Simply put, Buffy Sainte-Marie is one of the best performers out touring today. The fact she's in her late 70s just makes her more of a wonder: a sexy, political rocker of a grandmother whose songs are suited to updating, brushing off and reusing, and who's a joy to watch rocking out on stage leading a band of men who may be half her age but seem more like contemporaries.
The Northern Lights crowd was treated to an intimate, typically career-spanning set of 15 tunes, showcasing the breadth of time, emotion and genre Sainte-Marie likes to traverse. She began with "It's My Way," also the opening song off of 2015's Polaris Music Prize-winning Power in the Blood, then played "You Gotta Run," her recent collab with fellow Polaris winner Tanya Tagaq. After that it was fan favourite "Darling, Don't Cry" off of 1996's Up Where We Belong.
But it may have actually been Buffy's between-song stage banter that was most spot-on, as every time she introduced a tune she framed it in a way that gave depth to its meaning and revealed her inspiration, whether it was a throwaway comment like, "this rainbow hippie campfire song just had one line that was repeating so I gave it more lyrics" ("We Are Circling") or the story she told about walking with her father in Regina when he said, "daughter, they oughta leave the moon alone" — it provided the roots for "Generation."
Her 1964 hit "Universal Soldier" is a set staple for good reason; people gathered in close to hear Buffy play it solo, and hung on every word. But it's another acoustic song, 1965's "Until It's Time For You to Go," with its truth and elegance, that gets me every time, and it was no different here. On a more light-hearted, rockier note, Buffy and the band played a "ZZ Top re-write" called "Bad Bad Ladies Who Ride" — if lyrics aren't feminist enough for you, she seemed to figure, just re-write them.
Sainte-Marie spoke of power in the blood as being a more feminine, non-violent form of power, and offered a differentiation between protest songs and "activist" ones — activist songs, Buffy explained, offer solutions. On that note, she played "The War Racket," off her forthcoming new album (due out this fall), which will be an "activism album." Buffy's new material is more of a jumble of a lot of overlapping issues; it doesn't have the direct simplicity of Sainte-Marie's '60s songs, but then again, it's a different time.
After an encore of "Carry It On," Buffy and the band left the stage over the beat of a pow wow drum, with drummer Michel Bruyere, who'd been dancing in his seat throughout the set, leading the dance.