Asaf Avidan / Joe Grass Metropolis, Montreal QC, February 7

Asaf Avidan / Joe Grass Metropolis, Montreal QC, February 7
Photo: Steve Gerrard
Known for writing emotionally charged odes to heartache and the human condition, Israeli singer-songwriter Asaf Avidan has become one of the most intriguing artists to emerge in the last few years, his signature androgynous falsetto and passionate live performances setting him apart from the rest. While his popularity has grown immensely in Europe and parts of Asia, the North American audience remained an elusive sell — until now, that is. Playing to a packed Metropolis crowd last night (February 7) with his new album Gold Shadow in tow, Avidan proved that he has finally crossed that barrier; the eclectic, Montreal audience welcomed him with open arms.
Opening for Avidan was the talented, Montreal-based singer-songwriter Joe Grass. With a humble demeanour and a steady, soul-driven sound, Grass launched into his one-man set with confidence, as heavy rhythms paired with his undeniably smooth vocals. With some charming, bilingual stage banter throw in between the tracks of his short set, Grass made sure to hold the audience's attention with a few unexpected breaks, as dissonance-heavy guitar riffs and chill-inducing solos interrupted the smoothness of each track in an extremely effective way. As purple-hued smoke rose in the background, Grass took to the pedal steel guitar for his last song, ending his opening set on a lovely, calming note with a quiet "thank you."
Taking to the stage shortly after, Avidan launched immediately into his new single "Over My Head," his sharp and scratchy voice hitting the high notes effortlessly. Born from the ashes of a failed relationship, Avidan's music was written out of a need for catharsis rather than a quest for international acclaim. However, over the past few years he's managed to turn his performances into a sort of exorcism, allowing the audience to experience the emotions of each track alongside him. At one point, during the popular single "Different Pulses," he began to shake as he raised his hand to the rafters, yelling, "Oh, baby I am lost," with eyes half open.
While at times his performance became a bit campy, it nonetheless rang true. Accompanied by a very talented backing band, Avidan moved around the stage with confidence, even throwing in a few dance moves that harkened back to the heydays of '50s rock'n'roll. While his vocal style has been compared to Janis Joplin and Nina Simone, the Bob Dylan influence seemed to stand out the most during last night's set; a few of his harmonica-driven tunes made the crowd sway back and forth during his slower songs.
Yet while Avidan managed to build up the audience wonderfully throughout the first half of his set, he managed to break his own spell more than a few times in the second, digressing into short rants about lying men, and asking for the technicians to turn on the lights, "to see the people," not once but twice. While Avidan's energy didn't falter once throughout the night, the audience's involvement wavered throughout the performance, prompting Avidan — halfway through a song — to exclaim, "Everybody with fucking lips, and a tongue can sing along to this." Beginning his encore with the title track "Gold Shadow," Avidan brought the mood back to a more relaxed level, bookending a mostly impressive night.