"Can we get these lights down?" asked Aqua Alta guitarist Charles Austin, who was struggling through the Company House's stage lights to see and thank those in the audience who contributed to the band's debut album, Dreamsphere.
At this point, a few songs into in Aqua Alta's Halifax record release show, the band — which features vocalist Jenn Grant and producer Graeme Campbell alongside former Superfriendz member Austin — was off to a bit of a rocky start. Technical issues had totally derailed the performance of "You Were a Kid Too," and the folk venue's harsh, simple lights weren't an ideal match for the band's swoony, reverb-drenched liquid folk.
But when the big lights went off, everything changed. Though it made it a bit more difficult for the band to see, it allowed the LCD projector's displays to dominate, piercing the now-dark stage with circling light (aided by the Company House's mirrorball). Grant's midi guitar started working properly, and the band launched into Dreamsphere's widescreen centerpiece, "Awaken Waiting," and its footnote, "Dream the Day Away," which piled on layers of sound like waves rolling over waves. It suddenly became a whole different — and superior — show.
The heart of Aqua Alta's sound finds and blurs the space between warm and cold tones, and there's no tone warmer than Grant's voice: she grabs hold of notes from the ether as if they've been waiting, fully formed, for her to find them there. Campbell's beats and keyboard patterns, in contrast, keep their cool distance, leaving Austin's guitar as the great unifier between the two poles, soft but with an icy sheen.
The set was short, as you'd expect from a band celebrating the release of its one and only album, but satisfying nonetheless: the trio (with drummer Jordan Murphy in tow as well) played nearly all of Dreamsphere and threw in a novel cover of Patsy Cline's "Strange," as well. After Grant's cheeky "this is our last song, wink, wink" hint of a forthcoming encore, the band finished the night with album opener "BTOcean" — a song good enough that for me to soil it by ending this review with a Bachman Turner Overdrive reference would be doing it a disservice.