What is to be said about taste, when the forces behind Edmonton’s Transcend café open their basement every Friday and Saturday to host an intimate array of folk, pop, electronic, singer-songwriter elements (and more!) from within our local independent circuit?
Owner and founder Poul Mark was in attendance to oversee first hand the latest pursuit in Transcend’s obsessive patronage of the finer things: The Elevation Room. Only its second event ever, Saturday evening was markedly different from ER’s opening the night before. Venue manager Joe Gurba estimated that nearly 150 people turned out on Friday to see Sugarglider, Baby Driver, and rising stars Scenic Route to Alaska conduct an enthusiastic inauguration. While many less heads were in attendance the next day, one would be hard pressed to find a discernable area of lack.
The Elevation Room is a comfortable, familyroom-esque basement venue run by local musicians and artists. It is well suited both spatially and sonically for music of a softer ilk with comfortable layout and excellent supply of high quality consumables (including the pinnacle of coffee in Edmonton). The fact that this venue is all ages was of crucial importance to the night’s opening act James of Dark Wood, whose members range from 16 to 18 years old.
Drawing an immediately apparent link to Seattle champions of classical based harmony Fleet Foxes, James of Dark Wood is incredibly attentive to phrasing, consonance, and flirtation with tonic resolution. Lead singer Corey Sutton’s tenor voice is the foundation on which the entire tone rests; his finger-picking is immaculate and confidently drives each song. The band’s set was comprised of only one cover and succeeded solely based on original compositions. The band’s co-founder Dylan Greenhough has a phenomenally clear and well pitched voice that hides in the accompaniment as clover lies in grass. Comic interjector and soft percussionist Kevin and multi-instrumentalist Josephine are latecomers to the group but fit well into the focused cohesion that is this promising project.
The second artist of the night Lyra Brown tied together songs from her old repertoire with confidence and new songs with trust in pursuit of a tour worthy catalogue. Frankly, she’s ready. Boasting a resumé that includes a live duet with Emily Haines of Metric, Lyra Brown is one small step away from stardom. Her Regina Spektor influenced cheeky honesty and intuitive, artistic reading of everyday affairs of the heart fit are perfectly integrated into her vocal delivery, on this night backed by her keyboard and xylophone, beside best friend Brian MacLeod on guitar. MacLeod is incredibly skilled and quite resourceful. Tapping his guitar body for rhythm, moving his feet to add shaker, beatboxing with sample length impressions for flair, and even grabbing an empty pint glass to solo in slide guitar style, MacLeod complemented but did not dominate the set.
Headliner Joe Nolan was undoubtedly the most experienced and well travelled artist of the night. His performance also exhibited predominant influences with the greatest transparency, drawing tone from Springsteen circa Devils and Dust, passing them along with Waitsian facial expression and gruff vocals. Nolan is one of those special musicians that thrives heartwarmingly outside of their time. He would have fit in quite well on coffee shop bills with his folk forefathers, but thankfully for us, Steven Hawking has not broken the continuum and Joe Nolan came to rest at Transcend instead. I bought his album for the ride home and was quite surprised at just how much Nolan had manipulated his repertoire that night for mood; thriving without the support of the multi-instrumental ornamentation found on his latest LP Goodbye Cinderella. He is a phenomenal artist who must be investigated, his live shows are undoubtedly worth the time.
Saturday devolved from the normative standing room landscape of the night before into a 50 seat arrangement that left only outskirts for overflow. The audience was well aware of its role and stayed intently focused for the entire duration. It was a gracious and focused night in which all three unique artists complemented each other but stood out as unique and independent. I highly, highly recommend this venue for anyone looking to catch high quality local music before it hits the main flow of popularity. The founders of this unique venue are the ideal candidates to pair good music with good drinks in pursuit of transcendental elevation of spirit.