Out To Lunch Digest: Part 2
Cara Gibney | Photos Tremaine Gregg
There was a drop of the black stuff leaving its mark on the Amanda Rheaume gig on Sunday. The Canadian folk-roots vocalist was handed a pint of Guinness and she held it up to the light, grinning. “Now there’s a show” shouted guitarist Anders Drerup, and a laughing, slurping Rheaume confirmed to the room “That’s it; I’m going to start drinking again.”
She managed to set the pint down in order to kick in with ‘Get to the Part’ from her Holding Patterns album released just in December last. “This is a song about trying to be kinder to yourself” she told us before her guitar chimed in the list of ways she could somehow improve. “What if I grew my hair/What if I was more careful?” Drerup was sliding and long twanging, while the chorus had first time listeners quietly singing with the harmonies on stage. “Get to the part where nothing is broken” we were singing. Then Drerup’s guitar was centre stage, solo, becoming pretty mesmerising.
Indeed Drerup didn’t seem to stop during that gig. Maybe he wasn’t any busier than his two compatriots on stage. Maybe Anna Ruddick on bass was just calmer, more grounded – more grounding. Maybe Rheaume was the steady engine, driving by her own design. But Drerup? Drerup didn’t seem to stop. He’d be standing beside Rheaume, wrapped up in his guitar, then he’d sit behind the pedal steel, then he’d shoehorn on an ankle shaker, then he’d change the mic at the pedal steel so he could stand and sing into it, then he’d change the leads on his guitar. And so it went on.
And talking about pedal steel, Drerup’s playing ran warm smooth water through songs like ‘Passed Down The Line’. A song about heritage, Rheaume described it as “honouring the decisions that were made for us to be able to have this life.” Then there was the gorgeous opening to ‘Mind Over Matter’ that set me on a course towards another band, another group that crafts that atmosphere with light tones and background strumming. But before I got the full picture of them off my tongue Rheaume started singing and the scene in my head shifted. The vibe continued but the mood was hers, the room was hers, the song was totally her own.
She fitted on the harp rack for ‘Red Dress‘. Apparently her only political song, it’s a track written for and about Canada’s missing or murdered indigenous women and girls. Over the past three or four decades between 500 – 1100 women have gone missing. It’s a vastly disproportionate number in relation to the indigenous population and has led to a National Enquiry. Yet it continues. “The relationship between the indigenous and the government, it could be better” Rheaume told us.
There was a strong sense of connection with Canada’s original inhabitants throughout the show. Through a number of songs Rheaume acknowledged the trials, the courage, the deprivations, and the desperate travels of indigenous people, not least her own great grandparents who crossed Great Slave Lake* on a barge attached to a paddle wheeler, surviving storms, holding their children close. giving a familiar ring to the times we are living through right now.
At the end of the show there was a brief discussion by the bar. When they came back on stage for the encore we were offered up a gorgeous version of ‘Landslide’, with Rheaume’s voice rounding it, smoothing it. And as that long last note rang into the still room nobody moved. For the smallest time everything stood still, soaking up the fading tone as it dissolved in the dark.
Some info on ‘Red Dress’: Amanda enlisted support from Juno Humanitarian Award winner Chantal Kreviazuk for a powerful statement about the role of intergenerational trauma and oppression in the crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG).
Written in a single evening and set to a gorgeous video featuring dancer Aria Evans, the song is, in part, a reaction to those who blame the victims themselves for the murders and disappearances – without considering how perceived “high risk behaviors” such as sex work or substance abuse are the direct result of Canada’s decades-long attempt at cultural genocide. With ‘Red Dress’, Amanda makes the personal political, reflecting on how each disappeared woman has both a story of family struggle and a world of potential that was taken away.
* “Great Salve Lake and town were named after the First Nations people who lived there. The people are Athabaskan. The name “Slave”, which is more usually spelt “Slavey”, has nothing to do with slavery.” Wiki.