Great Lake Swimmers

Randolph Theater, Toronto ON, April 23

Photo: Matt Forsythe

BY Mackenzie HerdPublished Apr 24, 2015

Before launching into "Zero in the City" and after being encouraged by a fan to turn up his guitar, Great Lake Swimmers frontman Tony Dekker sarcastically joked "tell me how you really feel" before playfully comparing the audience to Dutch crowds that aren't hesitant to tell you their honest opinions. 
This was the first of a double-header for the Toronto-based band and lively spectator participation thrived in the pews, echoing off the vaulted ceilings of Toronto's intimate Randolph Theatre. The church-turned-theatre was the ideal venue for Great Lake Swimmers, especially for showcasing their latest album A Forest of Arms, an album that was partially recorded in Ontario's Tyendinaga Caves.
The capacious space was perfect for amplifying the rich and subtle sounds of the folk-rock quintet's percussive elements. In addition to handing out shakers to the audience for "I Was A Wayward Pastel Bay," Great Lake Swimmers relied on percussive versatility from Joshua Van Tassel to grow and shrink the size of the band's sound. Filling the building with myriad toms, rim-shots and electric noise, Van Tassel employed a tool box of drum trinkets to effectively alter the vibration and tones of the drums. In partnership with bassist Bret Higgins, the time keepers were able to build a wall of ambient sound that set a warm foundation for the twangy trio of violin, banjo, and guitar.
The shimmering chain wrapped around Van Tassel's ride cymbal was only outmatched by the shine of Miranda Mulholland's fierce violin. The tenacious fiddler was a crowd favourite and rightly so, stealing the show numerous times; none more so than her concluding lead on "A Bird Flew Inside the House." Not to be outdone, Erik Arnesen handled both the banjo and guitar with ease, providing understated Clawhammer support for most tracks, while ripping lead guitar riffs on others ("Someone Else's Blues"). When guest and two-time Juno Award-winner Old Man Luedecke joined the crew to provide a second banjo for "Your Rocky Spine," Arnesen held his own, at which point Dekker declared his relief that the duelling banjos avoided any resemblance to Deliverance.
Dekker's vocal contributions were no less noteworthy. His soft delivery permeated the theatre and provided a placidity that swayed in the large hall. Dekker's performance, however, wasn't without emotion. In introducing "The Great Bear," Dekker spoke about his time with the World Wildlife Fund in British Columbia, and his displeasure with big oil. A clearly concerned Dekker communicated desperation on both nature-related and personal tracks, pining most notably on "Don't Leave Me Hanging" and "Expecting You."
The show's encore was highlighted by a cover of Leonard Cohen's "Hey, That's No Way to Say Goodbye." Although another captivating song followed, the smooth harmonies and added banjo of the reimagined classic were enough to pacify the more than satisfied crowd.


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