EMA / Nü Sensae Garrison, Toronto ON March 13

EMA / Nü Sensae Garrison, Toronto ON March 13
Erika M. Anderson's emergence as a solo artist was both surprising and quick; her work with doomy folk group Gowns never really hinted at the highly intimate creative impulses the singer was concealing. Yet with a host of year-end accolades for her full-length debut proper, Anderson's live appearances now come shackled with some pretty lofty ambitions.

Opening act Nü Sensae from Vancouver seemed a tip of the hat to Anderson's noisier tendencies while testing the patience of those who've fallen for her more intimate moments. The three-piece carried themselves with an unassuming manner, but were blisteringly loud once they got going. One of the leading lights in Vancouver's DIY punk scene, Nü Sensae's records have always felt a tad thrown together, as if they were making things up as they went along. Live, though, the group are a razor-sharp force to be reckoned with.

After briefly taking the stage to set up her gear while playfully singing along to Beyoncé, Anderson disappeared only to reappear to the droning sounds of her three-piece backing band, who deftly recreated (or reinterpreted) selections from Past Life Martyred Saints. She came across as both playful and confident, and her enthusiasm clearly rubbed off on the packed venue.

Framed by a collection of coloured LED lanterns crafted and triggered by multi-instrumentalist Leif Shackelford, the band, taking cues from Anderson, delivered stellar stabs at "The Grey Ship" and "Anteroom." By the time they reached pulsing album highlight "Milkman," Anderson jokingly complained about how hard it was to sing the song live, then asked the crowd, "Is it weird that I feel less dorky gasping like a dying animal than I do dancing onstage?"

Anderson went solo for "Cherylee," a track from Gown's last record Red State, and recent anti-bullying song "Take One Two," before her band returned for set stopper "Redstar" and finished with "California." Visibly moved by the crowd's reaction, she returned for two more songs, capping the night off with another Gowns track, "White Like Heaven."

Unfazed by her growing profile, Anderson seems right at home sharing her most personal thoughts with an audience, and thanks to a crack group of backing musicians, she's able to make that experience simultaneously intimate and larger than life.