The first time I saw Rae Spoon, he was playing an acoustic guitar and banjo for a group of about 30 in my friend’s backyard in Guelph, Ontario. It was an intimate setting and an intimate show—my version of what it’d be like if you were in the audience at a Jon Bon Jovi and he made eye contact with you and you swooned.
The Biltmore’s Aug. 31 show launched Spoon’s new album, Love is a Hunter, as well as Vancouver-based Cris Derksen’s new offering, The Cusp. Katie Caron, a Hamiltonian at heart, opened up the show. I caught the last few songs while having my bag searched twice and being IDed by three different Biltmore bouncers. You should check out her Greenbelt Collective website instead of relying on my sketchy impressions.
Spoon followed Caron; his set focused on more recent songs from his repertoire, including “You Can Dance” and “U-bahn,” written while in Berlin, and included on Love is a Hunter. “I decided to write electro songs,” Spoon said as he pressed a button on his laptop, “but this one came out kind of country anyway.” And while the influence of Spoon’s time in Europe can definitely be felt in his newer songs, the core of what made Superioryouareinferior so earnest, heartfelt and politically resonant is still present in Love is a Hunter—as it is in his approach to shows.
During “Love is a Hunter,” Spoon shared future plans for a video that would include Mariah Carey; while introducing “Joan,” he paused to talk about his inspiration for the song—another trans person [ed. If that confused you, you should know that Rae Spoon is a female-to-male transgendered person.] he’d met in Germany whose life experiences had been similar to his own. Spoon’s between—or during-song banter is as personal now as it felt in the backyard in Guelph several years ago. (Cue swoon.)
The only let-down of Spoon’s set was when his voice gave out during the encore—Superioryouareinferior’s “We Become Our Own Wolves”—and he had to leave the stage halfway through. Heartbreak!
I wasn’t very familiar with Vancouver-based Cris Derksen’s music before she hit the stage on Tuesday with a cello and a tilted ball-cap. Derksen is a classically-trained cellist and UBC grad who’s played with Tanya Tagaq and Kanye West, among others. Her style is reminiscent of Final Fantasy, layering energetic cello playing with looped electronic sounds and aboriginal instrumentation. Cris played solo and was joined for a few songs by opera singer Melody Mercredi, Marta Jaciubek-McKeever (of E.S.L. and Fan Death) as well as a mesmerizing young aboriginal dancer, who spun in time to the rhythms and melodies in Derksen’s instrumental pieces.
Derksen’s strongest and most innovative songs were the latter kind; the instrumental numbers that focused on weaving disparate organic and electronic sounds building and pulling and tugging until they hit crescendo and catharsis. Even though I wasn’t initially completely bowled over by parts of Derksen’s set, her music has really grown on me—I’ve become way more familiar since the Biltmore show, listening to The Cusp at work and prompting everyone around me to ask about what the shit it is and where they can get their hands on it.