As the last few remaining days of September rolled around, Team GDW spent a long weekend in Southern ON to celebrate our seventh anniversary of Canadian music blogging, with plans to attend two great concerts over our three-night getaway. Arriving promptly in Guelph for the first of these dates, we made our second trip this year to The Royal City Mission on Quebec Street, for an evening of music with Toronto-based contemporary folk band Great Lake Swimmers.
We came out of the pandemic with a strong yearning to reconnect with many of the Canadian artists and bands last seen before the events of early 2020, and while that personal list has seen many names scratched over the last eighteen months, we had not enjoyed catching Great Lake Swimmers in concert since a performance in Pittsburgh almost five years ago. Yes indeed, a date with this band was long overdue, and the drive to Guelph to commence our weekend vacation was an easy decision to make.
Touring to promote their 2023 “Uncertain Country” album release, Great Lake Swimmers founder Tony Dekker (vocals/guitars/harmonica) was joined by long-time band mates Erik Arnesen (guitar/banjo) and Bret Higgins (bass). Ryan Granville-Martin would be tasked with the percussion duties (adding backing vocals), and in the absence of Kelsey McNulty, Lisa Lorenz (formerly of Fast Romantics) would add keyboards and backing vocals. Tony would also invite members of Niagara-based vocal group Minuscule (who also opened the show) for a selection of tunes in the later stages of the show – performing tunes they recorded together on this latest album release.
With over twenty years of Great Lake Swimmers album material to draw from, one of the many wonderful aspects of catching Tony Dekker live is discovering just how far back into his catalogue he is willing to go on each occasion. On this given night, “Lost Channels” (2010) earned plenty of love; the band opening with “Everything Is Moving So Fast,” and adding both “Pulling On A Line” and “Still” throughout the set. Dekker would dig a little deeper at times, adding a trio of popular cuts from his 2007 “Ongiara” album, yielding the floor to Erik’s phenomenal banjo intro to their classic tune, “Your Rocky Spine” at the midway point of the night. A perfectly executed seamless transition coming out of “Put There By The Land” has to be acknowledged, as Bret switched between upright and electric bass, and Tony retuned his acoustic guitar on the fly – they made it look so easy, yet was anything but.
Taking time to discuss the latest album, the band would perform the title track, “Uncertain Country,” with Tony taking time to chat with Ryan following the song. “How are you doing back there, Ryan?” he asked. “I’m doing great. I’m a little hot. I wore a wool shirt,” Ryan responded, “I was cool back there, but…” “It’s not quite time yet, we’re not there, it’s still September,” Tony jested, before returning to the topic of the album. “The genesis of this album started out on the north shore of Lake Superior. I took a trip up there in the summer of 2019, with the intention of going back in 2020 to do some recording. I had actually set up some demo sessions for the end of March 2020, right before we were supposed to head out to Europe in April 2020, all of which got cancelled, as we know.”
After performing three new album tracks, the band would depart for a short while, allowing Tony to share a pair of solo-acoustic tunes. With his first offering, Tony opted to dig deeper still and pulled a tune from the self-titled Great Lake Swimmers debut album – one celebrating its twentieth anniversary in 2023. “Yeah, it’s not a teenager anymore, it’s all grown up, it’s moved out of the house, finally, [and] comes back every once in a while to do laundry,” he commenced, earning chuckles from the room. “That first Great Lake Swimmers album was basically a solo album, and this one song that I’d like to play for you … is a song that has stuck with me over the years. The meaning has sort of changed over time. It started out as a song about hibernation. I love the idea of hibernation as a metaphor. You know, sleeping through a difficult time, or through a cold winter, and waking up, your heartbeat slows down, everything slows down, everything turns to ice. And then, when things warm up again, you can wake up, and everything is new again and different and changed.” Tony would go on to share a stunning performance of “Moving Pictures Silent Films.”
As the band returned, Tony would take this moment to bring out four members from Minuscule, and as microphones were set up, he would explain just how their collaborative work on the new album came to be. Together, Great Lake Swimmers and Minuscule would perform both “Moonlight, Stay Above” and “Respect For All Living Things,” the choir heading off stage as Tony and co. added a final pair of tunes, including a quick foray into their 2018 “The Waves, The Wake” album to perform “The Real Work.”
Inviting Minuscule back one final time, Tony would pre-empt their finale with a heartfelt request to be kind to one another, and to strive to make the world a better place – ending with a rousing performance of “I Am Part Of A Large Family.” This particular message and song, coincidentally, was how the band brought their Pittsburgh show to a close too – and why not? Such a simple, yet sincere request, and one that bears repeating in this post-pandemic, politically charged era. Thank you, Tony – it’s such a small request to make, but a huge one to execute.
- Everything Is Moving So Fast
- Put There By The Land
- Pulling On A Line
- Uncertain Country
- When The Storm Has Passed
- Your Rocky Spine
- Am I Floating In The Air
- Moving Pictures Silent Films (Tony solo)
- Talking In Your Sleep (Tony solo)
- Moonlight, Stay Above (ft. Minuscule)
- Respect For All Living Things (ft. Minuscule)
- Flight Paths
- The Real Work
- I Am Part Of A Large Family (ft. Minuscule)