You can tell that The Belle Game are still in the relatively early stages of what’s promising to be a pretty fruitful career. Stopping by Toronto’s Horseshoe Tavern on Saturday night in support of 2013 debut Ritual Tradition Habit, the Vancouver-by-way-of-Montreal band were clearly enjoying the reception and turnout, guitarist Adam Nanji stating: “Thank you so much, we know there’s probably some really good Olympic sports on right now so we’re glad you’re here.”
While we were spared from any further Olympics jokes for the rest of the night, the thanking was a recurring theme, lead vocalist Andrea Lo also doling them out with a big smile.
On record, the quintet are a bit more reserved than their live performances (given as a six-piece) would otherwise suggest. In a concert setting they allow their songs to open up a fair bit more, a constant momentum that’s delivered with a conscious push towards their songs’ climactic bursts. Lo’s voice is responsible for much of that wow-factor and propulsion: when she sings, everything seems to soar.
They were joined on the night’s bill by some equally impressive vocal performances. Ottawa’s Fevers opened the show, vocalist Sarah Bradley burying all signs of a cold beneath belted-out vocals. The electro-pop is very much of a Stars-ian quality and, while the keys were a touch too loud in the mix, it’s evident that they’re on to something. A little bit more confidence would go a long way – but it was an impressive way to start the night for those that showed up early.
Fevers were followed by local band ANAMAI, Anna Mayberry’s slowcore approach to music that’s delivered with a near-country twang. Think Jewel if she wore a lot more black and mellowed out a whole lot. Mayberry has a great voice, but the music’s fairly down-tempo – relying on guitar strumming and echoing reverbs – and it proved difficult to hold a chattering crowd’s attention. What she delivered, she did well. The problem is it’s downer music and when an audience isn’t in the mood, it’s an uphill battle.
And the thing with ANAMAI is that they’re in a different genre of dark-pop than The Belle Game. On paper, they might seem more compatible, but it’s a bit unfair to juxtapose them against one another in a live setting. The latter carries much more impact thanks to percussion and melodic lines, and the result was pretty much a night-and-day difference between the projects.
The Belle Game began their set with ambient instrumentals that quickly switched into the big-on-bass-and-drums “Wasted Light,” off of the aforementioned Ritual Tradition Habit. The dual guitars and synths also got their chance in the spotlight, coming later in the set with the offering of “River.”
Other highlights came with a well-received cover of Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” the percussion heavy, set-ending crowd pleaser “Wait Up For You,” and a new, hugely ambitious song that saw the band call up their “seventh official member of the band,” Broken Social Scene’s Kevin Drew. It was this last one that packed the most impact – greatly benefitting in the back-and-forth vocals between Lo and Drew. They have strong chemistry together and the song showed off the value The Belle Game’s found in having Drew as a mentor. They would have found an advantage, however, in following the Drew collaboration up with a more energetic number: the slow-burning “Bruises to Ash” was a missed opportunity.
Most of the night was very good outside of that incident, but they did have some trouble with acoustics. The bass was turned up a touch too loud at times, making the dark-wave sounds of “Blame Fiction” muddy – saved only by Lo’s powerful set of pipes.
The crowd managed to drag The Belle Game back out of a one-song encore, the band returning quickly with keyboardist Katrina Jones explaining their slight hesitation at coming back to the stage. “We messed up,” she said. “We don’t really know any more songs… But we love you guys, so we want do something.” They then proceeded with their second cover of a night – this time with Nirvana’s “All Apologies” that garnered a sing-along from the audience.
“Toronto, you guys make it so easy to want to come back,” Lo told the crowd at the one point. And it’s hard to blame the Toronto audience for being selfish. We’re definitely going to get to the point where we’ll have to share The Belle Game with the rest of the world.