Two cats walk into a bar. One burly and bearded, the other, pretty and blonde. They sit together, pawing at bottles of beer and surveying the land before them.
The felines are The Lion, folk musician known better by his human name Christopher Arruda (or one third of the band The Lion The Bear The Fox), and frontwoman of indie-pop outfit Catlow, who answers to Natasha Thirsk. Another pair of creatures — Combine the Victorious — was, at this point, nowhere to be found until later when they emerged from the shadows.
Bad analogies aside, the plains of the Hindenburg were still barren (couldn’t resist) by the time The Lion took the stage at 10 o’clock and, unfortunately, remained sparse for the duration of the night. The scant crowd was likely due to the absence of headliners The Lower 48, who, for undisclosed reasons, couldn’t make it. Tragic, because the performers who were there administered an excellent evening and deserved more than just a few eyes and ears. For what it’s worth, though, attending patrons had enough enthusiasm to fill up the entire room.
Stripped of the usual energetic stomp that accompanies him while playing with The Lion The Bear The Fox, Arruda was completely acoustic and doubly impressed on the keyboard and the guitar, delivering an intimate set displaying his raw talent. This marked his first solo jaunt in a while — the inaugural under The Lion moniker — and his vulnerability, through earnest banter and a decidedly downtempo set, was heartfelt.
Arruda’s voice was dynamic; Broadway-boom coupled with moments of fragility. He was pensive on the key-driven ballad “Stork,” then compelling on “Home,” an inspiring anthem about his bandmates who encouraged him never to give up on music.
Next up was Combine the Victorious. Illuminated only by two white lights that cast eerie shadows upon members Isabelle Dunlop and Mark Henning, the duo’s shimmering synths got energies buzzing, meriting some adorable dance moves from an elderly gentleman during “Crumbling Hearts.” Dunlop, too, danced through Henning’s transitions, adding electronica of her own on the epic “It’s Still On,” which saw Henning hit the highest soprano as the lights strobed in crescendo.
Catlow, normally a four-piece, added fiddle and glockenspiel to their lineup and were the loudest act of the night (in a good way). Drawing from their latest album, Pinkly Things, as well as from new tracks, the orchestral arrangements made for more riotous renditions than on the record.
Thirsk’s voice was bright and confident, containing spurts of punk on “Shinsy” (named so because she thought it sounded like rock band The Shins) and girlish coy on “House Arrest.” Dreamy jam “Storm Sad” brought things down a notch but the new cut maintained momentum with tireless percussion, hazy riffs, squealing fiddle, and twinkles of glockenspiel.
The short but sweet show concluded at the stroke of midnight, much to the chagrin of the sound guy who cried, “More, more, MORE! This can’t be the end!” But as philosopher and theologian Albert Schweitzer once said, “There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life: music and cats.” On Thursday, we had both.