Wilmot United Church, Fredericton
December 11, 2015
The cavernous, low-light atmosphere of Wilmot United Church was the perfect backdrop for the first of two pre-festival performances hosted by Shivering Songs. While it’s not unusual for the festival to host occasional off season events, pairing back to back concerts featuring prominent Canadian musicians is a bit out of character but certainly a welcomed break to the rising hustle of the holiday season.
Hometown hero Josh Bravener started off the evening by stating, “I hope you like depressing songs, because I’m going to play a lot of them tonight”. Bravener is an accomplished young musician whose blend of old-time influences range from country to blues to doo-wop. And each genre was well represented throughout his 40 minute set as he sang songs of loss and heartbreak with surprising authenticity. “When I was younger I always wanted to have my heart broken,” he confessed, admitting his desire to properly channel the essence of those who have played such a strong influence on his music. “Then it happened”.
Bravener’s between song banter helped to brighten the mood as he guided the audience through songs about alcoholism, lost love and death, injecting just enough humour to keep the tears away. He’s a gifted storyteller and had the audience’s full attention on this mild December evening.
After a short intermission, Halifax gypsy crooner Ben Caplan took the stage. Known for his commanding presence both visually and sonically, Caplan’s set appeared to get off to a rocky start, breaking a string during the first tune. What could have been a show-delaying setback for some proved to be an opportunity for Caplan to showcase his versatility, moving quickly to a nearby piano for his next three songs while his instrument was repaired with the help of Bravener.
Earlier this year, Caplan released his second full-length album, Birds With Broken Wings, a strong recording that explores a broader range of musical territory than that of his Balkan-roots, Waits-esque debut. 40 Days & 40 Nights, the first single off Birds With Broken Wings currently in heavy rotation on CBC radio, is a soul-infused journey down the streets of 60s Motown, complete with horn section and backup singers. But despite the obvious challenges in delivering such an ambitious track (and others) through a solo live performance, Caplan managed to come out on top involving the audience in powerful sing-alongs that filled the historic venue with the energy of a passionate sermon.
Caplan’s ability to entertain has been his career defining characteristic from the beginning. While his voice at times seemed to overpower his accompaniment on acoustic guitar and piano, his hour-plus performance remained enjoyable throughout its entirety.
All in all, it was great beginning to a two part weekend of live music that continues this evening with a performance by Ontario’s Great Lake Swimmers.