Monday, May 6th, 2013
Rachel Zeffira at The Drake Underground in Toronto
Frank YangThough inconvenient and unfortunate in real terms, there was something appropriate about the fact that half of Rachel Zeffira’s first North American tour was canceled on account of visa issues. After all, her musical career only took the course that it did because of an overzealous British immigration officer refused her entry to the country, causing her to miss her an important music college audition. That all worked out for the best, of course, as it set her on the course to become half of Cat’s Eyes with Faris Badwan of The Horrors, and then the solo artist who dropped the stunning operatic/classical/indie genre-melding debut album The Deserters late last year in Europe, and this Spring in North America.
The aforementioned cancelation left Thursday night’s performance at The Drake Underground in Toronto as her sole show on this continent; thankfully getting her into Canada wasn’t an issue as she originally hails from the Kootenays in British Columbia. Given that it was a relatively low-key debut and the buzz around her hasn’t yet really begun bubbling over into broader consciousness, I wasn’t sure how much of a production this show would be; entering the Drake and seeing the stage absolutely jammed with gear, the answer was clearly, “a pretty big one”. And though the audience wasn’t overly large, they were attentive and helped create a welcoming atmosphere for Zeffira’s first-ever visit to Toronto, as a performer or otherwise.
Though she surely could have impressed with just her soaring soprano, a keyboard, and maybe some choice samples, Zeffira fronted a seven-piece band with a three-piece mini-orchestra of cello, oboe, and trumpet, a drummer, and two backup singers – while she herself moved between keys, organ, and vibraphone. But really, the full band was the only way to do The Deserters justice – while the album isn’t especially busy, when it calls for a trumpet flourish or cello line, it demands it. And so while the extra players often sat quietly while Zeffira led the proceedings, when they were called on, you couldn’t imagine them not being there.
While reproducing the album arrangements was the strategy for much of the set, the massive organ which apparently took nine people to move into the Drake’s basement was used to give “Here On In” a decidedly gothier makeover, and the vibes – essential for “Waiting For Sylvia” – were also put to good use on a gorgeous cover of The Beatles’ “Because” alongside Zeffira and her singers’ harmonies. The show was a touch short, the main set wrapping at the 40-minute mark, it had the perfect grace note as Zeffira returned to the organ for the encore and played Cat’s Eyes swinger “Over You”. A nice treat for those of us who came to her solo work via that project and perhaps an enticement for newer fans to discover her other works, and a solid finale to an impressive if too-short debut.
Exclaim and NOW also have reviews of the show; The Globe & Mail, NOW, The Toronto Star also had interviews with Zeffira ahead of the show while The Village Voice did the same without knowing her New York show was canceled. Vogue also has an interview.
Photos: Rachel Zeffira @ The Drake Underground – May 2, 2013
Video: Rachel Zeffira – “Here On In”
Video: Rachel Zeffira – “The Deserters”
Video: Cat’s Eyes – “Face In The Crowd”
Video: Cat’s Eyes – “The Best Person I Know”
Video: Cat’s Eyes – “Over You”
Video: Cat’s Eyes – “Cat’s Eyes”
Video: Cat’s Eyes – “Love You Anyways”
Exclaim talks to Gold & Youth about their forthcoming debut album Beyond Wilderness, out May 14, which they also happen to have to stream. How convenient. They’re also playing Field Trip at Garrison Commons on June 8.
Stream: Gold & Youth / Beyond Wilderness
Video: Grimes – “Venus In Fleurs”