Real Live Action

Mirah | Tara Jane O’Neil


Biltmore Cabaret; April 3, 2009

Review By Becky Sandler

Although Mirah’s visit to the Biltmore was her second show in Vancouver in less than a year, it felt like quite a bit more time had passed. (a)spera is her first solo release since 2004’s C’mon Miracle, and in the years between these two records, Mirah has performed relying on just her guitar to play her earlier material. However, for this trip, she successfully added a backing band to emphasize the strings and structure of her new songs, and reworked her old music to be just a bit grander.

The crowd showed up early, and waited patiently until 10 p.m. when the opening act broke the quiet banter of the groups of friends scattered throughout the Biltmore. “My name is Tara Jane O’Neil, and I’m looking to get gay married!” deadpanned the petite songstress, before launching into a satisfying collection of yearning electro-folk songs, backed only by a drummer. The extended guitar-jam outro to her last song went just a bit too long, however, reminding concertgoers how long they had been waiting for Mirah.

Despite sharing the stage with a bass, drums, keyboard, violin and second guitar, Mirah remained clearly at the centre of attention. After beginning with the exquisite “Skin and Bones” from (a)spera, Mirah alternated between new material and classic songs such as “The Dogs of BA” and “Look Up.” The only moment eyes shifted from Mirah was when the backing guitarist picked up the kora, a 21-string West African harp-lute, to play the exceptionally beautiful “Shells.” Ending with a dance remix version of “The Garden,” Mirah showed the evolution of her performance. She closed with the same song back in August at Richard’s, but a version much closer to the recording. She continually retools her older songs to fit her evolving sound, which is why she is worth seeing again and again.

However, just talking about music doesn’t give a full account of the performance. I’ve seen Mirah four times in three different cities in the past five years; in her performances, the urgent emotions of the lyrics are palpable, and remind the audience of their own connection to her songs. The nostalgic moments spent listening to her music—summertime road trips, wintertime hot chocolate chats or walks to and from bus stops—are remembered fondly and with renewed warmth. Judging by the faces of the crowd surrounding the stage, I wasn’t alone in feeling a little bit overwhelmed. But I keep coming back, because when music creates that kind of pathos, you never want to let it go.