It was a cool, grey and wet Toronto day.
The anticipation of seeing Seattle native Noah Gundersen perform was like looking forward to a big west coast hug. I can’t help but like musicians a little bit more when I find out they are from the Pacific Northwest. It’s a bias I happily embrace.
I was only introduced to Noah Gundersen a couple weeks ago. A friend of mine initially fell in love with his sound while watching Sons of Anarchy (thank you, Shazam). I am not sure if Noah appreciates the association with the TV show, but I am confident that he gained some much deserved exposure and an expanded fan base as a result. So, channeling my inner biker chick, I trekked to the Opera House in combat boots and a leather jacket to see what all this Noah Gundersen fuss was all about.
Doors were at 8pm. When I arrived at 8:10, there was a massive line that curled around the block. Clearly, these fans take Noah very seriously. I don’t think it was a sold-out show but it must have been close – the venue was teeming with people. One of my favourite measures of any artist is their fan base. Noah’s seemed to include men and women, young and old alike. I think that speaks to the universality of his voice and the widespread appeal of his lyrics and songwriting, which, at age 26, is very impressive. I also liked that Noah had Chris Porterfield of Field Report as an opener. Chris’ all American folk music is almost as lyrically driven as Noah’s and was a nice compliment to the overall experience.
Slightly frustrating for me was that the venue’s ATM was broken. I could have been more prepared but wasn’t. I have outgrown my concert tee buying days, namely because I have to dress like an adult/professional most of the time now, but I always like to further support an artist by picking up some merch, especially when I attend the show as a reviewer. It bothers me how much Canadian (and maybe all) musicians have to struggle to keep themselves financially above water. So there I was poised to pick up all the Noah Gundersen vinyl I could get my hands on, but alas, I guess I will have to find it another way.
Noah opened the show with “Slow Dancer”, a new song off his latest album, ‘Carry the Ghost’ and surprisingly enough, the first song of his I ever listened to. At many times throughout the show I searched for artist comparisons but everything fell short. Some of his newer lyrics in particular reference his strong conservative religious upbringing, not unlike his contemporary J. Tillman (aka Father John Misty). The first half of the set was a mix of newer and older material, but with an emphasis on his latest album. Fans swooned when he played ‘Fire’ and were especially pumped to dance ‘Boathouse’ – a very folk-country-indie rock tune off his album Ledges, just released in 2014. At one point Noah commented on how everyone is now covering Taylor Swift and the crowd went wild. He quickly crushed the dream of a T.Swift cover but it was a funny moment nonetheless. Possibly better than a T.Swift cover was his rendition of the Deftones ‘Changes’ – he stayed true to the original while giving it a style and flavour of his own.
I was surprised at the range in his musical style as he transitioned between newer and older material. Noah’s voice is at times familiar and yet distinct. He is a musical force to be reckoned with and I suspect it is only a matter of time before he fills venues three times as large as the Opera house, and that they will sell out in mere minutes.