Singing along with Siberry

Jane Siberry took her audience on an “organic journey” on Thursday night.
Jane Siberry took her audience on an “organic journey” on Thursday night.
Credit: 
Photo courtesy of Julia Brandreth / Sheeba.ca

Concert Review: Jane Siberry w/ Jill Barber, Jan. 26 @ Grant Hall

Sometimes, the reason for leaving a concert feeling it was powerful comes not from the quality of the music itself but rather the depth of sincerity and the genuine care an artist conveys to her audience.

Such was the case for Jane Siberry on Thursday night, as she captured the hearts of her audience—most of whom were mature female students—for a benefit concert put on by the Ban Righ Centre.

But before Siberry took the stage, the audience greeted Jill Barber, a former Queen’s grad and a regular favourite at Kingston venues such as The Grad Club. Donning a knee-length black dress, Barber stood in front of the half-filled Grant Hall, looking gracious and grateful.

After briefly reminiscing about her memories of sitting at Grant Hall as a frosh, she started the set with “A 7th Minor,” breaking out into a subdued, heartfelt guitar solo. With her melodic alto voice quietly resonating on the bare stage of Grant Hall, she charmed the audience with her other jazz and blues-infused tunes with expressive lyrics, such as “Measures & Scales” and “Oh Heart.” While most of her repertoire included songs about love and relationships, one notable exception was “Ashes to Ashes,” a song with a deceptively light melody dedicated to her grandmother, who passed away at the age of “97 and a half.” Barber paused in between songs to share short anecdotes about her life and music, enhancing the intimate feel that could’ve been easily lost in the under-capacity space of Grant Hall. One of them included an earlier performance at Grant Hall while she was a Queen’s student during Homecoming weekend. Recalling amusedly how her band was “not well received,” Barber finished her story with: “I can tell you, it’s a real treat to be not opening for Queen’s Bands anymore.” Before ending her hour-long set with the bluesy “When I’m Making Love to You,” Barber gave another thanks to Ban Righ Centre and its coordinator Lisa Webb for inviting her to perform, drawing warm reception from the crowd.

But the real intrigue of performance began as Siberry took the stage after a 10-minute intermission. The lights dimmed as pre-recorded nature sounds of birds infused with wind instruments became audible on stage. Against this backdrop, Siberry slowly walked onstage, draped in a red billowy skirt with an orange sash hanging from one shoulder to her waist. With a quiet, saccharine whisper, she began with a question: “is this our lucky day?” Setting the precedent for an unconventional blend of performances that erased the word “concert” from my mind altogether by the end, Siberry used her music to uncover a dreamy narrative of meeting children in the woods that continued throughout the evening.

Her songs, strictly speaking, were of no great musical talent or complexity. They portrayed a theme of liberation and independence, notably “You Don’t Need,” “Begat, Begat,” and “Let It Go.” Switching between the electric guitar and the keyboard, Siberry gave a passionate performance, but with an unpolished edge that was reflected in sudden increase in volume mid-song, a slight nasal undertone in her voice and lyrics that could be best described as contrived and clichéd.

These technical shortcomings, which would’ve seriously hindered the effectiveness of any other artist, did not seem to matter for Siberry or the audience because she was just so earnest, so passionate, and so feeling. Her sole goal in performing was to connect with the audience in a meaningful way, to elevate everyone to some kind of liberation throughout the evening that she labeled as an “organic journey.” With many unconventional and eclectic approaches that included a spoken word-type performance, poetry, a prop (a music box that stood in front of her), and even a hymn, she pushed the evening in many directions. And each time, the audience cheered rapturously and enthusiastically.

But I was puzzled. As a couple beside me held each other closely, smiling to their heart’s content and gave an energetic standing applause as Siberry wrapped up her evening, I was somewhere between feeling as though I had viewed a completely different performance than everyone else, and desperately seeking for a positive reaction within me. All I could muster was not an endorsement but the observation that Siberry had touched something within the audience.

As the ovation continued, Siberry came back for an encore performance of “Calling all Angels”—a soft, inspirational tune that got the crowd going again. Then, as she gave the opportunity to sing along and let Grant Hall echo the voices of many women together, I finally understood. I understood the sense of unity that she planted in everyone, and understood the compassion that was so infectious within her. Although I walked out of the evening less inspired by and less thrilled about her performance than everyone else, I at least understood her message. And it was powerful.

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