The first of two sold-out nights at the Sinclair in Cambridge, the Barr Brothers took the stage to drunken superfans after Broken Social Scene vocalist Ariel Engle, known as La Force, opened up the show. I first saw the Montreal-based band open for the Milk Carton Kids on tour and was entranced by the complex grooves and stellar folk melodies.
The Barr Brothers live set up is unique: in addition to your basic rhythm section and lead vocalist/lead guitarist, the core band also includes a harpist and pedal steel player. This gives the band a strange mixed sound, combining elements of hard rock, folk, roots and more. The songs go on for 10, maybe even 15 minutes and take many shapes in their course.
From using an ebow on the pedal steel, to lead singer Brad Barr’s string bow technique on his acoustic guitar, the band constantly experiments with obscure ways to achieve different sounds live. They are far from your average folk/rock band.
The set was full of Barr Brothers hits that the crowd knew every word to, from “Defibrillation” to “Song That I Heard.” The quieter hum of “You Would Have to Lose Your Mind” had everyone swaying, couples holding each other, as a momentary calm spread throughout, a break from the electric grit of most of the set.
My favorite moment of the set was the unsettling, off-beat groove of “Half Crazy,” fitting for its song’s title. After a lengthy upright bass and slide guitar intro, the laid back drum beat creeps in, almost fighting the rhythm of the guitar the entire time. This tension helps emphasize the discomfort of the lyrics. It was interesting to look around and see how concertgoers were grooving to the song: you almost can’t decide which rhythm to follow.
Fans will have to wait longer for another Barr Brothers show, as they only have a couple San Francisco dates coming up in June. Hopefully, this means another eclectic album of gritty and complex folk/rock/roots music is on its way from the Montreal band.
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