Olenka Krakus Bus Stop Theatre, Halifax NS, January 24

Olenka KrakusBus Stop Theatre, Halifax NS, January 24
Photo: Lindsay Duncan
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"I dressed up for you today," Olenka Krakus told the attentive crowd at the Bus Stop Theatre, though saying she dressed for the weather would have been more apt. She would quickly lose the scarf, but her patterned purple sweater and oversized winter boots remained throughout her ten-song solo set at the In the Dead of Winter festival, offering quirky contrast to the theatre's dark walls and the even darker songs she performed.

The Autumn Lovers' last few releases have drifted towards an elemental, interpersonal country lyricism, which I haven't always found as compelling as the more mysterious, worldly compositions on records like And Now We Sing. Picked softly on classical guitar, with Krakus' voice driving them — shifting on a dime between soft and breakable and overwhelmingly forceful — their simplicity worked in their favour more often than not. Songs like "Grey Morning" and "Justice" ached with just the right amount of sadness, and "Bisclavret," her rewrite of a 12th century composition about werewolves, was sweet and soulful.

Yet despite performing a song explicitly about a wolf man, her set's most chillingly great moment was actually a cover. Krakus explained that she'd been listening to a lot of CBC Radio 2 while traveling east with tourmates Baby Eagle and Construction and Destruction, and that they'd been playing a lot of one artist in particular, someone she wanted to "reclaim for the dark side. He's a lot more menacing than people think he is."

She then launched into an incredible, wall-shaking rendition of Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska standout "State Trooper," howling like she herself was being transformed by the song's desperate need for escape. As she burrowed into that uncanny space between the human and the otherworldly, Krakus was mesmerizing.