The El Mocambo,Toronto, Thursday, September 20th
Listening to the relatively sparse, somewhat wistful tracks on her new, bare bones EP, her first self-titled debut EP since leaving Flashlight Radio (a loose, country-hued affair with Ben Whiteley), you can’t help but wonder where Suzy Wilde is coming from and where she might be going.
Taken on her own merits (I didn’t know until later that her family’s musical pedigree is sizable, being the daughter of Doug Wilde and Nancy White and sister to Spiral Beach’s Maddy), there’s much to like. Yet, with these lighter-than-air vocals and ‘barely there’ musical production, the release sometimes feels like something you might’ve expected to hear back in the ‘80s. Electro-pop, almost – with about as much meat as you’d find at a vegan Thanksgiving.
So what would she do live and could this faint, lighter-than-air singer succeed on-stage? In a nutshell, watching this young singer reveal her abilities from the stage was akin to observing a flower bloom. Tall, confident, fun-loving, thoughtful – Suzy Wilde kicked off the set with plenty of welcoming words and, initially a tad nervous-seeming, surrounded herself with solid band-mates in Mike Olsen (cello/synth), Ghislain Aucoin (keyboards), Charles James (bass), Heather Crawford (guitar plus) and the inhumanly elastic Galen Pelley (drums).
Launching with the very same Euro-poppish “Flame”, Wilde displayed plenty of vocal power, yet the song was clearly something out of a Depeche Mode flashback. Followed by the harder-driving “Good For You”, each song revealed a fresh layer of Wilde’s confident take on both her music and her abilities. Kicking off her, Wilde continued to warm up and celebrate the room full of family, friends and a growing legion of true-blue fans familiar with her history.
One of the EP’s highlights, “When I Grow Up”, shone brightly – her waif-like voice setting the stage while her alter-ego cranked the power for the song’s infectious chorus, clearly hitting a nerve with the audience. Given the range in the first three songs alone, it didn’t take a genius to note the strength in Wilde’s song writing. These are original works people were responding to – not cop-out covers or a temptation to spotlight hot-dog musicians to pick up any slack.
This was clearly a well-rehearsed team backing a solid singer with quality material, getting fresh life and honest animation in a live setting.The fun, funky, chicken-pickin’ on “Won’t Come Back” revealed true farmyard frivolity while “New Constellations” looked back to an eclectic gem from her previous incarnation with Flashlight Radio, augmented with Edge-like guitar from Crawford, minus some of the more ethereal qualities of the original.
Wilde’s “Ballad of Rilee Low” – a song based on a dream – was a master track with its comparatively elfin vocal, acoustic guitar and ‘harmonic humming’ from the band – a bit of a preview for her upcoming full-length release. A great tune with a strong Celtic flavour, this showed even greater promise from the artist and her band.
Likewise, “Go Home Bay” demonstrated true commercial potential with its combination of Wilde’s acoustic guitar paired with Crawford’s heavier sounds and more killer organ from Aucoin (who seemed to provide much of the more technical musical leadership in the band).
“The Fawn” proved a soft spot – a bit sleepy and slightly nasal-sounding but this was quickly redeemed by the sturdy “Edge of the Sky” – another highlight from the new EP with strong harmonies from Aucoin, tastefully offsetting any loss of high end from Wilde. It’s “Ooh woo woo woo wooh’s” floating throughout the room like a dream worth remembering. The generous set closed with “Youngest Bride” – a well-crafted song with solid contributions, again, by both Aucoin and Crawford, anchoring the band. Special note must be made of drummer Pelley – truly the Animal (of Muppets fame) providing a blend of intricate, rhythmic madness tempered by experience and the seasoned restraint that comes with it. Fun to watch, as well.
An ecstatic crowd coaxed Wilde back for an encore song (“The Cynic”), which she performed all by her lonesome – somewhat fitting on this night of having broken into a full and luxurious bloom. . The takeaway is an odd blend of pop to country but Wilde demonstrated she can clearly do it all, with the musical personality to pick and choose her next move. One to watch and one to look forward to seeing again.
Photography: E. Thom