HYDRA at the Courtyard Revue, Wednesday (June 19). Rating: NNNN
Those who've followed local troubadour Jason Collett's Basement Revue every winter at the Dakota Tavern would recognize what a perfect fit the series is for Luminato's multi-disciplinary bent, given that the Revue aims to bring together both music and literature. Dubbed the Courtyard Revue for its Luminato run at the Berkeley Street Theatre, the salon-style series (hosted and programmed by Collett) serves as the late-night afterparty of sorts for the festival, with Luminato artists encouraged to drop by for a drink, or even to take an impromptu turn onstage.
While it's expected that Collett will draw on his social scene of notable musicians and writers, the exact lineup isn't revealed in advance, making for a bit of a gamble. Thanks to some online hints this week, however, word quickly got out about at least one of the special guests: a seven-headed beast known as Hydra, a.k.a. one Leslie Feist, bookended by two musical couples - AroarA (Apostle of Hustle's Andrew Whiteman and singer Ariel Engle) and Snowblink (guitarist/singer Daniela Gesundheit and multi-instrumentalist Dan Goldman), with Do Make Say Think's Charles Spearin and Feist drummer Paul Taylor rounding out the "supergroup."
The collaboration itself isn't new - Feist first performed with AroarA and Snowblink during last year's Polaris Prize gala and they've appeared together since at various events, including this month's Field Trip fest - but this is the first indication that the group might actually have legs as an ongoing concern.
But before they took the stage last night for the second of their three appearances (tonight's your last night to catch their set), a few more of Collett's noteworthy friends took their turn at the mic. First up, everyone's favourite indie instigator, Stars frontman Torquil Campbell, singing a few pretty acoustic numbers backed by Broken Social Scene's Kevin Drew on guitar. Award-winning author Lisa Moore followed with a reading from her novel Caught, while Montreal singer-songwriter Patrick Watson and a bandmate created an atmospheric soundscape in the background. Watson and his band then offered an unplugged preview of their mainstage set at the Luminato Hub tonight, including a lovely rendition of Adventures in Your Own Backyard, with their trumpet player perched high above the crowd on a balcony.
But it was clear who most were there to see - and they weren't disappointed. Though if Feist fans were expecting her to be the main focus of the group, they might have been surprised to find that Engle and Gesundheit more than held their own not only in the vocals department, but in their sheer command of the stage.
Performing each other's songs as an ensemble, the group evokes a completely seamless effect - from the opening vocal harmonies of Feist's How Come You Never Go There?, it felt like the three vocalists were born to sing together.
That sense of awe continued throughout the 45-minute set, from the ladies' note-perfect birdcall trills on Snowblink's Pray For Surf, to AroarA's incendiary art-rock numbers. Not even a slightly muddy sound mix could dull the power of multiple guitars firing on all cylinders (ably aided by Taylor and Spearin's awesomely heavy rhythm section), giving the set a raw, tribal feel far beyond the simple beauty of the various participants' own work. And the best part? Getting the chance to watch three supremely talented female musicians get their due as phenomenal guitarists.