A few weeks ago I learned that Basia Bulat, a Canadian songbird who has worked closely with members of Arcade Fire and been frequently compared to Joni Mitchell, would be coming to Austin for SXSW. Around the same time, a friend who is always hip to good music emailed me a song of hers that he thought I would enjoy called "It Can't Be You" and I loved it immediately. Subsequently, I began listening to the entirety of her new album, Tall Tall Shadow on repeat (where she plays four instruments including the charango and autoharp) and jumped at the chance to see her live.
Bobbing through the mayhem outside, I made my way to her Secret City Records SXSW showcase at St. David's church in the heart of downtown -- one of my favorite venues for any concert, especially during the festival. The large church is a bastion of serenity and each of the four acts I saw that night commented, to a completely attentive room, on how grateful they were to be playing in such a peaceful setting.
At 10p.m. Bulat took the stage with her straight blond tresses, silver heeled shoes and sweetest of Canadian personas. She played in a trance, cradling the autoharp like a baby, eliciting sounds that danced and wound. Her shape cast tall dramatic shadows against the wall of the dark room as the title track of the album emerged, at first, sweetly like a folk song and crescendoed into an emotional anthem. Her voice rang hauntingly gorgeous -- even more powerful than on the record and you could have heard a pin drop as the mesmerized crowd watched her close the show with, "It Can't Be You."
What I didn't know when I first heard her songs was that the live performance experience would come with a sort of divine timing. The terrible car crash during SXSW affected the energy of the entire city and had shaken me of any real desire to partake in the festival. I felt withdrawn -- like I wanted to call it a day and reemerge when everyone had gone home -- but the unearthly beauty of Bulat's music drew me towards something more connected. A transcendent show in a holy space was the perfect place for moments of solace and a reminder of all the intangible reasons we need music so much in the first place.