Bahamas and the Barr Brothers at the Danforth Music Hall

Right where he wants us: Bahamas’ Afie Jurvanen owns his hometown crowd for the release of Bahamas Is Afie

BAHAMAS with THE BARR BROTHERS at the Danforth Music Hall, Wednesday, November 5. NNNNN

From the opening chords of Never Again off Bahamas’ 2012 Barchords record – the stage hypnotically backlit as the artist slowly came into focus – it was clearly Afie Jurvanen’s night.

Somewhat sheepishly, Jurvanen admitted that his hometown appearances have become rare. He’s been busy touring the States – dive bars with fluorescent domestic beer signs in places like Boise, Idaho. But last night at the Toronto launch for his third album, Bahamas Is Afie, he was literally and figuratively at home.

“I’ve got you right where I want you,” he told the packed hall. “This will really be something.” And it was.

Backed by a streamlined band – longtime drummer Jason Tait, local legend Christine Bougie on second guitar and lap steel and Felicity Williams on backup vocals – Jurvanen was in top form, his voice rich and full of feeling, his guitar parts as catchy, wound up, free, and occasionally cheeky as ever. Williams riffed off Jurvanen’s guitar, and caught more than a few moments in the spotlight, her voice climbing up to the higher reaches of its register with softness and ease.

The band played through a fair chunk of Bahamas’ now-formidable catalogue, including choice cuts from Barchords and most of the new album. During a three-song solo set, Jurvanen dusted off Lonely Loves and Sunshine Blues off his 2009 debut, Pink Strat, and got into storytelling mode. He was so charming he made the Barr Brothers seem shy by comparison.

The Montreal band’s eight-song opening set was very good despite less-than-perfect sound and its short duration (the band and Bahamas are trading off headlining nights). The Barrs fit in as many songs off their wonderful new album Sleeping Operator as they could, ending with Beggar In The Morning off their self-titled debut (with almost a zydeco beat, Beggar remains a fan favourite). The full dynamics of the tunes were explored live – harpist Sarah Pagé switched to electric guitar at one point (for Even The Darkness Has Arms), and Come In The Water opened up to the point of exploding. Meanwhile, things got intimate for acoustic, darkly lit How The Heroine Dies. They may not have had Bahamas’ panache, but the Barrs were nonetheless magical and mind-blowing.

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