Concert Reviews

Allison Russell and Aysanabee at the Danforth Music Hall

Photo Credit: Dana Trippe

Montreal’s Allison Russell is riding a wave right now. A few weeks ago, she won her first Grammy, she is nominated for several Junos, and she is in the midst of playing a string of sold out shows as she makes her way though North America supporting her latest album, The Returner.

Russell and show opener, Aysanabee have different sounds but similar sensibilities, making for an ideal pairing. Aysanabee appeared solo and, armed only with his guitars and harmonizer pedals, utterly impressed and charmed the Danforth Music Hall audience. In turns, he spoke about growing up with very little in the outskirts of Thunder Bay, about his grandfather being a residential school survivor, about heartbreak and life on the road. The acoustic treatment of his songs did nothing to diminish their power. His 45-minute set included favourites like War Cry and Somebody Else and by the time he was done, the crowd was literally calling out for more.

When Russell took to the stage, she was flanked by four amazing musicians. The five women took their positions in a semi-circle, with Russell at the centre. The physical circle echoed the themes of unity, community and equality that ran through the night. Starting with Springtime, Russell hit fans with the upbeat energy that permeated much of the show. Just four songs in, she offered an intense performance of Eve Was Black – the tune that earned her the Grammy. The band stepped to the front of the stage for a few songs, including Persephone and Superlover. Fitting for the performance which took place on International Women’s Day, Russell spoke of her heroes and friends, from her backing band, to Joni Mitchell and Brandi Carlile. Giving props to the Godmother of empowering women in music, Sarah McLachlan, the band then payed tribute to the Lilith Fair founder with a beautiful rendition of McLachlan’s Angel.

Russell’s difficult upbringing has made her passionate about safety and justice for all children everywhere. Her story of survival is harrowing… she knows darkness. Repeatedly, she pleaded for peace and a world that honours and protects the most vulnerable among us, warning us to “beware the book burners, beware the book banners”. Indeed, she credits access to the arts – from Sesame Street to school music programs- for saving her life.

Toward the end of the night, Russell turned her current hit, Demons, into an effective call and answer piece and treated the fans to a soulful treatment of Nightflyer. At full voice, Russell was soaring but by the end of the night, the effects of the weeks on the road were evident as her voice strained in the quieter moments. The fans did not seem to mind. For the final song of the night, Rag Child, Aysanabee joined the band on stage and in in the spirit of unity, all six artists took their final bow together.

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Be sure to check out Live Nation Ontario to see all of the other great acts that they will be bringing to Toronto this year.

About author

From folk to pop to punk, Neloufer believes that music matters; that it is almost as vital as oxygen. She also has a deep love of language, et voilà! - music reviewer.