Tomberlin May Be Cursed, but Her Vancouver Show Wasn't The Wise Hall, May 27

Tomberlin May Be Cursed, but Her Vancouver Show Wasn't The Wise Hall, May 27
Photo: Jean-Michel Lacombe
Over the course of two full-length records and one EP, Sarah Beth Tomberlin found a way to emerge from the reclusive, insular world of her earliest songs. Touring with a full band behind her most recent release, the warm i don't know who needs to hear this..., Tomberlin delivered an inviting, casually intimate performance to a small but rapt Friday night crowd at East Vancouver's Wise Hall.

Supported by multi-instrumentalists Adelyn Strei, Frank Meadows and Felix Walworth (a.k.a. Told Slant), Tomberlin's songs were given vivid, widescreen renderings that emphasized and emboldened the compositional quirks found on record. Opener "easy" was stately and majestic, Tomberlin singing beautifully in her lower register over Walworth's thumping bass drum and Meadows's glassy, Eno by way of Breath of the Wild piano plinks. Strei's clarinet was given the spotlight during the jazzy, extended outro to "unsaid," an early set highlight and one of a few instances where Walworth impressively pulled double-duty on both drums and bass.

And while the setlist largely echoed the new album's sequencing, the performance felt consistently dynamic and well paced. The intensity peaked with a ferocious performance of "stoned," full of fiery overdriven guitars and thundering rock drums that pushed Tomberlin's voice into a full-throated howl, the song cresting heights only hinted at in the recorded version. "happy accident" maintained a similar level of energy, as Strei punctuated Tomberlin's sky-scraping refrains with scratchy, seething guitar solos, before the wave broke on the defeated plea of "possessed," with the singer asking, "Won't you please sit with me as I figure it out? / I have nothing but a head full of doubt."

If there was uncertainty in the air, the band didn't betray it. Throughout the evening, Tomberlin and her players were gregarious and charming, breezily bantering with the attendees. The singer explained the origins of the band's cheeky Keanu Reeves-themed merchandise (and how the Matrix star's name wound up being sung somewhere in the backing vocals of album cut "tap"), spun tales about the dog they may or may not have terrorized while crossing the Canadian border, and spoke about the ubiquity of curses before immediately breaking a guitar string. A good bit of unforced comedy.

The main set receded with "idkwntht," a gorgeous call and response number that saw Tomberlin urging those in attendance to sing along. Over a gentle finger-picked lope, the audience slowly grew in confidence and lent their voices to Walworth's, echoing Tomberlin's every line. "I don't know who needs to hear this, sometimes it's good to sing your feelings," goes the full lyric hinted at by the album title's ellipsis, and given the gentle sway of the room, the smiles, the rising voices, there may be wisdom to those words.

The band returned for a three-song encore that pulled from their back catalogue. "Wasted" from 2020 EP Projections sounded especially great, with Waldorf injecting some subtle muscle into the song's reggaeton-influenced beat. The night ended with "Seventeen," the standout from Tomberlin's 2018 debut At Weddings. Sporting a new arrangement complete with immaculate backing vocals and sax flutters from Strei, the song felt transformed, freed from the weary solitude of the original recording. Tomberlin's voice soared in magnificent, precise arcs on the chorus, a fulfillment of her original promise and a beautiful sendoff all at once.