SNOWBLINK at Burdock Music Hall, Saturday, October 8. Rating: NNNN
Local dream-folk duo Snowblink wrapped up their month-long tour celebrating the release of their new Returning Current album with a pair of hometown shows at the Burdock over the long weekend. With its intimate vibe and twinkly-lights ambience, the Burdock’s cozy music room proved the perfect venue for Daniela Gesundheit and Dan Goldman’s ethereal tunes, brought to life Saturday night by some of the collaborators who lent their talents to the record.
While they’ve been honing their blend of folk and pop for the past decade, Snowblink have never really attained the same status as many of the players they keep company with (Feist, Owen Pallett and AroarA all guest on Returning Current, among others). Perhaps one reason for that is what makes them both utterly magical and somewhat confounding as a live act: their propensity for shape-shifting their songs means you never know exactly what you’re going to get.
That experimental approach coloured their Saturday-night set, which saw core duo Gesundheit and Goldman joined by drummer Phil Melanson (all three sporting a jaunty flower behind one ear), who brought a more muscular edge to their serene sound, tracing his cymbals with his drumstick to create creaky atmospherics or adding a thudding beat to older favourite Unsurfed Waves.
Snowblink’s live set is smartly built around Gesundheit’s otherworldly voice, which swoops and trills with heart-stopping intensity, offset beautifully by Goldman’s complex but understated guitar melodies. The two obviously share a unique collaborative chemistry, but opening up their stage to some like-minded peers also added a different energy to the songs.
Local male choir Grex (a four-piece for the night) lent their harmonies to several songs (“It’s like an obstacle course in here!” Gesundheit quipped, on trying to squeeze that many players onto the tiny stage), their low hum providing a gorgeous counterpoint to Gesundheit’s higher register as she sang a verse of the emotive Foothills a cappella.
While their vocal contributions were mostly welcome, there were points in the evening when Grex felt superfluous, as on I Feel Like A Man, where Brodie West and Doug Tielli’s horns dominated the arrangement. The blasts of brass steered the tune into almost free-jazz territory as Gesundheit sang directly to local singer Isla Craig (the only audience member brave enough to step forward when the band called for a volunteer “who’s not afraid of eye contact”).
The transformation over time of songs like Cyclone (which soared over a programmed beat) and Cobalt Clear (toned down into a shuffled acoustic number) since Snowblink first began playing them in Hydra (their supergroup with Feist and AroarA) three years ago is extraordinary. Gesundheit and Goldman seem to approach their songs as living, breathing entities that change and grow – a mindset fully embraced in their live set.
Closing with the lyrically poignant How Now (one of the best songs they’ve ever written), Snowblink returned for an encore (“You want more songs about heartbreak, do you?” Gesundheit joked) that highlighted both sides of their musical persona: first, a stripped-down trio take on the tranquil Exotic Bird showed off how well Snowblink’s songs can stand on their own. Then, as opener Sarah Pagé brought her harp out, all the evening’s performers gathered on the floor in front of the stage.
“Your reward and punishment for bringing us back in here… is an Enya song,” Gesundheit announced, any raised eyebrows quickly giving way to ear-to-ear grins as she led Snowblink’s choir of heavenly voices in a rapturous run through Amarantine.
In making Returning Current, Snowblink drew on the Japanese concept of “wabi sabi,” or the idea of accepting transience and imperfection. Judging by their Burdock set, they’ve certainly found a way of evolving their pop-meets-art-house sound by drawing on the lifeblood of creative collaboration.
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