Dream Serenade: Feist, The National, Billy Talent, Hayden, Barenaked Ladies at Massey Hall

Photographs by Maya Setton.

There was a giving spirit permeating Massey Hall for the first annual Dream Serenade benefit. To give back to The Beverly Street School, an educational safe haven for developmentally challenged children, Hayden Dessner curated an assortment of talented musicians for an intimate evening concert. Through donations and ticket sales, Hayden hoped to raise funds and awareness of the crucial educational services the school provides for children in the community, including his own daughter.

With short and sweet sets showcasing the range of talent on display, the audience was treated to a variety of performers all outpouring with support for the cause. Lou Canon was first to take the stage, smoky voice and synths crafting a mood that juxtaposed dissonant frequencies with ethereal atmospheres. Grey Lands peppered their spicy rock swagger with alt-country charm, serving the hall up some good old fashioned shredded guitar. Jason Collett brought his poignant folk narratives to life, driven by soulful crooning and acoustic strumming, while activist songwriter Sarah Harmer’s lilting delivery was only elevated by the double bass accompaniment of Barenaked Ladies’ Jim Creeggan.

Joined by his fellow bandmates, Barenaked Ladies justified their enduring status as a national treasure. Opening up with reflective track Reeling from keyboardist Kevin Hearn’s solo album Havana Winter, the band transitioned into a litany of familiar favourites. Pinch Me, One Week and If I Had $1,000,000 delighted the crowd, woven together by the band’s trademark playful witty banter. Closing out the first half, they began an apparent cover of Lou Reed’s Walk on the Wild Side, quickly unravelling to a fantastically theatrical medley of freestyle rap and bubblegum pop hits. The tracks of Katy Perry, Macklemore, Lorde and more made an appearance before closing out on Miley’s Wrecking Ball. They swung for the fences and brought the house down, earning the first standing ovation of the night to close out the first half.

After such a huge closer, Hayden took a different path, reeling the crowd in with a triumphant piano number. With the crowd galvanised, he invited them to get up and dance as he abandoned the keys for the strings to lead a full stage in a spirited performance of Rainy Saturday. With the energy at its zenith, he invited Matt and Aaron from The National onstage to accompany him with what he termed “a driving song.” Dynamite Walls rang out with Matt and Hayden trading lines before joining together for stunning vocal harmonies.  Aaron kicked in with heavy distortion for the breakdown and a cacophony of noise drew the set to a close.

Carrying the torch loud and proud, Billy Talent kept up the decibels. Twisting pop punk energy into an acoustic arrangement, they rocked the hall like a stadium. Inviting Grey Lands lead singer Wayne Petti back out for a cover of Hayden’s Bad As They Seem, the gravelly delivery was a marked departure from Benjamin’s usual feisty vocals, but he carried the track with a tangible sincerity.

Taking the stage to palpable buzz, Matt and Aaron from The National responded with some of their own, beginning their set with High Violet’s Bloodbuzz Ohio. Acoustic strings offered ideal cut through for Matt’s baritone, allowing for an intimate, refined delivery. The crowd was ecstatic, filling any moment of silence with fevered cheers. Pink Rabbits and I Need My Girl received similar treatment, the latter boosted by Matt once again sharing vocals with Hayden. There was a powerful frailty to their harmonies, raw with emotion. “We’ve been massive fans of Hayden for 15 years” exclaimed Matt. “We’re realising just how much we stole from him. Finishing up with the anthemic Terrible Love and Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks, they departed to a sea of applause.

With only one act remaining on the bill, Feist made sure to say farewell in style. Drawing in the crowd with a scintillating a capella arrangement of The Circle Married the Line, every eye and ear was fixated. Tapping on the mic for improvised percussion, the hypnotic performance was testament to her skill and talent. This talent carried through to The Bad In Each Other, her silken voice fluctuating between soaring ascendance and breathy whispers. Ramping up the reverb and delay, she backed off the mic for a commanding interpretation of Undiscovered First. Gradually building, the track saw her eschewing conventional strumming for a one-handed technique, bringing in its counterpart for the song’s exultant conclusion. Ill-content with complacency, hits 1, 2, 3, 4 and I Feel It All found themselves revised entirely. The former as a slow, evocative, electric number, complete with Row Your Boat style crowd accompaniments, while the latter laden with heavy distortion and unshackled rock ethos. 

A well-earned ovation at its completion doubled as a welcoming invitation as the evening’s musicians flooded the stage. “It’s time to get super wholesome” remarked Hayden as they launched into a non-mic’d ensemble performance of Cat Stevens’ If You Want To Sing Out, Sing Out. Quiet but sweet, it rang loud with the community sentiment pervading the evening. Thanks and congratulations go to Hayden and his wife Christie for curating such an infectiously enjoyable event.

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