Watching the steady ascension of Afie Jurvanen, AKA Bahamas, has been one of the more please Canadian music activities of the past few years. Every time he comes back to Halifax it’s into a bigger room with more people a slow climb from churches (St. Patrick’s and North Street) solo to the Carleton as a duo, landing last night the Cohn as a five-piece. Jurvanen is one of the best live performers in the country, so laid-back and wry, like Jim Halpert with a guitar. (Sensitive but funny—that’s the swoonmaker.) He casually unfurled 17 songs from his three terrific folk-pop records, Pink Strat, Barchords and last year’s Bahamas is Afie, with a subtle but skillful band featuring Jason Tait of the now-defunct Weakerthans (a single tear rolls out from under our summer toque) on drums and Christine Bougie on guitar. He took a pause to appreciate the Cohn—“This is a beautiful venue. I’m sure lots of people have done their show here, Stuart McLean and whatnot”—in between songs about mostly self-engineered heartbreak.
Unlike some exhausting, showboating guitarists—Luke Doucet comes to mind, any Springsteen-loving dude in a rock band—Jurvanen’s jaunty, clever solos are not just a wank, a look-what-I-can-shred showcase, they act as additional verses. He could sing another few lines but instead he bops around, leaning into his various guitars, knowing exactly what is happening at all times. Jurvanen’s guitar face is his regular face—twinkling and smirking. That said, the call-and-response solo battle he engaged with Bougie was a set highlight, as were the ‘70s-style high harmonies—with Felicity Williams, indispensable—on “Never Again” and set closer “All the Time.”
Opener Mo Kenney was filled with a similar slow-burning fire, a casual confidence and low-key but consistent hilarity for her half-hour of sad jams (minus an in-progress joke song by her band Creep and the Pervs). Beginning with the dark, openly cruel “I Faked It” (“when I left you you were stumbling in the dark/I’m not sorry that it hurt when I took your heart apart”) from her most recent album In My Dreams, Kenney set up the jokes and knocked them flat with songs about distance, loss and regret. She eschewed her current single, a cover of Mardeen’s “Telephones,” for an old set favourite, closing with Bowie’s “Five Years,” disappearing into the dark as her last words rang out.