Sarah Hiltz & Claire Coupland: Live in Ottawa

Sarah Hiltz & Claire Coupland

The folk sounds of Victoria, BC singer-songwriter Claire Coupland started dancing around our music radar late last year, and when the opportunity arose to premiere the music video for her “Drifting in the Breeze” single this past February, we were eager to jump on board. We already had plans to visit Ottawa, ON in late April when purchasing tickets to a concert at the National Art Centre (announced back in early December), and our travels dates were quickly locked in around that event.

Only a few weeks prior to that road trip did we learn that Claire Coupland would also arrive in the city on that same day – performing an intimate show at the Art House Café (itself a very welcoming venue and inclusive space for the arts and patrons). Accompanying Claire on this mini-tour across ON and QC was Toronto’s Sarah Hiltz – another artist previously featured here at GDW, but had yet to encounter live in concert – and with just 24 hours before we commenced the drive north, we secured tickets to this show too.  Back-to-back nights of live music in the Canadian capital – what’s not to like?

Sarah Hiltz

With an electric guitar strapped over her shoulder, Sarah Hiltz would take the lead, performing a solo 45-minute set and sharing several tunes from her “Calm Fury” album. “This latest album is a whole bunch of songs that came out of a research project I did learning about the way that we experience, express and repress anger as people,” she shared. “I had done this personality test as part of a leadership development thing at work and I got typed as [a] personality that struggles with anger. There was something [learned] about myself that I was completely missing, and it turned out that it’s because I tend to repress anger.”

Sharing tales behind several of the songs from this album – including memories of a Sinead O’Connor performance (“Retching In The Wings”) and learning how alcohol and the altitude at Banff do not mix (“Daylight Savings”), Sarah captivated the room with her narrative about how each album track was steered towards this theme of anger. Sarah would also perform the first single from the album – “This is a song called Love and Retreat, which Great Dark Wonder helped me release back in 2021” – thanks Sarah, we really loved and appreciated the shout out.

Prior to the performance of “Radio Silence,” Sarah offered a unique insight about the studio version of this song. “This is a song that talks about communication, or the lack thereof, and I don’t know about you, but the majority of the conflicts in my life with people are the result of poor communication,” she shared. “I got the chance to play tenor glockenspiel on this [song] on the record. I had a vibraphone player and a marimba player – well, same person (Bruce Cawdron), he just played them both. We played the same line on the record that were just a few steps out of tune with each other. And that was his idea, to kind of emphasize the point of miscommunication, which is just a little bit out of sync.”

Sarah Hiltz Setlist:

  1. Love And Retreat
  2. Retching In The Wings
  3. Calm Fury
  4. Radio Silence
  5. Full Time Gig (unreleased)
  6. Daylight Savings
  7. Carry The Rhythm
Claire Coupland

Following a brief intermission, Claire Coupland would take her moment in the spotlight for the second half of the evening – an hour-long set, accompanied by Sarah (electric guitar/vocals) for many tunes, but also performing some solo-acoustic – and with a natural emphasis on promoting her 2023 “New Light” album.  “We’re gonna get a little whacky by this time of the tour,” Claire shared prior to her opening song, giving Sarah time to make some tuning adjustments. “It’s not that long of a tour, but we’re like…. Ah, we’ll get more into that later.”

Several new tunes were performed, and not indifferent to Sarah’s approach during the first set, Claire would offer tales about the inspirations behind these songs – from her time living in Ontario and dealing with home sickness for the west coast (“Truth”), to memories of a family member and their tale for leaving home (“1000 Miles From A Dream”). Prior to sharing “The Flame,” Claire gave a shout out to some feedback recently earned stating the tune sounds like Nirvana meets Carly Simon – and once the duo launched into this one, that comment made for a justifiable comparison.

Stepping away from the “New Light” material for a moment, Claire would dig into her back catalogue to share both “Love In Your Eyes” (from the 2018 “On The Other Side” EP), and “Pour Another Coffee,” her 2022 standalone single, that she took time to discuss with the room. “This is a new song. It’s been a year actually since I wrote it, so that’s a lie, but it certainly was nice to write,” she stated. “It talks about the woes of touring, and meeting people, and having these lovely intense connections and making new friends, then having to say goodbye and be on your way again. I did a bunch of touring on my own, so it’s really nice to have Sarah with me so we can face those things together.”

Sarah Hiltz & Claire Coupland

Prior to performing “Drifting In The Breeze,” Claire would address the room once more. “From time to time I write some happy songs,” she commenced. “It’s kind of twinged with some anxiety, but I wrote it to make myself feel better about what was happening in the world, and still, make myself feel better in general. Because it’s good to just let yourself drift along.”  Following up with a stellar performance of their closing number, “Find Your Way Home,” Claire would heed the requests of the room for one more song, opting to close with a solo-acoustic cover of the classic Leonard Cohen hit, “Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye” – itself a fitting end to a fabulous evening of music from both ladies.

We left the Art House café with that satisfactory sense of making one of those last-minute decisions to purchase tickets to a show (on a whim, without hesitation) that often prove to be some of the finest events you experience. So, cue the blatant public service announcement: please, please, please, get out and support live music. Support independent artists. Support these small intimate venues that provide a warm and safe space to bring artists and audiences together. Appreciate these moments, because hindsight is 20/20, and as they say, you don’t know what you have, until it’s gone….

Claire Coupland Setlist:

  1. Love Song
  2. Truth
  3. 1000 Miles From A Dream
  4. The Flame
  5. Love In Your Eyes
  6. Pour another Coffee
  7. Sailor Boy
  8. Drifting In The Breeze
  9. Find Your Way Home
  10. Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye (Leonard Cohen cover)

The British guy that crossed the ocean and crash landed in central Pennsylvania (to quote Greg Keelor, “And I wonder what am I doing here?”). As the youngest of four siblings, exposure to music from a very early age nurtured my passion and appreciation for many musical genres. Continuing to discover some amazingly diverse and talented musicians based in Canada, I gravitate to live music experiences and remain devoted to spreading the word about such a vibrant music scene.

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