With their second album recorded and set for release in April, the group debuted a number of new cuts to the adoring crowd, including the first song, "All the Time," from their upcoming sophomore release. With multi-instrumentalist Rusty Matyas (the Waking Eyes/the Weakerthans) on acoustic guitar for the first few numbers, the soft, carefree mood eased the crowd into the new material. Early songs in the set were driven by a carefully building momentum yet totally endearing melodies. "Ride This Out," from their debut album Temporary Resident, allowed singer Marti Sarbit to showcase her soulful and underlying R&B-inflected vocals. The time on the road and onstage has allowed Sarbit to get more comfortable being in the spotlight, and it shows.
After another couple new songs — "Marry the Sea" and "Bell of Cologne," which were stripped back just enough to let the melodies breathe — the band moved into familiar territory again with, "Say You," the first song Matyas wrote for Sarbit after seeing her perform in a Motown cover band a couple years back. Such older tracks have taken on a new sense of urgency after extended stints on the road.
The band also debuted "Calm Before the Storm," "Sooner or Later and "A Way with Words," which Matyas dedicated to skilled Winnipeg songwriters John K. Samson and Greg MacPherson, before hitting one of the high points of the night with a sing-along-inducing version of "Where'd All the Living Go."
Along with a cover of Cake's "Mexico," Imaginary Cities got the crowd into a festive mood with Tom Petty's "Christmas All Over" and Dean Martin's "Baby, It's Cold Outside," before finishing off the night the a rousing version of their debut's title track, "Temporary Resident."
Throughout the 17-song set, Sarbit and Matyas proved that in the two short years they have been collaborating together, they have established themselves as one of Winnipeg's consistently satisfying acts. With a new record ready to go, Imaginary Cities are setting themselves up for another big year in 2013.