Published Mar 27, 2016This was almost a hometown album release party for Sarah Neufeld. The famed violinist for Arcade Fire was born on Vancouver Island, so she had the support of loved ones on her side as she brought her month-long North American tour in support of her brilliant sophomore solo album, The Ridge, to the Fox Cabaret. Joining Neufeld on this tour was Eartheater from Queens, NY.
Eartheater's Alexandra Drewchin was an imposing figure onstage. Armed with a jagged BC Rich Warlock axe, its translucent red body echoed by the red of her varsity jacket, her black leather pants and platform shoes enhanced the seriousness of her presence, but her set generally explored her sweeter, ambient side of her solo catalogue, presently two albums deep on Hausu Mountain, along with at least one track that she wrote on this tour. There was often a kind of gated guitar effect looped over a sparse, pulsing sequencer, laying the bedrock for her textural guitar melodies and delayed, modulated vocals, an operatic falsetto soprano delivering her surreal lyrics.
Drewchin dared people to come closer for her last song, shedding her jacket as she nearly broke in half backwards with her disjointed, post-modern dance moves. There's something foreign about her music in a supernatural or intergalactic sense, a feeling underlined by her unconventionally whimsical movements. Yet, when she was forced to work out the kinks with the sound guy after her mic cut out early on, she seemed down to earth.
Sarah Neufeld kicked up the energy as soon as she took the stage, performing the whirlwind of "From Our Animal" alone, before being joined by fellow Bell Orchestre member Stefan Schneider. It wasn't surprising to see her shake out her bowing hand after "Chase the Bright and Burning," performed that much brisker live than on record. She was an ostinato cyclone on those fretless strings.
Neufeld's prowess was so overwhelming that it often sounded like she was playing two violins at once, except for when she E. Honda hundred hand slapped the precise fingerpicking of "The Glow," while her voice used mostly for ghostly melodies and texture than as a vessel for lyrics. Schneider kept up with her all the way, though; their chemistry was explosive.
In "A Long Awaited Scar" alone, Schneider played snare and toms with his bare hands, broke out soft mallets and both sides of the brushes, and tossed bells and a tambourine on cymbals, among other methods of extracting different percussive sounds. He put on such a clinic on the skins that one half-expected a kitchen sink to appear in the mix.
Perhaps it was Schneider's presence or inspiration from the homecoming, but there seemed to be much more of a sense of urgency live than heard on the record they were touring. It was surprising to see the crowd remain largely stationary when "The Ridge" took flight, though it did elicit a few woos afterwards. The reserved audience would later do enough to call Neufeld back to the stage for an encore, fittingly bookending the nearly hour-long set with solo violin, before she headed over to the merch booth for some well-deserved hugs and handshakes.