Photographs by Ryan O’Shaughnessy.
I love seeing Basia Bulat in concert, but the thought of reviewing a show always comes with a tinge of dread. The way she performs makes you want to toss around hyperbolic language shamelessly. The words “magical”, “enchanting” and “spellbinding” all seem gratuitous on paper, but feel apt in the midst of a performance. She’s a talented multi-instrumentalist and given her show at Mod Club, each word feels justified.
Opening the set with Fool, the first single from her new album Good Advice, it’s a colourful pop explosion. The stage is drenched in an array of purple lights. She’s surrounded by a seven piece band, garbed in a shimmering gold sequin shawl. Despite the visual flood, her voice stands tall. Much like Florence Welch (of “the Machine”), she can belt it out and when she hits her stride she rides it all the way.
The atmosphere lifts when she steps away from the mic stand. Clasping the mic in one hand and a tambourine in the other, La La Lie has her dancing around the stage, pulling on the chemistry she’s built with her backing band. A gorgeous five part harmony has the crowd bobbing excitedly and the song closes out to raucous cheers as she thrusts the tambourine into the air.
“Maybe it’s time for a couple of folk songs.” She suggests. Digging into her back catalogue, she begins to take requests from the crowd. Things loosen up and she plays with the arrangements a lot more. Five Four has her grabbing her acoustic guitar, while the strumming and picking develop an interesting twang. Paris or Amsterdam features smoky vocals and acoustic plucking interlaced with a surprisingly apt cosmic synth line. For a song about mental and emotional distance, it’s hard not to have it transport you somewhere.
Watching the performance and the crowd, those recurring hyperbolic words all make sense. It’s in the way she looks and smiles at her fellow band members mid-song. It’s in those moments where the façade drops and you can see someone who’s soaking in the experience. There’s a tangible sincerity to the emotion in her songs and her audience latches to it effortlessly. Most of all, it’s fun as hell. There’s something in her act that seems bigger than its composite parts and you can see it play out through the crowd. Audience members sway from side to side with closed eyes and hands on hearts. They bob up and down or excitedly hop about, heels stomping and toes tapping. If I can’t say it was “magical” “enchanting” or “spellbinding”, I can certainly say she draws focus. When Basia Bulat performs, she makes it impossible not to watch.