The Barr Brothers Toronto

The Barr Brothers dazzle at the Dakota

On Wednesday night, The Barr Brothers returned to the Dakota Tavern to play their first proper set of music after a pair of CMW showcase shows and a coveted opening slot for The Low Anthem only a few months ago.

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The Dakota Tavern was busier this time around, although this wasn't a huge surprise given that the last time this Montreal-based experimental folk/blues quartet played the venue, it was at 2:30 in the morning. As the crowd filled the floor and gathered tightly around the stage, The Barr Brothers eased into the night with the nimble "Old Mythologies," a tune that showcases some hand and knee slap drumming almost as clever as the song's turn of phrase lyrics.

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Pairing the unreleased "Kisses From Chelsea" with the tribal sounds of "Deacon's Son" allowed the band to prove just how dynamic it really is. "Kisses From Chelsea" is a mid-tempo love song that slowly builds into an all out rocker with beautiful three-part harmonies. "Deacon's Son" saw the band slip into their jammier side, as harpist Sarah Page and lead singer/guitarist Brad Barr each took extended solos, proudly demonstrating their mastery over their instruments.

The Barr Brothers

Three quarters of the way through their set, Brad strapped on a wild looking guitar that a friend gave to him, literally made out of an old toolbox. It was Brad's first time playing it live, and the distorted tones he pulled out of it during a bombastic cover of Blind Willie Johnson's "Lord, I Just Can't Keep From Cryin'" were hard to believe.

The Barr Brothers

A new tune that Brad said they were "nervous as hell to play" saw his brother Andrew playing a stringed instrument that looked like something out of Shakespeare rather than drums, as well as Sarah playing an electric guitar, rather than her harp. Unfortunately, the song got lost under the crowd's chatter. The group closed the show with "Cloud," a tender lullaby set against a backdrop of rewound tape recorder messages that Brad looped live during the introduction of the song. It was the final unique moment of the band's tight ten-song set.

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While the crowd may have been similar to their last show at the Dakota (once again, numerous members of Broken Social Scene as well as members of The Stills were in attendance), The Barr Brothers managed to keep things exciting thanks to unexpected instrumental tricks, top-notch improvisation and memorable songs.

Photos by Courtney Lee Yip

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