​Natalie Prass Horseshoe Tavern, Toronto ON, November 6

​Natalie Prass Horseshoe Tavern, Toronto ON, November 6
Photo: Stephen McGill
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Asked how she and her live band translate the elaborate arrangements on her debut self-titled for the stage, Natalie Prass once answered, "We don't have octopus arms! We have to tone it down." It was good to know that going into her performance, because one look at the four-piece band's sparse set-up immediately raised questions as to how all of those sublime brass, string and woodwind instrumentals would be incorporated.
 
The punctual Prass and her band jumped right into the honey-soaked soul of "Your Fool" and the more countrified "Never Over You" with such tightness, it was easy to forget all of the horns and piano that make those songs so warm and spellbinding on record. Admiring the stage's shiny silver backdrop, Prass was able to go from genial charmer to potty-mouthed comedian, admitting "I wrote this next one about some skank hoe," with a laugh. "They dared me to say that but it's true." Without the harp and strings, "Christy" became more of an obvious threat pointed at the titular scorned woman, but the band's more rock-based structure allowed Prass' flawless vocals to carry it. "Bird of Prey," meanwhile, was accelerated into a jaunty rocker that gave it new life.
 
With a new covers EP, Side By Side, out soon, Prass chose to drop a couple of them in the set. Their rendition of Simon & Garfunkel's "The Sound of Silence" was almost unrecognizable, with its uptempo, jazzy makeover, and they turned Janet Jackson's "Any Time, Any Place" into an effective and naked slow jam that let Prass channel her inner Janet, who she giddily confessed the band saw perform in Chicago two nights earlier. When one fan shouted out a request for Grimes' "REALiTi," she sadly had to turn it down, saying, "You guys are so sweet but it would be a train wreck. We've never played it live before."
 
The two songs that would be the biggest challenge live were "It is You" and "Reprise." The former, a syrupy orchestral piece fit for Cinderella to serenade her mice, was stripped of its Disney-ness, but still held on to its magic with the help of Trey Pollard's gentle plucking. The latter, however, didn't quite flutter as smoothly, losing that beatific condition without the woozy combo of strings and flute. Instead, Prass' whimsical spoken words got lost this time, with Pollard trying to carry it.
 
But the magic returned for "My Baby Don't Understand Me," as the crowd joined in and sang, "Our love is a long goodbye," which gave Prass a smile and giggles. And closing on a free and loose "Why Don't You Believe In Me," the band decided to end the night with some noise, giving the chugging middle section some extra volume.
 
It would be a dream to see Natalie Prass perform her exquisite album with all of the right instruments in place, but as a lean, sometimes mean touring machine, she and her band still have what it takes to deliver those sweet and sour songs of hers.