The spotlights are off, the only illumination on stage coming from a projector leaking blue and green light. Jenn Grant is playing a MIDI guitar, a futuristic instrument with a couple dim red lights and no head or tuning keys. The singer-songwriter is playing with Aqua Alta, a dream pop band featuring Grant, Charles Austin and producer Graeme Campbell, touring in support of the Canadian release of their first full-length album Dreamsphere. It’s a setting that’s different from how you’d usually see Grant. Instead of singing songs with the focus on her lyrics, the words morph and melt into layers of sound, with the sounds of the words becoming more important than the meaning.
The show at the Company House in Halifax began with “Norwegian Jewel” featuring Grant twirling and playing the tambourine while Graeme Campbell (Buck 65, Jerry Granelli) stood behind a collection of gizmos and gadgets, laying down beats, while looping guitar sounds and manipulating vocals. They synthetic beats were mixed with live drums by Jordan Murphy, a member of Halifax band Walrus, who joined the band for Saturday’s show on P.E.I. and the Halifax show on Sunday.
Charles Austin (Superfriendz, Al Tuck, Buck 65), sporting a fantastic beard and toque, anchored the band with guitar, sprinkling in banter all while looking like he could drop into a Wes Anderson film and nobody would blink an eye.
The looping, layering and experimentation led to a couple glitches, especially on the third song when Campbell and Grant struggled to get the sound in sync. Most of the time, the music was mesmerizing as it was hard to focus on one particular element. Typically a live performance features a spotlight on an artist, giving a visual pinnacle to focus on. While lights were on the artists to begin the show, they soon went dark and the band was cast in shadow. It was like slipping into that phase between waking and sleeping, where light fades away and sounds come in and out of focus. The show was good, but much like a dream, the details blurred. The show ended with Dreamsphere opener “BTOcean” and the dream ended and the audience was left with a satisfied feeling. Aqua Alta is a dream I’d like to slip into again.