Standing outside in the wet, I ran a hand through my loose misgivings and entered the Media Club with a cool head. Where tangled beards and loose ink are used as emblems by both artist and audience, deviating from such a uniform can cause some unwanted attention.
Standing on the outside looking in, I watched as the harmonies of Twin River’s Courtney Ewan and Andy Bishop, backed by Dustin Bromley and Malcolm Jack, played “Can’t Keep This Alive.” They unified the crowd and invited me into the gathering. Twin River’s blend of folk alternative rock, lead by the powerfully gentle voice of Ewan, prepped the audience for the evening to come. On this Friday night, the kickoff for Redbird and Portage & Main’s cross-Canada tour, the union between friend and stranger was bridged.
Alongside John Sponarski, the concurrent front man of Portage & Main, as well as Ben Appeheimer (bass) and Graham Selr (drums), Redbird’s Savannah Leigh Wellman’s unmistakable seductiveness consigned the crowd into a prolonged frenzy. The eight months since Redbird’s release of their EP We’re All Friends and Lovers Until it Falls Apart allowed their live resonance to develop a fervency we don’t hear on the album.
Exemplified in their newly issued track, “The Tower,” the band that already (quoted from their website) ”pulls from a slew of sonic inspirations,” conducted the club’s tenor to their choosing. Largely playing material publicly released over the last year, their set included a few new songs, such as “I Fall Again,” and “Roll Me Over.” With their meticulous riffs, conducted by Wellman’s sweeping vocals, every song resounded as a rock ‘n’ roll adage, fully willing and capable of sending the horde into a full on swing.
Taking their cue, Portage & Main aligned themselves behind the now central Sponarksi, and his partner in front, Harold Donnelly. Without so much as a moment of conscious reconfiguration, Portage & Main began heaving out sunburned southern rock, fueling the crowd with showers of spittle, and bringing the audience within an inch of their vocal chords. Feeding off each other’s defining voices, Donnelly’s burly features and booming beard were subverted by his angelic voice. And with Sponarksi’s strong recital and striking dominance on stage, it was clear that he was more than just a role player along side either Donnelly or Wellman.
Slowing down the pace, Portage & Main invited Wellman on stage to perform backup vocals for their song “Rocky Mountain Wanderer,” lulling the crowd into peaceful sway. But before long, they revved up their engines, and busted out a new track “Sweet Darling,” as well as the crowd-pleaser, “Carolina.” With their national tour officially underway, this musical union between Redbird and Portage & Main is distinctly appropriate. Looking further than their intersecting musicianship, each group has a dominion over their audience that ultimately works together. Redbird establishes the groundwork that Portage & Main is more than happy to parade upon.
Amid the remnants of the show, we said our anonymous farewells to the three bands we had come to see. Although I was far from knowing those crammed into the Media Club that Friday night, each of us parted with the same thought in mind: so long and goodbye.