The Wilderness of Manitoba have spent the last few years based at a communal house in Toronto, where they’ve been making music and indulging in spontaneous musical happenings. Since they last came to Britain’s shores, they have lost Melissa Dalton and gained a new violinist/singer of ethereal vocal lines, Amanda Balsys of Kingston band The Gertrudes. They’ve also recorded a new album, Island of Echoes, for release in the autumn (recording for the first time in a studio rather than their Delaware House in Toronto). And, for their European tour, they’ve recorded an EP, Delaware House, named after the old place, and perhaps marking a change in their direction.
So tonight at the Lexington, the Toronto band play a lot of new songs, with a more guitar based, harder edged sound, and the drumming of Sean Lancaric more prominent. The result is that they sound poppier, more energetic and more driving than their previous voice based folk sound. The dreamy vocal harmonies are still there – hell, with voices like that it’ll always form the basis of what they do – and Balsys’ voice fits in perfectly. Taking to the stage barefoot, they exude a cheerful chilled approach to music and to life, a perfect antidote to the frazzled pre-Olympic city outside.
The new songs fit into the same lyrical space as the band’s previous work – with an emphasis on memory, nature, a person’s small place in a vast world, looking at the sun, defining the sky and feeling the wind on your face. It’s thoughtfully joyous. There’s less banjo than usual and certainly more electric guitar. Tracks from the new EP such as ‘Forest City Love’ and ‘The Ark’ come over well in the band’s new, more electrically driven format and old songs such as ‘Summer Fires’ and ‘November’ take well to the new treatment – it almost sounds like a button has been unloosened, with the band uncovering a new part of their personality. There’s a feeling of transition as they explore the possibilities of a new sound, making this evening the opportune time to catch them.
This is a cheering evening – musically and in terms of the sheer happiness that the band exude in playing their music. It ends with a joyous version of ‘In the Family’ from previous album, When you Left the Fire and as that song says, they are a band to remember and to cherish.