders.
All in all, the Barrs Brothers delivered some exhilarating moments, where we were regaled by a plethora of instruments. So how many did you count? I counted 15 in all, 16 if you include Andrews’ hand slapping, which interestingly is the number of songs they played…and it might have been 17 if I missed the jug from the cattle farm in the darkness, that at times had arms….
Queens of the Breakers
Look Before it Changes
Come in the Water
Even the Darkness has Arms
“You Would Have to Loose Your Mind
How the Heroine Dies
The Song that I heard
Ready for War
Love Ain’t Enough
Beggar in the morning
It Came to Me
Review – Chloe Bol
Photos – Kieron Yates
Share this :