The Barr Brothers, a spacey, bluesy folk outfit from Montreal, have slowly been picking up what seems almost like underground global acclaim. Their tours are bringing them deeper into the States, and they're finding some room on satellite radio, yet audiences like last night's in Cleveland demonstrate that theirs remains a small and dedicated following. All the better for those of us who love this band, anyway.
Spawned from the avant-jam trio the Slip, the Barr Brothers blend old-world musical traditions with a knack for supreme rock 'n' roll songwriting. Brothers Brad and Andrew are masters of their instruments (guitar, drums, respectively), and they've surrounded themselves with energetic talent from up north. Harpist Eveline Gregoire-Rousseau joined the band after the departure of founding member Sarah Pagé; her performance last night beneath the Beachland disco ball was a marvel.
And that's really all you're left to say after a Barr Brothers show. It was marvelous.
I'd brought along two friends who'd never seen them before, and they attested: They were speechless even just a few songs in, and their jaws had cleared a sizable hole in the old, wooden floor of the one-time Croatian social hall. That's what you get when, say, a passionate band like the Barr Brothers opens with a haunting and quiet rendition of "How the Heroine Dies," with Brad, head wrapped in purple bandana, crooning above a mic wrapped in coiling light bulbs. Bands don't start sets with haunting introspection unless they mean business.
The rest of the show? Dynamite stuff. Highlights included the bluesy freneticism of "Half Crazy" and the sweeping, bucolic majesty of "Beggar in the Morning." Bass solos, searing slide guitar, enchanting harp work, the syncopated rhythms of Andrew's percussion and the pure vibration transference of Brad's dazzling "string bow" technique. It's all part of a grand story.
How the Heroine Dies
Look Before It Changes
Queens of the Breakers
Even the Darkness Has Arms
Come in the Water
The Bear at the Window
Beggar in the Morning
Song That I Heard
You Would Have to Lose Your Mind