Published Oct 23, 2016If you were clock-watching, Montreal's Barr Brothers put on what might've been one of the longest sets of this year's Halifax Pop Explosion: they started a bit early, filled their allotted hour, and then kept going as far past 2 a.m. as they reasonably could. If you were setlist-watching, though, it was anything but: the band got through fewer than 10 songs, by my count, even including the encore.
But that's because, live, the Barr Brothers' folk songs play like a fever that just won't break: they heat up, burn intensely and, even when they cool down, they smoke and smoulder, ready to catch fire again.
Opening with "Little Lover" from 2014's Sleeping Operator, vocalist and guitarist Brad Barr (drummer Andrew is the other brother in the four-piece band) pulled and stretched the song into a swampy groove, filling any thinness that might've emerged with solos that rolled back in on themselves over and over, hypnotically. Even a song that's already set up for length, like "Come in the Water," found ways to end up longer — a feat that, in lesser hands, would risk losing the audience's attention. Instead, the crowd packed into the Seahorse for the festival's final show seemed enthralled.
This was the band's first tour to reach Halifax (they also played on Friday, October 21, opening for Hey Rosetta!) but that didn't stop them from weaving brand new songs into the set, which the crowd received just as fondly as old favourites. One sounded like the War on Drugs covering "Gimmie Shelter" (a good thing), while on another the band were joined by local icon Joel Plaskett for another twisty, turny guitar jam. (Plaskett stuck around to play on "Beggar in the Morning," as well.)
After closing the main set with "Never Been a Captain," the band returned to bring this year's Pop Explosion to its end with an incredible 10-minute blues stop. It was a performance not so much haunting as it was haunted: Brad Barr's guitar wailed like a forlorn spirit, breaking in and out of the melody as if it was shattering walls between this world and the next. A crowd that, by rights, could've been drained of energy, given the hour and festival's end, instead gave the song and the bands one of the strongest receptions of the week — and deservedly so.