From the moment the first notes of Day One's "California" rang through The Burt, it became the den of Sarah Slean. The cabaret popster, looking enchanting in a white knee-length dress and green high heels, immediately drew the audience in with her haunting vocals and poetic lyrics. She then spent over 90 minutes delighting the crowd with a set heavy on material from her recent release, The Baroness, throwing in the occasional song from years past to please longtime fans.
"Eliot", Slean's ode to T.S. Eliot which originally appeared on her 1998 independent release Blue Parade (and later led off her Warner debut, Night Bugs), followed California and brought the tempo up a bit. Following some short chatter introducing it as for the "cheating jerk in your life," "Get Home" -- the first single from The Baroness -- began a string of new songs. Standouts included the lustful "Euphoria" and the frenetic (by Sarah Slean standards, anyway) "So Many Miles". She then kicked off her heels and left the piano for the first time in the set, grabbing a mic from centre stage and announcing that she and her backing band (guitar, upright bass, and drums) were thinking of ways to reinvent old favourites. That led to jazzy and piano-less renditions of Day One's "Lucky Me" and "When Another Midnight", the latter of which showed off her amazing vocal range and control during the operatic bridge.
Back at the piano, Slean continued on through mostly new material, with the exception of Night Bugs' "Duncan" and Day One's "Out in the Park". The strongest track from The Baroness, "Sound of Water/Change Your Mind", translated well live despite the missing strings (which Slean encouraged the crowd to imagine were there), but her main set ended with the most moving song of the night, album closer "Looking for Someone". What Slean described as a sort of gospel hymn saw her performing solo on piano, while her three backing musicians (plus Royal Wood, the concert's opener who frequently joined the back-up band on guitar and vocals throughout) stood quietly throughout the verses, only moving to replicate the album's chorus harmonies (performed on the disc by Ron Sexsmith, Noah Mintz, Todd Clark, and Royal Wood himself).
Slean's four-song encore included two tracks that didn't make the final cut for The Baroness, "The Rose" and cabaret-style "Parasol". She also performed the hymn "Abide with Me", which she's previously described as her grandmother's favourite hymn, and the ironically lulling "Wake Up", which had the crowd singing along with Slean as she left the stage. She did return for one final song, her 2002 hit "Sweet Ones", to which the audience clapped and sang along to finish off the night on an upbeat note.
Seeing Sarah Slean live is always an experience, not only for her beautiful voice and superb piano playing, but also for her theatrics (both during and in between songs). Unfortunately, while she did talk whimsically at several points throughout the night, the full band setting seemed to keep her from launching into the sometimes lengthy but always entertaining tales that normally fill up the breaks between songs during her more intimate shows. She did mention Paris on more than one occasion, the city where she spent a good chunk of 2006 and where most of the songs on The Baroness were first conceived. And while those songs have a more simplistic and straight-forward approach to them compared to most of her previous work, Slean was able to make them come alive in concert, allowing the crowd to leave musically satisfied.
Photo by: Keith Hartley
Paul Little is the founder and Managing Editor of ShowbizMonkeys.com. When not interviewing his favourite musicians and comedians, he can also be found putting on and promoting music and comedy events with The Purple Room in Winnipeg, or co-producing the live comedy game show Pants on Fire. (@comedygeek)
Oh, you got two encores! She must like Winnipeg best.