Thursday, April 9, 2009

Great Lake Swimmers at Spaceland

Words flow from the the imagination of Tony Dekker of Great Lake Swimmers, the way water flows across the rocks in a mountain stream. He reminds me of someone who has grown up in the woods, perhaps raised by wolves, but instead of remaining savage, has come to a place of peace and understanding about man's relationship to nature. So he sings, movingly and honestly, about this profound relationship. He also makes me write like this.

Lost Channels, the new release by this Canadian band, is focused heavily on water imagery and was recorded at historic locations in the St. Lawrence River areas of Ontario and New York State known as Thousand Islands. But for all the water, there's a lot of rock on this record.

At Spaceland on Saturday night, April 4, 2009, Great Lake Swimmers entranced a packed house with most every cut from the new CD and they sounded superb live. But before they went on I got to enjoy the performance of Kate Maki, also from Canada, who won over the crowd with her wonderfully written folk songs and her skilled guitar playing. A winning stage personality made her between song chats fun and spontaneous. A substitute teacher, she knows how to hush a talky crowd, and did so by the sheer force of her talent.

You had to stop to listen to her interesting takes on bluesy-country-folk music. Her lovely voice is warm and personable and, accompanied by a bass player and a drummer, the band would alternate between solo acoustic folk or a full rock sound when called for. It was the perfect warm up for what was to come.

The crowd was mostly not local and showed the reach of Great Lake Swimmers fan base. So I was happy to run into Travis Woods who has a great write up on his site: Web in Front , and we settled in down front. When Tony and his band, Julie Fader on flute and back up vocals, Erik Arnesen on guitar and banjo, Greg Millson on drums and Brett Higgins on bass began, you could feel the audience get immediately swept up in the tidal flow of the music.

They rocked a little harder than I've ever seen before and it was great to hear, but unfortunately, being up front I think Tony's vocals were going out over my head, so I couldn't quite hear his voice as I would have wished. There was no problem on the quieter songs like "Concrete Heart" or "Still", but on the songs "Palmistry" and "Pulling on a Line" I probably would have been better served by not being so close. Except the privilege of watching Tony sing, up close, I wouldn't have traded for anything. So there's the trade off.

I was also very pleased to hear then do "Changing Colours", which has got to be one of the most beautiful and profound songs I know. It appears to be a song about a leaf, but ends up cutting deep on the subject of grief and comfort. It contains philosophy one would do well to carry through life.

I loved hearing "New Light" from the new CD, as it specifically recalls some of the harmonies on the wonderful David Crosby 1971 album If Only I Could Remember My Name. But it's Tony Dekker's voice that is a the center of everything. Like a haunted presence coming from another place, there is an other-worldly quality that is both remote and immediate at the same time.

With minimum expression he conveys massive amounts of emotion and feeling. Like the lyric which ends the Lost Channels CD, Great Lake Swimmers are "gentle and forceful".


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