Halifax singer-songwriter Kim Harris celebrated her birthday Tuesday night (August 29) with her first-ever headlining set at Halifax's Carleton — selling out the venue, no less.
The capacity crowd, quiet during the songs and boisterous with applause in between, was treated to a full-band performance featuring largely new material from Harris's forthcoming sophomore LP, which she recorded with producer Daniel Ledwell. The songs Harris has been writing in the three years since her debut (2014's East Coast Music Award-winning Only the Mighty) remain strong, but burn with a different sort of fire — more immediate, more sustained, brighter but still brutal.
"It's like you looked into a crystal ball and it said, 'You're gonna have a breakup,'" she said of the genesis of "Uproar," easily the most gripping of the new songs. Its joyous chorus masks the heartache underneath — a trend common with the new material, like the biting "Good Luck," the rollicking "Once You Were Wondrous" or the hard-driving "Heirloom."
Backing vocalists Stewart Legere (who was also one of the night's opening acts) and Margot Durling added heft to older songs like "Lost in the Wild" and the still-devastating "The Weight of It All." Later in the set, as the rhythm section took a breather, the three singers performed a slow, swoony take on the Cranberries' "When You're Gone," which played like a torch-song standard. (The vocalists also took centrestage in the set's encore for a piano-only version of Only the Mighty's "Dust.") But even with such strong accompaniment, Harris' voice — powerful, poised — is too big to overshadow. It remains a joy to listen to.
As for Legere's set earlier in the evening — well, who am I to get in the way when the artist himself offers such a concise critical take on his own material? "The tempos are all basically the same," he said, describing his songs from the stage. "But that's ok. It's like driving through the Prairies. You get into a groove, then you start noticing things."
Legere — a compelling vocalist whose lower register resembles a whispery folkie but in his higher register phrases like an R&B singer — performed songs from this year's album Quiet the Station solo on acoustic guitar. He was also joined by Harris for a beautiful duet on "Dig Into the Dirt," while Durling and vocalist Melanie Stone added a fully fleshed-out vocal canvas for "The Rise and Fall."
The night opened with an engaging performance from singer-songwriter Tyler Messick, a former Haligonian perhaps best known for his work with the Museum Pieces. Accompanied by vocalist Virgil Muir, the set featured gorgeous harmonies and stripped-down versions of songs from Messick's latest solo album, Black Cape. Messick has the sort of voice that's instantly familiar but which finds interesting ways into his phrasings, with Muir's softer tones offering a compelling counterpoint in the arrangement.