With so much great music coming out of Canada right now, it’s inevitable that some acts will get lost in the shuffle — e.g., those that aren’t being booked on Saturday Night Live (Arcade Fire) or being featured in the latest iPod commercial (Feist). One such Canuck band is Great Lake Swimmers. The group released a great album of pretty folk music this year, Ongiara. And onstage at Los Angeles’s Spaceland on October 13, it proved to be just as affecting and arresting live as it is on record.
The band name isn’t the only avenue singer and songwriter Tony Dekker uses to incorporate imagery from the natural world. Many of his songs find parallels between human existence and other life on Earth. After opening with the haunting “Various Stages” from 2005’s Bodies and Minds, Dekker, decked out with a harmonica around his neck like early-era Dylan, shifted into Ongiara‘s “Put There by the Land.” It was one of many numbers that featured keyboardist Julie Fader complementing Dekker with beautiful harmonies. Other geography-nicking songs included Ongiara‘s brilliant opener, “Your Rocky Spine,” and “Moving Pictures Silent Films,” off the band’s self-titled debut, with its very Canadian lyrics about icebergs melting and bears hibernating.
Besides Fader, Dekker was also joined on stage by Erik Arnesen, whose banjo work was a highlight of the evening, and percussionist Colin Huebert, who manned everything from a traditional drum set to a washboard and sleigh bells. But even surrounded by all of that talent, Dekker remained the shining star of Great Lake Swimmers. He even went it alone for a couple of songs, demurely asking for the crowd’s approval as his bandmates exited the stage.
Dekker and company ended their original set with Ongiara‘s “There Is a Light,” accentuated by a great organ line from Arnesen. At the song’s close, the band shifted into an impromptu snippet of Low’s “Two-Step,” a reverential honor to another great band from the Great White North (albeit below the Canadian border) that plays slow, subtle indie-folk. After a short hiatus, Great Lake Swimmers came back to encore and close the show the same way Ongiara closes, with the ending-as-beginning “I Became Awake.”