022218 The Barr Brothers/Helena Deland, Gatineau, QC

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Sometime in late 2017 m’lady and I went to see Daniel Lanois at a smallish theatre in Gatineau, on the Quebec side of the Ottawa River.  Of course it was a fantastic show; it was hypnotic, ethereal, honest and fascinating, and it made us both wonder why we don’t go see the Barr Brothers when they make their regular theatre-stop in the area.  They share the same calm and quirky take on pop music that we both love in Lanois, and just like Dan neither of us has ever seen a bad Barr Brothers show.

(And while I can honestly state that I enjoyed every Slip show that I saw, the same honesty forces me to admit that Brad Barr’s vocals – especially with regards to pitch – have vastly improved and become much more consistent since they made the switch from being in a Boston-based trio to leading a Montreal-based quintet.)

Hobnobbing after the Lanois show the Barr Brothers came up and a friend mentioned that their last show at the Museum of Civilization was one of the best concerts they had ever seen so when m’lady asked for tickets to their next show for Christmas it made for some easy holiday shopping.

And so it was on February 22nd, 2018 that we drove across the bridge to Gatineau and parked in the vast underground lot beneath what is now called the Museum of History.  We got to the theatre around ten after eight and found the opening act already on stage.  I had never heard of Helena Deland before and she impressed me in a hurry.  She sang interesting, pianistic songs on guitar and sang like Stevie Nicks, with great backup harmonies from her bass player.  It was really impressive.

Between acts we discovered that at least a dozen of our friends were there as well, all of them with better seats than us.  That’ll teach me to wait until Christmas to buy tickets.  That said, this was my first time in the venue and I was really impressed.  I had no problem whatsoever with our seats in the second-last row; seemed to me that there wasn’t a bad seat in the house.

Which was good news for the five hundred of us in attendance at the very sold-out show, as we all sat staring enraptured, our eyes all locked on the stage from the moment the Barr Brothers walked out of the wings until they returned to them two hours later amid respectfully shrieking applause.  

The band had recently gotten rid of their harpist – a regrettable yet inevitable departure –  filling the odd sonic space with the bass player’s wife playing keyboards and other things, including a couple of harp-mimicking instruments like the thumb piano and the autoharp.  Actually, everyone in the band played ‘other things’, the pedal-steel player also played a string of guitars (pun intended, of course), and the bass player bounced between a Fender Precision and a doublebass that was sometimes-bowed, often going back and forth within a single song.  And the Barr brothers themselves…Andrew plays just about anything that can be struck back there on the drums (and he even hopped on the big doublebass for the last song), and Brad brought with him a wide-ranging collection of guitars that only had one thing in common: they all sounded wacky.  And what brilliant, brilliant players those two are.  They both share a very odd sense of rhythm and a very rare quest for pure musical bliss, both of which they freely pass on to their audiences.

And going forward, this audience will include me every time the Barr Brothers come close to town. 

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