Bry Webb and Del Bel enchant at 918 Bathurst
Amidst Friday's slightly inclement weather, Bry Webb returned to Toronto to play an intimate Wavelength show with Del Bel at the gorgeous 918 Bathurst Centre. However, this was no mere repeat of his two Music Gallery shows in Februrary (which we liked a lot). The venue, formerly a Buddhist temple, added to the show's magic, coming off as half place of revelry, half log cabin getaway. Both sets featured the trademark atmospheric, abstract projections Wavelength often employs, and Sky Blue Sky was on hand with delicious sandwiches to cater to the assembled community.
While he's still playing in support of last year's fantastic solo debut Provider, road-testing the songs has allowed Webb and his band--known as the Providers and comprised of Tyler Belluz on upright bass as well as Mike Brooks and Rich Burnett flanked on either side of the stage with a pedal steel apiece--to take chances with the material, embellishing sparse tracks with additional sonic nuance.
It was towards the end of the night, following a number of gorgeous stripped-down takes on Provider cuts, that the band began to add to their numbers and sound. Del Bel's drummer and brass section joined the Providers, adding two saxophones and a trumpet as well as completing the band's rhythm section.
This allowed for the closest Webb has come to fronting a full-fledged rock band since the unfortunate exit of the Constantines, and was a reminder of how sorely missed his voice is against a wall of sound. That's not to disregard Provider at all--it's a great record, but seeing the band shed some of the album's subtleties and stretch the material out in a live setting was a pleasure.
No stranger to exposing the subtle, finer points in his own music, Belluz was pulling double-duty with his own project Del Bel co-headlining the night. When a band takes to a stage nine members strong and finishes their set with twelve players, it's easy throw the 'collective' label at the band. From recent interviews, though, it seems like all nine are essential to the vision Belluz and singer Lisa Conway have for the band's live incarnation.
On record, this approach can feel a little overwhelming, as Oneiric, their first LP, overflows with rich detail and features some truly great song structure, anchored by Conway's smoky vocals and lilting melodies.
It's one of those albums that was made to be heard on headphones with rapt attention being paid at all times--a potentially problematic intention when translating to the stage. Any worry was for naught, though, as the band delivered an all-too-short set making up most of their debut. By turns dreamy, rollicking, and foreboding, the band's set showcased not only their musical proficiency but also their stylistic versatility.
Despite the wide range of genres that were touched upon (free jazz on opener "Invisible," throwback '60s pop on "Stirring Bones") the band never settles into a single niche, and as they closed the set with a soulful rendition of the Screamin' Jay Hawkins/Nina Simone classic "I Put a Spell on You" bolstered by two trombone players as well as Bry on guitar, it was clear the crowd had been won over. Perfectly straddling the line between structure and improvisation, the performance drove the point home that Del Bel are one of the most promising bands Toronto has to offer right now.
The theme for the night seemed to be "Collaborate early and often." Webb joined Del Bel for a duet with Conway on the band's third song, the just-released split single "No Cure for Loneliness." With its old-timey feel and contrast between Webb's gruff croon--not an oxymoron, somehow--and Conway's smoldering voice, the moment was a touching one with both acts displaying their mutual appreciation for one another (Webb's no stranger to duets with Toronto ladies).
Later in the night, Webb closed the main portion of his set assisted by most of Del Bel on an unflinchingly sincere take on '70s yacht-rock staple "Summer Breeze" by Seals & Crofts. It served as a great reminder of how Bry Webb's voice and songwriting presence are a treasure for both local and national music, and the question of what kind of band he wishes to front becomes irrelevant--chances are whatever he tackles will be a success.
Bry Webb Setlist
Rivers of Gold
Summer Breeze (Seals & Crofts cover)
Photos by Bruce Emberley
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