Sarah Harmer has her grand homecoming

Harmer at the Grand, seemingly lost in the moment.
Harmer at the Grand, seemingly lost in the moment.

Last Friday night at the Grand Theatre, one woman touched all four corners of the room. Queen’s alumnus Sarah Harmer returned to Kingston last week for two sold-out performances.

The theatre was packed with fans of all ages, from those in their late 60s to those in their early teens. Harmer’s smooth, strong voice combined with the Grand’s fabulous acoustics, and the talented back-up band made for a thrilling night of music. The opening band, Nathan Lawr, had a slow and mysterious style. It consisted of a guitarist, a xylophonist and Lawr, the lead singer/guitarist. The xylophone added a unique twist to an otherwise standard Leonard Cohen-meets-Hayden and Pearl Jam mix. Their sound was cool and the words were poetic and intriguing. Some songs made unmistakable references to the carnival or the fair both musically and lyrically, while others were much more serious and intense.

When Harmer stepped onto the stage, the audience erupted. She’s tiny and unassuming but the second she makes a sound, her power becomes evident. What a voice, strong enough to fill the Grand right down to the souls of each member of the crowd. Soft enough to skim your skin’s surface and give you goosebumps. If the entire concert had been performed a capella it would have been equally fulfilling. The band had four more exceptional musicians, Dean Stone on drums, Maury Lafoy on guitar, Julie MacDonald on keyboard and flute and Mike O’Neill on guitar. Kingston’s multi-talented musician Spencer Evans even joined her for a song. As musically talented as she is, at times, the large venue conspired against Harmer’s performance. The intimate sound of Harmer’s voice and the meaning behind her words called for a much more intimate setting. The Grand, with its stage towering above and beyond the audience members, was much too impersonal and restricting. We tried. We bobbed silently in our chairs and quietly sung along when she asked us to. However, the awkward seats had invisible seatbelts and our enthusiasm was slightly confined by their entrapment.

Harmer must have felt it as well. At several points during the night she didn’t seem quite in-touch with the inspiring words she herself had written. Although her performance was flawless, there was an unexplainable energy that was lacking. After she said good night, the sparse clusters of standing ovations called her back for more. This time, Harmer met the challenge with a newfound freedom. She rushed the stage with a vengeance. In the last few seconds of “Lodestar,” energy poured out through her convulsing body, and we all felt it. The entire audience leapt to its feet in a fit of admiration. That was the Sarah we had been waiting for. Harmer is touring in support of her new album, “All of Our Names,” and her next stop is Dublin, Ireland. When her tour continues in the U.S. and Canada, she will be joined by Hayden. Her new CD is on sale now at most music stores.

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