I would like you to try to visualise the classic image of the one-man band. He is wearing a bass drum like a backpack, he has a harmonica around his neck, bells on his legs, a pair of cymbals operated by a flap of his elbow and he is holding an accordion with his hands. With meticulously practiced shakes of his legs he hits the bass drum, with a swing of his arm he claps the cymbals together and all the time is he pumping his accordion and tooting his mouth organ. It creates a slightly haphazard cacophony of vaguely-in-time musical ridiculousness. What Basia Bulat does on stage is similar in concept to this, but she manages to make her incredible collection of obscure instruments and sounds work with clockwork perfection and with absolute musical wonderment.
The Canadian skips from hammered dulcimer to autoharp to charango (like a ukulele but with more strings) to microphones that alien-ify her vocals, to a her stock keyboard sound which is not dissimilar to a hammond organ. During all of this she is fiddling with her loop pedal - creating layers of vocal harmonies and rhythms.
I left the show in two minds. On one hand I was impressed with how Bulat maneuvered around all of those instruments, but on the other I couldn’t help but feel like perhaps it over-complicated things. I didn’t feel as though we really broke through wall of technicality, and really got into the meat and the emotion. It was more about the performance than it was about the songs, and this left me feeling as though I hadn’t heard the end of the story - like making a sandwich, having it there ready, but then not being able to eat it.
I don’t want to give the impression I didn’t enjoy the show. I did. I loved seeing her work all of the different instruments. I thought the strumming of the autoharp was beautiful, and everything sounded fantastic. I think that the title track of her new album Tall Tall Shadow is an absolutely brilliant folk-pop song, and really enjoyed it live. The latest single from the album ‘Wires’ was my other real high point. I thought, particularly in these songs, her voice was able to really extend, and this was a real treat. She does have an extraordinary voice.
Basia doesn’t normally need to be a one-man band. She has a band, but they have not come on tour with her. Perhaps by way of compensation for this she slightly went overboard with the tricks and clever-things in the set, and slightly lost a little of the feeling. I would go and see her again. It is unlike almost any other show I’ve been to, and she is an extraordinary singer and instrumentalist.