Groenland and Birds of Bellwoods at The Gladstone Hotel

The night of August 14th was steamy and saturated with post-rainfall mugginess. But that didn’t stop a troupe of Toronto’s folk music lovers from trekking it out to Queen West’s Gladstone Hotel for a two hour conglomeration of banjos, suspenders and jubilation. Upon entering the hotel’s Melody Bar, there seemed to be a mix of those waiting for headliners, Groenland and close, personal friends of opening band, Birds of Bellwoods. Those who came for Groenland were probably pretty jazzed about coming early after hearing the Toronto-based Birds’ fantastic set.

Birds of Bellwoods - photo from

Birds of Bellwoods – photo from

The 4-piece string band is full of pep and energy, with guitarist Adrian Morningstar’s animated facial expressions adding to the joyful ambiance they create. The band’s rich harmonies, complex songwriting and charming banter made for a delightful feast for the ears – so much so that the absence of percussion was scarcely noticed. Also, lead singer Stevie Joffe may actually be a dandy leprechaun, albeit a cute and insanely talented one. At one point, the band invited the mostly seated and tentative crowd to come closer and “play” with them, which was just the invitation we needed to loosen up. Overall, the Birds delivered the perfect appetizer to the melodic entrée that was Montreal’s Groenland. You can grab their newly released EP, The Fifth on iTunes – I strongly encourage you to do so if you haven’t already.

After a short break for set-up, the headliner took the stage to raucous cheering – a true testament to the passionate following they’ve inspired in our city. What followed was a multifaceted, exuberant musical experience. The first time I encountered Groenland was during their Canada Live broadcast on CBC Radio One last year. I really liked their distinctively folky sound, so I downloaded their album, The Chase and listened to it sporadically in the months that followed. It wasn’t until I heard they were playing a show in Toronto a couple weeks ago that I revisited their EP and was reminded of how great they really are.

The 6-piece orchestral band is led by singer, Sabrina Halde, whose thick, sultry voice is reminiscent of Adele. She is perhaps not as polished as the British sensation, but her unrefined vocal quality adds an authenticity to the band’s sound. Plus she has killer range and sounds just as good live, if not better, as she does on their album. The set was a true pleasure to behold – this is a band that knows how to put on an incredible live show.

They had the crowd dancing and singing along and filled the spaces between songs with cute small talk, particularly while they looked for their forgotten melodica. Their buoyantly intricate music literally bounced off the walls and filled the entire space of the bar. You couldn’t help but smile and bop along – their joy was contagious. I had full-on chills during their single, “Immune”, as well as during their closing song, “Our Hearts Like Gold”, which started off slow and enchanting, then came crashing down in a boisterous climax.

It’s been two years since their first release, but I’m now abundantly excited to see what they come up with next. If the new songs they played last night were any indication, I’d say we are all in for quite a treat.

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