SummerWorks Music Series: Snowblink and their Original Touch
SummerWorks is always a good marker of when we are entering the twilight of the summer season. I could feel a slight chill in the air as I walked to Black Box Theatre, as though autumn was gently knocking on the door – warning us all that it won’t be long before the colours change and we’re wearing multiple layers again. It was a good thing that the temperature and vibe was warm in the depths of The Great Hall, full of familiar faces from the Toronto music community. Those in attendance were eagerly waiting to see what Snowblink were going to do for what what was billed as an “interactive show”.
SummerWorks, for those who need a little background, is a curated theatre festival that was established in 1991 with the mandate of providing a platform for emerging Canadian theatre artists to hone their craft and get the necessary exposure to move to the next level. The festival has come to include a concert series to showcase emerging musical acts. It seems this year that SummerWorks is making an effort to make the Music Series more theatrical in nature, versus past years where it was straight ahead concerts. Snowblink’s show was the first that I had been able to catch, but a visit to the Music Series website will describe all the interesting (an interactive) performances this year.
Although Snowblink’s shows are already known to always have an interactive component to them, usually involving bells, it was immediately apparent that their SummerWorks performance would take it a few steps further. Wooden crates, some with instruments, were spread throughout the venue. Each with a spot light hanging above and a handwritten note that read “Reserved” resting on them. Slowly and quietly a cast of about 15 Toronto musicians entered the room, many of their faces are usually featured in the music sections of Toronto weekly papers and music blogs, including; Gentleman Reg, Casey Mecija, Laura Barrett, Matt Cully and Andrew Barker, among others. They took their seats on the wooden crates and entered a zen-like trance as the house music continued to play over the PA speakers.
A short while after Snowblink, Daniela Gesundheit and Dan Goldman, took the stage with some backing partners – journeyman drummer & musical renaissance man Steven Foster and vocal specialist Felicity Williams. Met by enthusiastic cheers from an audience not really sure of what was coming, Snowblink started off with a cover of “Be Still” by the Beach Boys. A fitting tune to showcase their unique vocal arrangements. Their gang of musical, crowd interlopers lent their voices – all using a plastic cup like a mute to give the tune an interesting texture. It was the truest form of “surround sound” that I’ve experienced. Guitar, trumpet and accordion also sounded out from the room – you needed to keep your head on a swivel to catch all the action.
Gesundheit’s voice has a way of lifting you up along with it to those soaring heights, hitting incredibly high notes along the way. That coupled with Goldman’s intricate combinations of bass pedals, jangly electric guitar, and tonal synth puts you into a trance-like state. I, like many in the audience, couldn’t help but close our eyes and sway to the music, like a born again Christian feeling the Holy Spirit run through them. At the end of each of Snowblink’s song you feel like Will Ferrell in the debate scene of Old School returning to reality after entering a stream of unconsciousness. To be fair, the description of Snowblink’s show on the SummerWorks website did say they would “create an interactive performance of their non-denominational devotional pop songs.” To that I would echo the words of George W. Bush: Mission Accomplished!
The cultural aspect of religion certainly has an obvious influence on Snowblink’s music. Gesundheit explained that the origins of a new tune was from an old Jewish folk song that women would sing to each other during child birth. The lyrics of the song was a command between to woman in labour and her womb, imploring it to “not mess this up” and kill her. Now that’s a kind of positive self-talk that sport psychologists could take notes from! A reminder that the act of creating life was at one point a death defying act, and still is in some circumstances. It also goes to show that the subject of death can be a great inspiration for the creation of beautiful music.
Now this isn’t to say that Snowblink’s show was all doom and gloom, focusing solely on our impending demise. The show certainly took a more upbeat turn during the last three songs of the set, with the gang of musicians among the crowd lending more than just their voices and instruments. Showering the crowd with Maple tree helicopter seeds, creating a light show with the spotlights that hung above their heads, and serving the audience grapes (sweet, not sour) from linen-lined baskets – they certainly fulfilled the “interactive” quota in show’s description. This all lead up to the climax in which the audience reciprocated with their own participation. Couples, groups, soloist of young and old got up and slow danced while Gesundheit belted out a spectacular cover of Whitney Huston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody“. The enthusiasm of the crowd’s response made me think that Snowblink should take this act on the road to high school dances across the country.
The dance party vibe was continued by Matt Cully (aka DJ Poor Pilgrim) who played some classic slow tempo tunes off his computer. Eventually the crowd filtered out onto Queen Street feeling a little lighter in their shoes. Their souls nourished on the art of Snowblink’s Original Touch, but yet still eager to devour whatever else SummerWorks was going to serve up. To say the least, it is an art-feast fit for drama queens, kings, princesses, princes, jesters, lords, knights, dukes, and earls.