Hillside reviews: Sarah Neufeld at Guelph Lake Island Stage – July 28, 2013

Arcade Fire and Bell Orchestre violinist performs music from solo debut in Guelph

Sarah Neufeld (left) brought life partner and Arcade Fire/Bell Orchestre bandmate Colin Stetson (right) onstage for a special performance of "Breathing Black Ground" amid a set of her solo material at Hillside Festival in Guelph, Ont. July 28. Photo: Tom Beedham

Sarah Neufeld (left) brought life partner and Arcade Fire/Bell Orchestre bandmate Colin Stetson (right) onstage for a special performance of “Breathing Black Ground” amid a set of her solo material at Hillside Festival in Guelph, Ont. July 28. Photo: Tom Beedham

Positioned on the Island Stage at the tail end of a program of solo performances from fellow Arcade Fire and Bell Orchestre bandmates Richard Reed Parry and Colin Stetson, experimental violinist Sarah Neufeld used her own time at Hillside to give a rapt audience a preview of the bulk of her upcoming solo debut, Hero Brother.

Opening her set the same way her album does, Neufeld kicked things off with hypnotic album cuts “Tower,” “Hero Brother,” and “Dirt,” then skipping over a few she’d save for the finale to jump into the contrasting “Wrong Thought” and “Right Thought.”

Having recorded the album with site-specific acoustics in Berlin, at recent performances Neufeld has requested that venues supply wooden boxes or cookie sheets for her to kick while fiddling away. But positioned atop Hillside’s Island Stage, a hollow plywood construct, Neufeld found an entirely new environment to route her songs through, by way of much more than geography.

A student of the revered Suzuki method – the highly intensive school of violin – Neufeld weaved intricately around the strings while pounding the stage with her deliberate heel blows, delivering it all from behind a deeply concentrated gaze. But the show broke highbrow when one particular stomp coincided with a small explosion to the side of the stage and Neufeld quipped about causing it with her foot.

The violinist also sliced any pretension by getting casual with the crowd in between songs.

Breaking to take a drink after “Right Thought,” Neufeld lifted her Hillside mug and drained a handsome gulp, claiming, “I need to let the muscles in my arm unseize before I play again. That’s what the beer is for, I guess.”

She quickly retracted the statement, however, to make reference to her other occupation, yoga instruction.

“No! That’s yoga!”

It all made for a fitting segue leading into “Muscle Till Death,” a song that doesn’t appear on Hero Brother’s tracklisting and suggests Neufeld’s solo album might not simply be a one-off.

She followed the track with the album’s “Forcelessness,” featuring a guest performance from Richard Reed Parry on guitar (a collaboration Neufeld announced she’d never been able to perform live before).

After that, Neufeld closed the set with Hero Brother centerpieces “Breathing Black Ground” and the beautifully melancholic “They Live On,” bringing life partner and experimental saxophonist Colin Stetson onstage with his century-old bass sax for the former and relating the experience of recording it in an abandoned geodesic dome “with lots of reverb.”

It wasn’t the last the crowd saw of Neufeld and her associates at Hillside, though; Neufeld, Parry, and Stetson all performed a special collaborative workshop with Lee Ranaldo & The Dust as well as special guests that closed out the festival at the end of the night.

Hero Brother releases August 20 via Constellation.

Setlist:
“Tower”
“Hero Brother”
“Dirt”
“Wrong Thought”
“Right Thought”
“Muscle Till Death”
“Forcelessness” (w/ Richard Reed Parry)
“Breathing Black Ground” (w/ Colin Stetson)
“They Live On”

Related:
Richard Reed Parry showcases his “Quiet River Of Dust” project at Hillside
Hillside reviews: Colin Stetson at the Island Stage – July 28, 2013
Sarah Neufeld, Richard Reed Parry, Colin Stetson perform workshop with Lee Ranaldo &The Dust
The New York Times’ Style Magazine has the video premiere for “Forcelessness”

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