Tim Baker Balanced Joy and Sorrow in Halifax

Light House Arts Centre, April 15

With Georgia Harmer

Photo: Richard Lann

BY Oliver CrookPublished Apr 16, 2023

Through his more than two decades in music, Tim Baker has been no stranger to Halifax. As he noted to his energetic crowd last night, it's where he recorded three Hey Rosetta albums; the city was a second home for a period. Doubtlessly a Newfoundland boy at heart, when he sings "but the mainland calls to take me away," on standout track "All Hands," it's clear his first stop off the rock is Halifax.

Baker's played every spot there is to play — even George's Island, the National Historic Site in the middle of the harbour — so it's rare for him to encounter an unfamiliar Halifax venue. But as Baker stared out over the sold out crowd at the pandemic-opened Light House Arts Centre, it was a case of a new room, but familiar faces. And he knew exactly what they wanted. 

From the very beginning of his hour-and-a-half set, it was clear this was going to be a modern take on an East Coast kitchen party. The fibre arts hanging behind the drum kit, the surf noises subtly welcoming Baker and his band to the stage, and his charming accent between songs: it all added up to a tailored, polished performance perfected over a long career. 

Opening the set alone at the piano, Baker basked in a singular spotlight and played "Lucky Few" backed only by ocean sounds. The tone was set: this was a long-awaited get together with friends and family after years of being apart. Sophomore album The Festival, written during the pandemic, featured a near-constant pining for human connection, and that feeling poured from the stage.

Playing songs from 2019's Forever Overhead and The Festival pretty equally — and even test-driving a never before heard, Simon and Garfunkel-sounding song from an EP promised in the coming months — it was a setlist designed to celebrate Baker's return to Halifax. Backed throughout by acoustic guitars and pianos, Baker's East Coast Fleet Foxes sound was delivered effortlessly. Audience sing-alongs during "Hideaway" and the stunning a cappella introduction to "My Kind"— aided by the soaring vocals of local alt-pop star Kim Harris — were particularly unforgettable moments.  

There were moments that slipped from joyous family reunion to bordering-on-sombre — a sold-out crowd who knew all the words were back together and wanted to have a good time, but it's hard to party to lush, piano-driven ballads like Baker's "Dance" or "Strange River." A setlist that sprinkled in solo, spotlit numbers ended up robbing the evening of its steam each time it began accumulating with Golden-voiced opener Georgia Harmer perhaps capturing it best when she told a rapt audience "I was expecting more of a party, not gonna lie — but that's for later."

While Baker's band captured these songs' innate beauty all night, the chasm between party and poignancy occasionally threatened to swallow the evening. As a solitary yellow balloon bobbed above the audience during a particularly emotional rendition of "Some Day," this dichotomy was laid bare. Maybe Baker captured it best on the stunning "Dance": "Sorrow or joy / Which do you like? / If that's the choice / Then why can't you decide?"

Of course, Baker has been doing this for too long to let that sentiment linger, and some well-placed Hey Rosetta tracks ("Welcome" during the set, "Harriet" during the encore) brought the mood back up. Still, by the end of this rollercoaster, the dominant emotion was unclear: Were we celebrating our return to normalcy, or mourning all we'd lost over the last three years? Perhaps it's more complicated than that — maybe one can't exist without the other. 

Every box on the list of expectations at a Tim Baker show had been checked with gentle efficiency, and as the house lights came up and the band left to the same surf sounds they entered on there was a sense of bittersweet satisfaction — turns out it's tough to choose between sorrow and joy. 

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