Basia Bulat / Katie Stelmanis
Central United Church
Holding a concert in a church is a bit of a double-edged sword, particularly on a Tuesday night. On the one hand, the acoustics are near perfect and the setting allows for an intimate immersing in the music. On the other hand, the stained glass Jesus staring down from on high does tend to tone the crowd down somewhat. And then of course there is the matter of it being a Tuesday.
Although the crowd may have been among the more subdued I have seen during the concert itself, the appreciation of Basia Bulat's jubilant set was evident in the two standing ovations delivered. This was Basia's first time headlining in Calgary, and she more than amply demonstrated that she has the voice, the spirit and the chops to carry a show.
The evening began with another singer of large voice, Toronto's Katie Stelmanis, accompanying herself on piano and laptop. Her music falls into the unusual category, along the lines of chamber pop but with strong overtones of Kate Bush in her vocals, shades of Owen Pallett in her sampling. She has a huge voice, and while her music may be somewhat of an acquired taste, I think that a lot of people will be doing some acquiring over the next few years. Katie Stelmanis is someone to watch out for on the Canadian music scene.
Basia Bulat is well able to headline a show, both with her band - brother Bobby on drums, Alison Stewart on viola and backing vocals - or all alone onstage, without a mic, without instruments. With two solid albums under her belt (and with her debut album having been nominated for a Polaris Prize), Basia Bulat is becoming a mainstay in Canadian music. Her joy in performing is contagious, her stage presence so vibrant. As Basia becomes a more seasoned performer, it is heartening to note that she has not lost any of the exuberance that first drew me to her music.
Basia possesses one of the most remarkable voices in music, powerful and open with a slightly husky timbre, and on Tuesday night she filled every corner of Central United, right up to the vaulted ceiling, with her incredible voice and with her lively spirit. Whether she was swaying while strumming the guitar, hugging the autoharp, or delighting in the acoustics of the church piano, her joy was evident and abundant.
But perhaps the most powerful moment of the concert occurred during the final song of the encore, when Basia Bulat stood alone on stage, without an instrument, and asked our permission to play without using a mic, "the old-fashioned way". And then, accompanying herself with some foot stomps and hand claps, she filled the church and our hearts with a soulful gospel number.
And she sure didn't need any mic.