Haley Bonar at the Cedar Cultural Center, 4/22/11

Categories: Concert Review

Photos by Nick Wosika
April 22, 2011
Cedar Cultural Center

Minneapolis could not be happier to have Haley Bonar back in town after her stint in Portland--that much was evident by the warm crowd that had assembled for Bonar's CD release show at the Cedar Cultural Center on Friday night for her new album, Golder.

The stage was like a sparse woodland clearing that just happened to feature musical instruments, with bare leave-less trees and homemade cocoon-like baubles strewn about. Bonar led the crowd through a well-curated 17-song set that went by remarkably quickly; the ease she felt with her band drifted out from the stage and quickly captivated the audience, leaving not a single idle moment.

Bonar's new album is undoubtedly her finest yet, as she brings a dreamy folk sensitivity to her songs, which take on an earthy sort of grit when paired with her gravel road-voice (the voice that has in the past earned her the Minnesota Music Awards of Best Roots Recording and Best American Roots Artist, for her 2006-released Lure the Fox). Live, Bonar brings the spirited guitar-and-piano tracks on Golder to life in the very best sense of the word--with a punch of personality and the same independent spirit that has helped her raise nearly $10,000 to self-release her new record via Kickstarter.

Bonar's savvy bandmates are some of the not-so-secret gems of her performance. With Luke Anderson on drums, Mike Lewis on bass, and guitarists Jeremy Ylvisaker and Jacob Hanson, Bonar's band might as well have been assembled in a dream-world of talent, each of the players being versatile and accomplished musicians in their own right. With Bonar, they played comfortably--at home with the arrangement of the music, and showing their greatest support on songs like the spunky "Raggedy Man," where Bonar's vocal power was raised up with guitar strings.

Photos by Nick Wosika
Bonar's music is sturdy, solemn Midwestern folk at its finest. Her songs, though far from overproduced, are clean-sounding, reflecting purity rather than studio-induced sparkles. "Wendybird" was one such song, and significant in more ways than that: "The lost boys called Wendy 'Wendybird' because she wanted to be a grown-up," she explained, speaking about the Peter Pan-inspired track, "but she couldn't, and I think we can all relate." Bonar began the song with vocals that ached, like a little girl with a freshly broken heart who doesn't quite know how she ended up with it. In that song, Bonar herself seems birdlike and the production precious, like the patched-together dream of a girl who's still growing up, unwilling to plant her feet too firmly in the ground for fear she might lose hold of something greater.

But she would never let it get that heavy at one of her shows, and two songs later she is seated at a piano, slamming out the country ditty "Bad For You," a song, according to Bonar, about how "overweight and unattractive and stupid we all are." The audience laughed, agreed, and shared an ironic smile with the singer--we're all in on this with her--as lost kids, following our very own Wendybird, who, incidentally, was also celebrating her 28th birthday on stage.

By the time Bonar arrived at her inevitable encore, the entire crowd was giving her a standing ovation. She delivered three songs that offered yet another side of Bonar, and she closed with the guttural, fierce-sounding "Glitter," a rousing tune that cinched the night off perfectly. For her, the evening encapsulated a stunning progression of skill and maturity--it would seem that with every passing year, Bonar's talent shines brighter and, indeed, golder.

Photos by Nick Wosika
Critic's Bias: Haley Bonar combines two of my favorite things: roots music and strong female lead vocals.
The Crowd: Devoting undivided attention to Bonar, obviously glad to have her home.
Overheard in the Crowd: "So beautiful!" exclaimed an audience member. The evening was punctuated with various contented sighs and outbursts of encouragement. Also, about 1/3 of the audience took it upon themselves to sing "Happy Birthday" to Bonar in a sweet little effort.
Random Notebook Dump: I wouldn't want to leave the opening band out: Sin Ropas, born out of Califone and Red Red Meat, who, with their fuzzy guitar sound and multi-instrumental percussion sound were like bedroom folk on steroids.

Set list:
Too Much Nothing
Anyway, Rattlesnake
Raggedy Man
Silver Zephyrs
Sad Baby
Give It Up
A Piano
Before The Dark
Kid October
Bad For You
Big Star
Daisy Girls
Candy Machine
Car Wreck

Openers Sin Ropas
Photos by Nick Wosika

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