Concert Review: Live at Massey Hall – Basia Bulat and Destroyer

Basia Bulat
Photo by Malcolm Cook | Massey Hall

Having already seen Basia Bulat perform at Toronto’s Polish Combatant Hall last October, I jumped at the opportunity to again be enthralled by her performance.  Wielding and sharing not only a striking voice over the audience, but also many quirky instruments, I was thrilled at the thought of watching her at my favourite Toronto venue: Massey Hall.

As I’d mentioned in my review on The Rural Alberta Advantage and Great Lake Swimmers, Basia Bulat and Destroyer were set to be the last artists in the soon to be web series ‘Live at Massey Hall’.  Running from May to July, the series is dedicated to Canadian artists and is intended to blend the energy of live performances with back stage access.  With this being the final performance,  I was expecting nothing short of magic.

On Thursday, July 10th, I made my way towards Massey Hall thankful that this time there was sunshine all around. I have to admit that after being blown away by Tuesday’s show and having already seen Basia Bulat perform last year, my expectations were set very high.  When I first arrived at the venue I saw the stage was set with one microphone and one guitar, and shortly after Dan Bejar (the one and only Destroyer) walked out. He spent the first few minutes carefully tuning his guitar, noting that he was playing at Massey Hall, so “special attention to these matters were needed”.  Although Dan did claim he was trying to keep the chatting to a minimum, he sporadically infused the set with bits of conversation that filled the venue with laughter and kept things interesting.  Also, in the event you didn’t know when a song might be over, he would grab his guitar with both hand and bow at the end of every performance.

Over the course of an hour he played sixteen songs aided only by his striking voice, guitar, and talent.  There were no backup vocals, no backing track, but there were countless stories told.  Every song was different, and every song managed to keep the attention of the audience.  Starting off slow, most of the tracks would later burst with roaring vocals, only to again return to the soft guitar and mellower tone.  Although every song was memorable, stand out tracks included The Temple (where Dan played his guitar solo while turning around and dancing), Foam Hands (which apparently came to him in a dream), The Sublimation Hour (where Dan warned us he may not remember the words as he has not played the song in 10-15 years), Streets of Fire (apparently written 20 years ago), and the finale Don’t Become the Thing You Hated (apparently his theme song since he always plays it last).

After Destroyer left, the stage was drastically transformed for Basia Bulat, adding two sets of percussion, several guitars, keys and various mics.  The lights dimmed, the band took their place, and then Basia made her way center stage ukelele in hand.  She started the set with City With No Rivers, a perfect track to quickly demonstrate just how angelic yet powerful her voice can be.  The next track Promise Not To Think About Love transformed the atmosphere as it grew jazzier.  Picking up the autoharp, Basia not only impressed with her ability to majestically play this quirky instrument, but also in the way that she danced around the stage.  Swaying back and forth she was always smiling, and it was apparent that she and the entire band were having a blast.

Basia Bulat
Photo by Malcolm Cook | Massey Hall

The third track Gold Rush was preceded by a story.  Basia told us of how this song was first played Yukon, and that it was the first and only time she ever had a mosh pit.  Although I wouldn’t have really dubbed it a mosh pit type song, it was certainly powerful.  Basia’s voice roared over the drums as she brought the autoharp to the edge of the stage and I couldn’t help but be mesmerized.  The next few songs (Heart of My Own, I Was a Daughter, Snakes and Ladders, and Five, Four) continued to display Basia’s array of talent, as she flipped between instruments including the electric guitar.

As she reached the eighth song, Basia performed what I believe was the most moving yet. Explaining that she’d written Paris or Amsterdam for a friend that she missed very much, this dedication set the tone for the powerfully emotional tune to follow.  Alone center stage, Basia belted the lyrics “come to my mind” which had myself and many around me fighting tears.

The next song Little Waltz was according to Basia the “closet to a dance number”.  After next performing Run, Basia and band moved on to a dancier tune: Wires.  Rocking the electric guitar a and double mics, this was certainly a highlight of the show. Skillfully hooking one of the mics while stowing away her guitar (all while singing and dancing! ) Basia moved through the venue rowsing the crowd. Ending this epic set with Someone, Tall Tall Shadow and Never Let Me Go, Basia provided the perfect opportunity for the audience to witness her stunning musical and vocal talent. After a standing ovation, Basia returned for a much needed encore.

The encore consisted of two songs; the first was Before I Knew, and was performed by the three ladies crowding around a mic.  Smiling their way through the entire song, it was clear to see they were having an amazing time.  The second and last song for the evening was ridiculously spectacular.  Taking advantage of Massey Hall’s acoustics and Basia’s vocal power, she left the microphone and proceeded to the front of the stage ekelele in hand. She belted “It Can’t be You” with such grace and ferocity that I was truly blown away.

She again received a standing ovation and you could tell the crowd was very pleased. A perfect ending to a wonderful series, Basia Bulat’s performance was energetic, genuine, captivating and fun from start to finish.

If would really recommend checking out any of her live performances, as they are truly spectacular. Keep an eye out for Live at Massey Hall, as the series will shortly be released for viewing and listening pleasure. I can honestly say witnessing these phenomenal acts perform at my favourite venue will be a top concert memory forever.

Review by Nadia Kaakati |

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