It was bound to be an eclectic night. Even from reading the two opening acts on the chalkboard on the sidewalk, Craig Aalders and Graftician, I knew Saturday night at the Fox wasn’t going to be the usual dance party (that happened later, at 10:30 pm.) And if Aalders’ ambient music and Graftician’s restrained art pop weren’t varied enough, all I knew of the headliner, Lydia Hol, was that she was a folk singer through and through. So, I went inside not quite knowing what to expect.
Taking his place behind a table of electronics with a guitar in hand, Craig Aalders slowly filled the room with an undulating soundscape. Playing a seamless selection of tracks from his recently released experimental ambient record, Oceanography, Aalders was stoic on stage. Guitar swells mingled with deep bass notes and shimmering synth sounds, all perfectly matching the kaleidoscopic projections of waves crashing onto rocky shorelines sun glimmering off the surface of the ocean. At the beginning of the set, the crowd fell mostly silent under the wash of sound, but as it went on, the conversations grew louder, challenging the oceanic soundscape for sonic supremacy. When Aalders faded out, only a handful of people in the venue seemed to notice. After a quiet thank you, he packed up and moved off stage.
Next up was Graftician, the collagist pop project of Roxanne Nesbitt. Much like the first performance of the night, Graftician’s set was pitted against the ever-talkative audience. Unlike the first performance, however, the Fox had filled to capacity, so the audience won out over Nesbitt’s soft and detailed sound. Even the eye-catching visuals (made by Nesbitt herself, with collaborations from Italian illustrator, Carla Indipendente, and local dance artist, Kelly McInnes) projected behind her couldn’t fully capture the audience’s attention. Buried beneath the sound of a hundred conversations, Nesbitt’s calm voice nestled amongst her carefully arranged samples and deep, driving percussion.
In the brief intermission, the roar of the room grew to a fever pitch. As the next band gradually made their way onto the stage, the lights dimmed. The attention of the thus far inattentive crowd zoomed towards the stage as the words “Lydia Hol” in a bold white font appeared on the backdrop.
Debuting the songs off her soon-to-be released album Love and Devotion, Lydia Hol was accompanied by her band of local musical heavyweights — Leathan Milne on guitar, Neuman Mannas on bass, Ben Brown on drums, Max Zipursky on keys, Peggy Lee on cello, Tegan Wahlgren on violin, Langston Raymond on trumpet and Dan Shook on the saxophone. While her previous two releases, 2012’s Boats and 2016’s Heading North, both landed squarely within the folk realm, Hol’s new material shed any lingering folkiness, in favour of a crisp and clean ‘60s soul music.
Over the course of the set, the band swept through a variety of early ‘60s subgenres — “Honeybee,” was a quick-paced Memphis soul romp, complete with incredible solos from the horn section, while the slow and sultry ballad “Love and Devotion” lowered the tempo and sweetened the mood in the room. Throughout the performance, Hol’s voice was the centrepiece of the unbelievably tight ensemble.
The final song of the night (not including the well-deserved encore) proved to be the perfect climax to the night. “Prove Me Wrong, Love Me Right” gathered all the best parts of Hol’s new sound and mashed them with the power and energy of any of the best Motown hits. With the entire audience enraptured, any of the awkwardness from the beginning of the night was wiped clean by Lydia Hol’s triumphant performance.