I seem to be on a lucky streak with concerts recently; the last five or six I've seen have all been very, very good. Canadian indie rock band Hey Rosetta! continued the trend with an energetic set for a fairly small yet enthusiastic crowd at the Beachland Tavern on June 29.
Hailing from Newfoundland, Hey Rosetta! (do I have to include the exclamation mark every time I mention them by name? I'm going to say not) are another up-and-coming band making some great music in the Great White North. A six-person rock band including a violin and cello, their sound is hard to pigeonhole; at times it's rather poppy, there are occasional folk elements, and at other times the heavier and/or more intricate guitar parts sound like something out of the post-rock genre. The vocals are also not what you'd expect from a Canadian indie band. I'd actually say frontman Tim Baker's voice sounds like it would be at home fronting a grunge band, which might sound odd, but it works with the music (and I'm a big fan of bands like Pearl Jam and Soundgarden, so I certainly have nothing against grunge vocals).
Overall, as a Canadian indie band making big, anthemic rock songs with prominent string parts, the most obvious comparison is probably Arcade Fire. And while Hey Rosetta are by no means Arcade Fire clones (nor do they rise to the same heights of musical genius, but then, few bands do), I would say it's a useful comparison in that, if you like Arcade Fire, Hey Rosetta are well worth checking out.
This was my first time seeing the band play live. I've greatly enjoyed their 2008 album Into Your Lungs (And Around in Your Heart and on Through Your Blood), as well as this year's Seeds, so I was expecting a good show, but Hey Rosetta blew past my expectations. Seeing them live I got a whole new appreciation for how much goes into each of their songs. Each member of the band contributed excellent musicianship and all the various instruments played off each other beautifully. I was impressed to hear that the bass player was playing only his second show with the band, as the normal bass player is busy getting married. Some of the bass parts are not simple, which is one aspect of Hey Rosetta's music I enjoy a lot, and the fill-in bassist did quite well.
The band's set had about an even share of music from their two most recent albums, along with a couple songs from the earlier release Plan Your Escape. Many of their songs, especially on Into Your Lungs, are characterized by relatively quiet sections followed by dramatic buildups. I've thought at times when listening to Into Your Lungs that they employ this device enough that it risks becoming overly formulaic, but it's not a major complaint, because it's a formula Hey Rosetta use very well. In a live setting, these dynamic shifts definitely added excitement to the performance, with the band executing everything nearly to perfection.
"Red Heart," a catchy number with stirring strings from Into Your Lungs, is my favorite Hey Rosetta song. I was highly anticipating seeing it performed live, but when it did appear in the set, I was taken totally by surprise. The band was playing a down-tempo song with a great, moody guitar part that I did not recognize - then the vocals came in, and it clicked. They totally reworked the beginning of "Red Heart" in a really cool way, and this then transitioned into the familiar, upbeat album version, with Baker belting out lyrics like "Won't you let your red heart show? Don't you let your red heart grow cold-"
"Red Heart" was, for me, the highlight of the evening, but many other songs were not far behind. The whole encore was another high point. After a brief break, the band returned to the stage (which amusingly included the drummer and cellist emerging from the men's room shortly after the rest of the band returned from backstage) and played the closing track from Seeds, "Bandages." It's a very nice song with a toy xylophone adding a whimsical touch. At this point, having taken in more than an hour of music, I certainly would have felt I'd gotten my eight bucks worth, but was thrilled when the band continued on. The final track on Into Your Lungs is a beautiful piano ballad entitled "Psalm." It's immediately preceded by the soaring "A Thousand Suns," but in concert, the band reversed the order, playing "Psalm" and going straight into "A Thousands Suns" to close the show. It was a smart decision; "Psalm" is a better album closer but "A Thousand Suns" was the perfect song to dramatically close out the live performance. It could easily be imagined that the line "We want to thank you so much" was directed from the band to the appreciative audience. And I'm sure that everyone in the crowd would have gladly returned the sentiment.