Americana North is a series of shows at Vancouver Fanclub that focuses on "amazing music that fits under the broad 'Americana' description and consisting of Roots, Folk, Bluegrass, Alt Country, Gospel and Blues..!".
And while I hadn't managed to catch any of their previous shows, with artists like Neil Osbourne and Lindi Ortega, when one of my favourite guitarists to watch live popped up in their lineup, I knew I couldn't miss it.
The openers of the night were Old Mare, from Abbottsford, with a bit of an alt-folk/alt-rock sound. They wore their influences pretty heavily on their sleeves, and while they were all fine musicians, it was not really all that memorable either. A Perfectly Acceptable Opening Band.
It wasn't long after them that Wil took the stage, and I think it was the first time I had seen him with more than just a drummer; in addition to Keith Gallant on drums, they were joined by Lena Birtwistle on keyboard and sometimes backup vocals.
Wil started the show with "Hold Me On", the lead off track from the new album El Paseo, and immediately said that was it, show was over, just one song. But of course, he was joking as he launched into a two-hour set that spanned all the way from the first song he ever wrote, and still a crowd-pleaser, "Both Hands", to more off his new album, like the insanely catchy "Make Make" and "Roam", written for Travel Alberta, which almost gives you the sense of soaring over Albertan landscapes (in a good way).
"Roam" was also the first song of the set where Wil lived up to his "I Break Strings" moniker, breaking a string in the outro. But while that may be one of the things he's known for, it never feels gimmicky -- he even admitted that he doesn't necessarily want to break strings -- just a byproduct from his intense, blurry-handed strumming. (Also, fun fact: his wife Caroline makes jewelry from the recycled broken strings.) And so after changing the string in under a minute, he was back on track, his frantic strumming going to precise picking, and even slide guitar, while emotion poured out of his soulful vocals.
As the main set came to a close, he built in energy and intensity until it all came bursting out on the explosive "Honey Pie", before ending on a slightly calmer note, the slow and heartfelt "Dance With The Devil". And of course he was back for one more, the intense "Look Around", where he snapped not one, but two more strings from his guitar, leaving everyone in the room spent.
It's a testament to his on-stage performance that a singer/songwriter with a guitar and only a couple backing musicians could play for two straight hours, and it never seemed to drag on.
Hold Me On, Wedding Dress, El Paseo, Oak Tree, Make Make, Both Hands, Morning Sun, Ride, Roam, Brother, Hey Now, If You Want Me To, Here We Go, Honey Pie, Dance With The Devil.
(encore) Look Around.