Thursday, May 9th, 2013
Daughter and Wilsen at The Great Hall in Toronto
Frank YangThings move quickly these days; this I know and understand, and yet it still manages to astound me sometimes. The ascent of London’s Daughter, for example. It wasn’t much over a year ago that the trio was still largely unknown, only getting on my radar by old-fashioned word of mouth and becoming one of my favourite discoveries of SXSW 2012. When they came around to make their Toronto debut last October – still a ways off from releasing their debut album or making any real promotional push – they still managed to sell out The Drake, albeit with the help of a fairly buzzy supporting bill. Still, that was a pretty good tip off that by the time the band returned on Tuesday evening, just a week after the domestic release of If You Leave, the only surprise would be not that they had sold out the much larger Great Hall, but that they hadn’t moved the show to even bigger environs.
Benefitting from the packed house were Wilsen, a band of Americans fronted by Englishwoman Tamsin Wilson who were really as good of a RIYL pairing for Daughter as you could hope to find. Their dark, atmospheric folk music came from a similar place as the headliners, but distinguished themselves with a tonally lighter touch, not to mention Wilson’s whistling skills and guitarist Johnny Simon Jr’s penchant for playing his guitar with coffee cans, tobacco tins, whatever. Unexpected and quite effective was a stately cover of Grimes’ “Oblivion”, and by the close of their 40-minute set, many new fans were made and a more than a few copies of last year’s mini-album Sirens were sold.
I don’t think I’m the only one who, to some degree, conflates a band’s sound with their appearance. In Daughter’s case, it’s hard not to compare their sound to frontwoman Elena Tonra’s appearance: beautiful, elegant, and demure, yet with an unquestionable strength and steeliness just under the surface. They’re traits evident throughout If You Leave, which bolsters Tonra’s gorgeous vocals and emotionally raw songwriting with Igor Haefeli’s billowing guitarwork and Remi Aguilella’s subtly powerful percussion to become something expansive, yet intimate. It’s an aesthetic that fits very well with that of their European label 4AD, and that’s the context in which I tend to think of them. In North America, however, they’re on Glassnote and if you’ve no idea what difference that makes, well I didn’t give it a second thought either, until Tuesday night.
Glassnote may not have the history and personality of 4AD, but they do know how to reach the Mumford & Sons demographic. And when, midway through the set during “Landfill”, much of the room loudly sang along with “I want you so much/but I hate your guts”, did I realize that this was a Mumford audience – surprisingly young, definitely excitable, and preferring to experience the music as a boisterous community. Tonra’s songs might be delivered like a private and intensely personal conversation, but they were being shouted and cheered back. It wasn’t necessarily off-putting – okay a little – but it certainly recontextualized my experience of the songs; rather than enveloping me completely, they now needed to act as a sort of barrier to shut out the background noise.
Tonra herself may have seemed taken aback by the intensity of their reception – her “thank you”s were almost inaudible squeaks – but seemingly happily so. Opening with Leave closer “Shallows”, Daughter sounded as brilliant as ever, mixing material from the album with selections from the Wild Youth and His Young Heart EPs. The band was bolstered by a utility player on bass, guitar, and keys, but even with those extra hands, the show had no shortage of instrument swapping; their sound might be skeletal, but it’s arranged precisely and impeccably so.
Only during “Winter” were the band really knocked off their game, as The Great Hall’s lighting rig seemed to pick up a poltergeist, going from black to blinding and causing Tonra to crack up several times (Haefeli was visibly less amused), though to their credit they finished the song, even though ditching would have been totally understandable, and both stage lights and band pulled it back together to wrap up the set with a crashing, cathartic “Home”. A satisfying show, but one that left me wondering if I’d choose to see them again next time in an inevitably bigger room, or if staying home, alone, with the curtains drawn and the record turned up might not be more the Daughter experience I’d prefer.
Cheers to Frightened Rabbit for keeping alive the tradition of releasing their singles as proper EPs with b-sides and bonus tracks and the like. Case in point – the next single from Pedestrian Verse will be Late March, Death March, and DIY has details on the EP for it that’ll be out on June 4.
Stream: Kate Boy – “The Way We Are”
David Bowie has released the video for the title track of his latest The Next Day, and proves not only that he can still cause plenty of controversy, but that he’s got much cooler friends than pretty much everyone else.
Video: David Bowie – “The Next Day”
Ólafur Arnalds has a new video from For Now I Am Winter, and NPR is streaming a live concert by Arnalds wherein he and an orchestra performed the whole of the new album live in New York earlier this Spring.