Oh Susanna, Matthew Barber and Nat Jay
June 11, 2011
Photos: Paul Oostergo
It was auspiciously silent at The Biltmore Cabaret Saturday evening as everyone scrambled to get the best seat they could. The air of the crowd hinted at a deep anticipation for the show to unfold. It was quiet not because the fans were not in attendance, everyone just seemed to want to stare at the stage. The Biltmore’s “cozy” design and soft red lighting offered exactly what was needed for this up close and intimate show. This was the final performance of a week long tour of western Canada for the indie folk/alternative artists, Oh Susanna and Matthew Barber. Considering both of their careers are only now on the rise it was surprising to see that they managed to fill all the strategically placed seats of The Biltmore.
The opening act was Vancouver’s own Nat Jay and when the black curtains opened she came out guitar in hand and ready to take center stool. Her calming voice echoed throughout the audience as she preformed “Love When I Can”. This empowering song showed the audience what she was made of and she continued to impress throughout her set.
Later she freed up her hands by inviting another guitarist onto the stage which allowed her to focus on her vocals for “Daydreaming”. Executing the intense emotion needed for the song got everyone in the crowd nodding their heads and tapping their feet to the rhythm. Nat Jay offered a great opener as her pop/folk style managed to lend itself well to the other performers of the night. I had never heard of her, nor any of the performers prior to the show, but she managed to peak my interest in what the other two had in store.
The second to take the stage was Oh Susanna which offered another raspy, seductive, and emotionally driven female artist. Lead singer Susie showed her true canadian spirit as she came onto stage wearing a Vancouver Canucks jersey. After some hockey talk it was down to business as Oh Susanna began to sing, “Greyhound Bus”. The song spurs feelings of abandonment, past regrets, and a child that she may never see again. This was one of the most emotionally charged songs preformed by Oh Susanna that night as you could feel the angst dripping off the music.
We have all been to the preverbal “their” and will all of Oh Susanna’s songs being quite personal it is easy to connect with her on stage. Yet with a voice a angel and the strength in her lyrics to back herself up, she packs quite the emotional punch. Furthering the connection with the audience she preforms “See What Promises Can Bring” and “Long Black Train”. She hits all of the high notes and stretches her vocal talents in these songs and the audience loved it.
For a change of pace Matthew Barber came out onto the stage to preform a duet of the song “Lucky One’s”. The crowd gave them their undivided attention as their voices blended together beautifully. They showed they had great chemistry together on stage and considering the name of their tour is “He/Said She/Said, it was rather suiting and enjoyable to see the two of them play off of each other on stage.
Oh Susanna has enough soul to pull on even the toughest heartstrings and her accompanying keyboard piano adds a country, nitty gritty tone to really amp it up. “Drunk as a Sailor” was one of the last songs to be preformed and the fans were already singing it before she began. The simple guitar and keyboard piano suited the raw performance of Oh Susanna perfectly and gave the audience a suiting ending to her set.
The final performance of the evening spurred Matthew Barber fans to fill the floor as it became packed with on lookers. “Settle My Accounts With You” had Barber shredding the guitar, singing, and playing the harmonica strapped around his neck. He showcases his multiple musical talents again as he plays the piano for the song “Where The River Bends”. His diversity on stage allows for a fun and engaging experience as you see just how musically talented this guy is.
Keeping with the theme of duets, Oh Susanna came onto stage to perform “Let Me Go Home”. The song is about the frustrations of being on the road and missing your loved ones. Barber suggested that this feeling was rather appropriate for the two after the long tour they have been on. However they both were able to channel those homesick feelings that makes it truly the stand out performance of the night.
The He/Said She/Said duet theme continued as Barber invited his sister Jill on stage to perform the song “While Away”. Jill has a very different voice then Oh Susanna and it fit nice with the somber tone of the song. The night came to a close and as Barber took his first shot of whiskey he dedicated the final song of the evening to partying like a true British Columbian and to unwinding with friends and family. He played “Cinnamon Heart’s” and the high energy of his performance left the crowd wanting more.
He returned to the stage for his encore and invited Jill to sing along side him as they performed “You and Me”. Keeping with the personal tone the audience was asked to sing along as everyone chanted “hell and heavenly”. After getting to know each of these artists throughout the night it only felt suiting to cap off the show singing along side them in the final song.
It was a night of blues, country, pop, and a little bit of everything in between for the dedicated fans that showed up to The Biltmore. The crowd may have been quieter then others yet that allowed for a attentive audience. The artists showed their gratitude for that fact as it enabled them to also get lost in what they are doing. The low key tone of the night allowed everyone to do what we all want now and then. Just sit back, enjoy, and let great musicians entertain us.