Something was different as I left The Independent on Wednesday after seeing Toronto folk-rock band Great Lake Swimmers. It took me a little while to put my finger on it, but eventually I figured it out: My ears weren’t ringing. It was the first concert I’d been to in I don’t know how long where the band wasn’t constantly pushing the volume into uncomfortable territory. Great Lake Swimmers was so hushed that a drunk concert-goer ordering her drink a little too loudly at the bar could distract from the stage. For much of the show, the drummer wasn’t using sticks but wrapped yarn mallets. It was a nice change of pace—or maybe I’m just getting too old for noisy rock ‘n’ roll.
I wasn’t overly familiar with Great Lake Swimmers prior to the show, but the quintet was able to do some very pretty things with basic three-chord folk. Maybe I wanted to read too much into the mutual Toronto connection, but it often reminded me of Barenaked Ladies’ earlier, more introspective material, especially with those alternating basslines on the upright bass. Fiddler Miranda Mulholland occasionally added a short, blazing violin solo to the mix, but the entire band didn’t really cut loose until the last half of the the last song of the encore.
In the opening slot was blues singer Al Spx, playing without the rest of her Cold Specks band. My wife and I were pleasantly surprised to get our copy of Entertainment Weekly in the mail the next day and to see Spx featured in the magazine’s weekly “Must List.” “Yeah,” we told all our friends, “We were listening to Cold Specks a full 24 hours before the media decided she was cool.”
Here is photographic evidence of the evening:
Or in gallery form if you prefer: