For those of us who have known about Basia Bulat for a while, this year’s album Good Advice came as a bit of a shock – in the nicest possible way of course. Recorded with My Morning Jacket frontman Jim Jones, it signalled a move into full-on pop territory, albeit one with a slightly subversive edge. It was less folksy Americana, more slinky electronica, and as if to signify this shift to a more sparkly sound, she takes to the stage at Leeds’ Headrow House resplendent in a gold cape.
Whether that gold cape really does have “magical powers” as Bulat jokes early on in the set is debatable, but the freshness and vitality of her new sound is undeniable. The opening three songs here tonight are all taken from the new album and sound terrific – the yearning Let Me In, the slinky pop perfection of new single Long Goodbye and the naggingly catchy La La Lie all have the audience politely bopping along and sees Bulat effortlessly hopping between keyboards and guitar.
Her backing band also help to beef up her songs for the live arena – consisting of support act The Weather Station plus guitarist Andrew Woods, they perfectly complement Bulat’s talent. Tamara Lindeman in particular acts as the perfect vocal foil for Bulat, never overshadowing her but producing some gorgeously subtle harmonies. The majority of the setlist leans hard on Good Advice, understandably, and it’s clear that the band loves playing these songs.
Yet as good as they are, the highlight comes during the middle of the show when it’s just Bulat and her autoharp. It was this instrument that formed the basis of her earlier material (and gained her rather lazy, and somewhat inexplicable, comparisons to Joanna Newsom in some quarters) so it’s somewhat of a treat to see her reacquainted with it. A sparse rendition of her old song In The Night was certainly one of the highlights of the evening, as Bulat reminisced about how the song once provoked her “one and only moshpit” many years ago.
It’s also a treat to see just how much of a good time Bulat appears to be having on this tour – there’s obviously a strong bond between her and her bandmates: during Good Advice, she threatens to dissolve in a fit of giggles, and a slight mishap involving Lindeman almost falling off the stage provoked a heartfelt speech about how wonderful the NHS is. There’s even time for a quick walk into the crowd to dance with various audience members during Wires. Maybe not quite on the insane level of Matt Berninger’s audience detours, but it’s always nice to see that level of connection with fans.
After a stirring Someday Soon and a final rendition of one of the best tracks from the new album, Infamous, the band take their bow and disappear to sign merchandise and chat to fans. “I may wear a cape, but I still play folk songs,” says Bulat about half an hour into set. Cape or no cape, we’re very glad she does.