Julie Doiron: ‘Sweeter’ in Vancouver
The best way to judge how good a show is, when it comes right down to it, is to pay attention to the audience. Technical flaws can happen, but it really comes down to this: Is the audience engaged by the show? Are they having a good time?
In plenty of cases, this means lots of noise: cheers and applause.
For Julie Doiron’s recent show at Vancouver’s Biltmore Cabaret things were a bit different: when the New Brunswick singer launched into a version of her song “Sweeter” with absolutely no accompaniment, you could have heard a pin drop. Suffice to say the audience was, at this half-way point, having a very very good time.
The audience was, to be fair, an active participant in this show from the start; Doiron had left a request sheet at the merchandise table and by the time I’d arrived it was already filling up nicely. Saying that she’d never done this before, she promised, when she took the stage, to try to get to as many of them as she could. “Needless to say I crossed off Freebird,” she dead panned, “But I get the joke. I don’t think you really expected to hear that tonight.”
And so the show began, with Doiron on guitar and accompanied only by a modest drum kit. Kicking things off with the dark and moody “Runner” (penned by her longtime friend and collaborator Daniel Romano), some initial buzziness in the sound was quickly overcome with a move from stage right to stage left.
The next two hours saw Doiron launch into a career-spanning set of material that mixed a few songs she had obviously prepared to do with the ones requested by the audience. Audience favourites included “Love to Annoy”, “Me and my Friend”, and “The Gambler” — an uncharacteristically dark song for Doiron, whose tends towards capturing life’s sweeter, gentler moments in a timeless fashion.
Throughout the night, the show did a fine job of showcasing one of Doiron’s most unique attributes. As a singer, she’s possessed of a delicate, fragile voice capable of tremendous emotion — it’s the voice that created that beautiful moment of silence in a normally noisy and raucous bar. That voice contrasts sharply with occasional bursts of heavy, fuzzed out guitar. Doiron can break your heart in one moment and shred the guitar in the next. It’s the kind of combination that makes for a killer show.
“Spill Yer Lungs” showcases this contrast nicely, and as she launched into it Doiron confessed that she was “…struggling to remember the third verse … I’m really hoping it’ll just come to me.” That third verse? Never quite came, but watching the musician work through it with the crowd towards the end of the song was one of the night’s cutest moments. Doiron’s got a charming stage presence, and it’s always fun to watch her on stage.
If there was one song that was missing from the set list it was “Tailor”, one of Doiron’s most enduring tunes. As it turns out, this wasn’t such a big deal: just a couple of days after the Biltmore show I heard rumours of a free show that Doiron was going to play at The Lido, a tiny bar about one-third the size of the Biltmore. The rumours were accurate and that show saw Doiron alone on stage — no drums this time — playing to a crowd of less than a 100 in a dark, stylish room. The set list in this case was coming out of Doiron’s imagination as the show went on. She was trying, she said, to think of songs that hadn’t been played at the Biltmore or at an earlier in-store performance at a local record store.
The only thing better than seeing Julie Doiron play a great show is seeing Julie Doiron play two great shows. Including that record store performance, Vancouver was graced with three performances to choose from this week. That’s not a small feat for one of Canada’s most endearing talents, considering she lives some 5,000km away, as the crow flies. It was an embarrassment of riches for fans, highlighted by that silent moment at the Biltmore when she launched into “Sweeter” — it was the kind of quiet moment possessed of creative tension and the kind of quiet that only a large crowd can create, and it was the kind of quiet that requires an artist of Julie Doiron’s calibre to create.