Shovels & Rope The Phoenix, Toronto ON, September 30

Shovels & Rope The Phoenix, Toronto ON, September 30
Photo: Shane Parent
Carey Anne Hearst and Michael Trent entered stage left to a space illuminated by two light bulbs affixed to a drum kit. The modern day Johnny Cash and June Carter addressed the crowd. Trent relaxed behind the kit wearing a blazer and baseball cap, while Hearst beamed confidence under ruffled long blonde hair, black dress and mahogany coloured guitar. With one final quiet acknowledgement of one another, they dove straight into their latest album's title track, "Swimmin' Time."

Shovels & Rope's set was an exciting stream of crowd favourites played with the duo's trademark energy and charisma. Married in 2009, Hearst and Trent have an enchanting chemistry. For "Birmingham," Shovels & Rope's most well-known song, the duo maintained eye contact through the instrumental breakdown as Trent experimented with quirky guitar riffs, much to the amusement of his wife. Scenes of levity and enjoyment punctuated the evening as the two reciprocated fleeting glances and raucous energy. They might have performed just as well had it been just the two of them there, with no crowd at all.

By the time "Ticking Bomb" rolled around, Trent was dripping sweat over power chords and Hearst was cooking up sass behind the drum kit, one hand on her hip, the other keeping time on snare. The two switched instruments regularly and, although "Keeper" seemed to have been played at an accelerated rate, the songs sounded just as full live as they did in the recordings, regardless of who was playing what.

Playing "Boxcar" from their debut release, Hearst and Trent reaffirmed the notion that they would perform similarly well without an audience. The song about love and sacrifice was sung entirely while sustaining eye contact and showcasing their magnificent back-and-forth vocal chops. A similar setup was used when singing "Lay Low" — they broke off momentarily as Carey added a beat only for her to return and finish the song with Michael in slow a cappella, displaying just how well their voices fit together.

They drew heavy bass sounds from the keyboard setup next to the drum kit as they launched into "Evil," their heaviest song. Trent whipped his head forward, losing his hat in the process and revealing a mop of sweat-drenched hair while beads steadily dripped off his face.

Finishing "Cavalier," Michael leaned over the drum kit and laid his head on his wife's shoulder, sharing the mic for the song. They finished the regular set strongly. As they reached the conclusion, husband and wife shook hands, curtsied to the crowd in southern fashion, and departed.

They returned for a short, single song encore, leaving the crowd understandably wanting more. Yet as Trent promised earlier in the evening, "If you keep coming to the shows, we'll keep coming back," so there is always the next show to look forward to.

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