Loma / Jess Williamson / JoJo Worthington Garrison, Toronto ON, May 9
Published May 10, 2018Loma's self-titled debut is the kind of wholly original work that already feels familiar. Between its lived-in ambient sounds and Shearwater frontman Jonathan Meiburg's concise and introspective lyrics, the album blurs the line between private thoughts and public art. Loma is like a secret, a collection of worries and personal details confided over a long friendship.
On Wednesday, the band let a small pack of concertgoers in on that secret. Swelling from a trio to a quintet, Loma lost little of its intimacy even as they scaled back on atmospherics. For the most part, it was an evening where the lightest touches were the most effective.
Kitchener-Waterloo experimental artist JoJo Worthington opened the show on her own and immediately proved she didn't need extra personnel to fill out her sound. With a ukulele, an electric guitar and an array of synthesizers and effects at her disposal, she shifted ably from the foggy strumming of "Small Encounters" to the wet, thudding dance beats of "Stabilize." Whether she was pitch-shifting or doubling her melodies, her capable voice carried her songs' limited arrangements.
Jess Williamson took the opposite approach to Worthington's sparse stagecraft. Teasing the country-tinged psychedelia of her forthcoming third album, Cosmic Wink, the L.A.-based songwriter struggled to stand out from her five-person band. An aimless soundcheck bled into her set, and while Williamson was able to laugh it off, louder numbers continued to drown out her vocals and guitar playing. "Wild Rain" and the touching "Love on the Piano" benefitted from lighter arrangements, but aside from a ripping slide guitar solo at the end of "Dream State," the full-band approach was more hindrance than help.
The Garrison's equipment-packed stage also gave Williamson and company little room to move, which ultimately played to Loma's strengths. Four-fifths of the band remained seated through their entire performance, leaving singer Emily Cross the last member standing. At her feet lay three cylindrical light fixtures arranged around her, which allowed her to roam around a small patch of open space in front of drummer Dan Duszynski's kit.
And roam she did. When she wasn't tapping a small singing bowl with a mallet or working an effects unit, Cross paced about with her hands folded behind her back, her long robe giving her the look of a monk in deep concentration. As the set progressed, she bobbed back and forth in tune with the music until she finally delivered a show stopping moment. Midway through the bouncy "Relay Runner," after keyboardist Emily Lee ended a solo, Cross started to run frantically on the spot. Spinning in a circle, she grabbed her mallet and struck a light fixture with an audible thwack before she broke into frenzied jumping jacks that sent her robe spinning around her like a top. In a performance that could have been dominated by stillness, her spontaneity introduced some much-appreciated fun.
Cross's outburst was one of the only truly unexpected parts of the evening, since Loma brought their arrangements to a live setting without any fundamental changes. Opener "Who is Speaking" and "Shadow Relief" introduced slight tempo shifts, while "Dark Oscillation" and "Sundogs" featured heavier rhythms and clearer guitar parts. Yet these efforts felt more like translations than overhauls, and the most successful songs stayed true to their original forms. "I Don't Want Children" expressed all the bittersweet beauty of its recorded counterpart, while "Joy" offered a tangible boost in momentum mid-set.
If Loma's live show didn't entirely distinguish itself from their album, it managed to at least capture their intimate appeal. For the small audience huddled against the Garrison's stage, that was more than enough.