[Ross MacDonald and Karen Coughtrey were on the scene once again. – AC]
The weekend of November 25th and 26th saw Montreal band Half Moon Run finish their North American tour with opener British singer-songwriter Billie Marten at the Algonquin Commons theatre in Ottawa before they return home to play some December shows in Quebec.
Billie Marten walked out on the stage unannounced and immediately captivated the crowd with ‘This Is How We Move’, a song from her 2023 album Drop Cherries. She told Apple Music it was once considered to be the album opener and although she likes its position towards the end of the album it perhaps shouldn’t be a surprise she chose it as a set opener.
Billie and her guitar may have been alone on stage, and forced to introduce herself to the crowd, but she had the crowd eating out of her hand and her beautiful voice had no trouble filling the space. Her vocals are haunting and transcendent and she had the audience enthralled and wanting more.
She endeared herself to the audience with her innocence around where in North America she was (“where exactly is Ottawa anyway”) and relatable stories such as her first job at a young age in a pub in North London; a job she took hoping to find songwriting inspiration through the interesting characters she was sure to meet and the stories they’d share, although it didn’t quite work out that way.
She played a new song she’d written just weeks ago, but mostly sang songs off her 2019 album Feeding Seahorses By Hand including ‘Mice’, ‘Vanilla Baby’, ‘Toulouse’, and she finished her set with ‘She Dances’.
Half Moon Run also appeared on the stage with no introduction but the all-ages crowd (comprised of patrons from kids to seniors) in the sold-out theatre knew what they were in for and were excited to see them. One audience member could be heard saying that this band was one you could see a zillion times and it would never be the same. A perfect tribute to the band’s artistry and ability to improvise.
Half Moon Run is Devon Portielje, Conner Molander, and Dylan Phillips, and the trio of multi-instrumentalists know how to put on a show, switching between instruments seamlessly and interacting with each other and the crowd with perfect pizazz and beautiful harmonies.
Their sound is hard to pin down or label.It’s rock, but folky, and deep with a musicality that is otherworldly, futuristic, mystical, long lasting, and both approachable and intelligent.The haunting sound of the music was increased significantly in this live performance due to the addition of a string section: three violinists and a cellist.
Their unique energy was evident from the first song as, with the lights in full strobe mode, they launched into ‘You Can Let Go’ from their latest album Salt, hopping around, dancing with their hands, and coming out from behind the mics to move closer to their adoring fans. You wouldn’t know Salt was only released in June as the audience showed great enthusiasm and familiarity as they moved into ‘Hotel in Memphis’ and ‘Everyone’s Moving Out East’ both from that same new album.
The vibe changed for the first time with Devon switching to an electric guitar and moving between it and a drum providing the critical heartbeat of the song ‘9beat’. He would return later to the drum on ‘Call Me In The Afternoon’ which was performed without the string section and had the audience singing along loudly, particularly the “One By One” line. The song was followed by so much appreciative applause that the band noticeably needed to wait before starting the next song.
Crowd participation was also high on ‘Razorblade’ with occasionally the house lights flashing on to light up the crowd at first singing the upbeat chorus and following the mood of the song as it morphs through the slow-mo strobe lit bit and joining in again loudly during its angry sounding near end. The song ended with a long instrumental bit that showcased the trio’s musical talents.
This was a special show, a homecoming show for Devon and as Ottawa is not far from Montreal, the audience was apparently filled with family and friends. The band dedicated ‘Heartbeat,’ a song written in the thick of the pandemic, to two close friends, Justin and Jesse, who passed away in a tragic accident in the summer and whose family was attending the concert. The performance had the audience quietly captivated. A second special dedication happened a while later when Devon introduced his young nephew to the crowd and dedicated the band’s new hit single ‘Alco’, which he performed on a ukulele, to him.
Connor had his turn to be the centre of attention when he would pick up his harmonica on ‘Grow Into Love’ and ‘Devil May Care’ the latter of which was performed acoustically and the crowd noticeably sang along more quietly so as to not drown out the band’s beautiful vocals. The quiet didn’t last though and an active energy returned to the theatre, as the audience stomped and clapped with passion along to the rhythm of the intro to ‘Goodbye Cali’.
All good things must come to an end and their set would conclude with the audience dancing and singing along to ‘I Can’t Figure Out What’s Going On’ which melted right into ‘She Wants To Know’ before circling back to the beginning of the band’s set with an outro of ‘You Can Let Go’.
They didn’t make the crowd wait too long before returning to the stage with Billie Marten to sing a stellar cover of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Dreams’. Some may have wondered if this was indeed the encore as they then delighted the audience with three more songs including ‘Need It’, ‘Favourite Boy’, and ending with ‘Full Circle’, showcasing Devon’s unique gesturing to the lyrics and music and many in the crowd moving their hands along with him. When they then did take their leave, the crowd stayed put in hopes that hadn’t been the encore and more was to come but alas it was time to join the long coat check line and head for home.
Half Moon Run
Devon Portielje – lead vocals, guitar, piano, percussion
Conner Molander – backing vocals, guitar, keyboard, piano, pedal steel, bass, harmonica
Dylan Phillips – backing vocals, drums, piano, keyboard