What an unusual and entertaining bill this was. The husband and wife team of Carla Kihlstedt and Matthias Bossi, together known as Rabbit Rabbit, started the show off with a minimal presentation of their art-pop. As she sang and played violin, Kihlstedt gave off a Merrill Garbus (tUnE-yArDs) vibe, but without the South African jive influence, while Bossi whistled, crooned, and played an old Korg piano, bass harmonica, box drum and toms.
There was a warmth, an openness to their sparse sound, supported by their friendly banter, in which they gave a shout-out to Vancouver's cherished, long-departed venue Dick's on Dicks, mused at length about how great Canada is and noted that Mariko Ando was in the crowd, a local illustrator whose Victorian portraits of rabbits had helped inspire the band's aesthetic. The duo kept their sound fresh as they moved between instruments, including striking bits where Kihlstedt played bells on the floor for the humorous marriage duet "Inside/Outside" and Bossi drummed on the stage floor itself for "The Curious One."
My Brightest Diamond's set started off a little on the awkward side. No one did the choreography for her opening track, "Pressure," which had been released online in an instructional video before the tour began. However, they say comedian Bill Hicks always performed better in front of a hostile crowd than a loving one because it gave him something to prove, and the initial hesitancy of the Electric Owl on a Sunday night only seemed to inspire project kingpin Shara Worden to kick more ass. She committed to the song's chorography with a bewildering smile on her face, running in place with her blown-out hair, looking vaguely like a young Cyndi Lauper.
If there was any hesitancy in the crowd, Worden melted it away throughout her set. Flanked by drummer Abraham Rounds and bassist Chris Bruce, she did everything one could hope for in a performance, her tremendous skill matched by dynamic presentation. Whenever possible, typically when playing keys, she would enact her lyrics, expressing volumes with her face and hands. Her voice was majestic, thoroughly arresting in her rendition of "Be Brave" and "So Easy," and she shredded guitar hard on tracks like "I Am Not the Bad Guy" and "Inside A Boy." She got the audience clapping for "Lover Killer" and thoroughly invested in the easy chorus moves for "High Low Middle."
It wasn't a perfect set. A couple of things were missing, like the brass section at the hook of "Lover Killer" and the orchestral swell on "Before the Words." Some of the middling rockers from her recent album, This Is My Hand, remained somewhat middling, tracks like "Before the Words" and "Resonance" washing by without leaving much of an impact.
You can't sizzle all the time, but the moments that did were more than enough to carry the brief hiccups. Worden could have passed for Beth Gibbons (Portishead) on "Workhorse" and out-folked Joan Baez when her band left her alone with her guitar to sing "I Have Never Loved Someone," a sweet ballad written for her son that arrested attention so wholly you could've heard an idiot whisper from across the room. With Bruce playing guitar and Rounds building the drums up slowing, she was so committed to the performance of "This Is My Hand" that you could hear her slapping herself in the song's spastic crescendo. It was contrasted by the set's most carefree moment, in their collective rendition of "Apples" as Worden played thumb piano and Rounds teased out the drums to the point when Bruce laid his bass groove in there to cement the world music funk jam.
The magnitude of the performance was hammered home in their encore. First, Worden did a skip across the stage with her guitar that Angus Young would be proud of for "Freak Out," a riot grrrl jam that curiously made everyone mosh respectfully in their own space. Then Worden took the mic off its stand and walked centre stage to sing the old standard "Fever." She descended into the crowd to serenade a bearded hipster and sing with a girl on her arm, staggered through crowd left and right, then got back onstage for the song's steamy climax, a cabaret-esque exclamation point to conclude a stunningly beautiful artistic statement.