In the midst of a very busy Euro/Asia touring schedule Chris Garneau made a stop in Philly last Friday. Oh, what a stop it was. He came to the tiny chapel at First Unitarian Church with a modest ensemble, just a cellist and drummer, and proceeded to play a delightful set of new and old tunes. Garneau is himself a tiny fella so the intimacy of the surroundings only served the warmth of his performance.
The brand of music captured on his 2009 album El Radio is piano plotted pop lushly accompanied by multiple vocalists, strings and dodah but when conveyed live there is much more palpable sense of immediacy. Neither album nor performance is superior; both are spectacular.
Live, his staccato vocals are crisply propelled by alternating high-lo chords on the key while the music was kept from floating away by the languid cello lines and taut pace of the drummer. Garneau has an astounding skill for enunciation which is the key to bringing his at times pithy and at others heartbreakingly succinct lyrics. On Over & Over for example he slowly drew us through the frustration and sadness of the song's story and the measure provided by the drummer was the foil to the simplicity of the vocals. His performance on Friday made it very clear he is uniquely attuned to potential weight of instrumentals and words combined.
Amongst the known fair were a few new tracks (one they even strayed from the set list to give its public debut). Preceded by the usual "the arrangement still being sorted out" these songs were still fine examples of Garneau's talent for musical creation. The highlight of these baby songs was the first of a collection he is building from memories of winter he has "stolen" from friends and family. Its a collection I am now anxious to hear completed.
I have been a fan of Garneau's lyrics for a while and hearing them live introduced a new element of theatricality. It would be wonderful to see him with fuller accompaniment but, without a doubt, the 50 or so folks who were lucky to bare witness to this concert (myself included) won't be forgetting it anytime soon.