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The Return of Sarah Harmer

January 21, 2011 | by  |  Lifestyle and Culture, Music

After five years of flying below the radar, Sarah Harmer is back.

And, the 39-year-old singer, songwriter and activist proved that it was well worth the wait when she entertained a laid-back but appreciative audience this Saturday at the Commodore Ballroom.

Harmer and her 5-piece band, only three performances into their 2011 tour, were relaxed and gracious as they moved through a diverse array of musical offerings from Harmer’s extensivecareer, including material from each of her studio albums, and a fair helping of the best-known songs from her critically-acclaimed solo debut, You Were Here.

Photo Credit: Jesse Donaldson

Though, after a Christmas break, and a half-decade since the release of I Am A Mountain, Harmer admitted that, perhaps being back on the road again might take some getting used to.

“My fingers are already hurting,” she joked, early in the show. “I thought I was semi-pro.”

“Suck it up!” shouted a voice from the crowd.

“You’re right,” Harmer replied, laughing. “Tonight, I’m going to feel the pain for you people.”

What’s most exciting about Harmer as a songwriter is her steadfast refusal to be tied to any specific style of music, and, as a result, her 90-minute set moved seamlessly between folk, country, out-and-out rock, and vibrant pop. She and her band (which included a pregnant keyboard-player) seemed equally comfortable in any genre, and even lent their expertise to several cover-songs. In fact, one of the evening’s more amusing moments came courtesy of Harmer’s cover of Vancouver native Oh Susanna’s “Home Again”; halfway through the second verse, she began mixing up lyrics, only to stop, and look out at the crowd with wry embarassment.

Photo Credit: Jesse Donaldson

“Didn’t I just sing that part?” she asked. “Shit-balls. Sorry, Susie. I’m feeling the hometown pressure.”

The crowd, which was a fairly even split between twentysomethings and fiftysomethings, took some time to warm up, and, throughout the evening, they were, for the most part, low-key (with the exception of the three girls in the left-hand corner who were thrashing so hard, it would compete with even the most rabid Lamb of God fan).

The only real complaint about the evening lay in LiveNation’s choice of venue. Harmer and The Commodore seemed an awkward fit, with her diverse audience and variety of song-styles being a far better fit for The Vogue or The Orpheum, or anywhere else where middle-aged people could sit down. The bars remained mostly empty, and, as amusing as it was to watch three bartenders attempt to clean the same glass, they all could have cashed out well before ten. By the midway point, the boomers were getting restless, and it was only the timely appearance of “Basement Apartment” (which, with the audience singing along and cheering, was the best-received number of the evening) that rejuvenated their flagging spirits.

The evening closed with four back-to-back encores, and, whether she was “feeling the pain” or not, Harmer brought a warm and energetic performance to Vancouver fans who haven’t had a chance to see her in far too long.

Photo Credit: Jesse Donaldson

Jesse Donaldson is a journalist and historian whose work has appeared in VICE, The Tyee, subTerrain, and SadMag. If you think THIS is neat, an expanded "This Day In Vancouver", is now available in book form, in bookstores everywhere, and online at Anvil Press.

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