Heliconian Hall in Toronto, ON
January 24, 2014
Review by: Rick Miller
It was a frigid bitch of a night on January 24th in Yorkville, but the historic Heliconian Hall stood tall and majestic on the quiet empty street..
The crowd gathered inside in the intimate 120 capacity room where an open fire and hot apple cider greeted them. The night began with the opening act, a wax cylinder player from 1918, playing what sounded like a military song from the First World War.
The stage was set for Tony Dekker, the front man and brain child of the orchestral indie folk group Great Lake Swimmers, to perform works from his first solo album, Prayer of the Woods, and solo renditions of early Great Lake Swimmers songs. The first song, “On My Way Back” displayed Dekker’s calming and warm voice which immediately enveloped the silent and attentive audience.
Most of Dekker’s song writing is based on themes around love: chasing it, losing it, and hanging on to it. He takes cues from nature as inspiration. The name of the album and title track was based on an anonymous poem Dekker discovered hiking the Bruce trail in Northern Ontario. This theme was also embodied in “Somewhere near Thunder Bay" a song that attempts to translate an existential moment when he almost hit a herd of deer while travelling with his band.
The first Great Lake Swimmer’s song offered was “Moving Pictures, Silent Film”, a mostly acoustic track from their first album. The ethereal sound was emotive and captivating as the storyteller’s incredible tone carried through flowing melodies. Another Great Lake Swimmers track “Great Exhale” also highlighted Dekker’s delicate and rich timbre.
From there, Tony played several more tracks from his solo album, including “Hearing Voices” and “Under a Magician’s Sky.” He also played a cover of Human Sexual Response’s “Land of the Glass Pinecone". “This was a way for us to return the favour, since they covered one of our songs,” explained Dekker.
The World Wildlife Federation was also represented with pamphlets at the merch table and a speech by Dekker during the show. “We need to wake up” stated Dekker in protest of the pipeline planned for the Great Bear Sea region of British Columbia. The next song “Stealing Tomorrow from Today” from GLS’s album Lost Channel served as the rally cry for this call to arms.
In “Talking in Your Sleep”, Dekker added a Harmonica and continued to add instruments and players for the rest of the show. During “Hunter’s Bow,” Dekker’s theme came full circle with the lyric “a hunter’s bow and I’m the sharp, feathered arrow. You pull me close, and then let go.” Dekker then got out of the woods on “Care Free Highway” where he brought it back to love with the lyric “Let me slip away on you". Eric Armesen was the first member of Great Lake Swimmers to join Dekker on stage, playing the banjo. Later, Bret Higgins joined on the upright bass and Miranda Mulholland toke the stage on the fiddle.
The full sound of the band was first heard on “Where in the World are you” from the album Ongiara. The dynamics of group could be appreciated when the backing players fell off leaving just the sound of Dekker’s voice and guitar. The band then went on to close out the show playing several GSL songs including “Unison Falling into Harmony” and “Everything is Moving So Fast,”
This was not your usual concert experience, as the venue almost served as a physical manifestation of the music, even through the lack of technology. All of the instruments were mostly acoustic, making for a concert experience that transcended time. The same show would have resonated 50 years ago as it did today. This made for a surreal, almost dream like experience.