I’ve always had a soft spot for non-conformist
female artists – I realize that’s not the most groundbreaking of statements. But for a kid that grew up playing basketball and listening strictly to Mobb Deep and Black Star, discovering Cat Power and PJ Harvey was a transformative experience. Black Star and Cat Power shared similar struggles with disparaging societal views and overall confinement from privileged powers as it subsequently motivated their collective self-expression and unabashed indomitable spirits, despite operating in two distinctly different sonic realms.
Since those formative middle school years of expanding my musical tastes, my soft spot has only grown more and more receptive to innovative and powerful female figures in music. As new Cat Power and PJ Harvey releases grow fewer and farther between, the heir apparent to lead the next wave of unique female perspective has yet to be identified, but that’s not for lack of talent.
Wednesday to Friday of last week saw three distinct sections of the female purview roll through Nashville – the god-fearing frenzy of Mount Moriah on Wednesday and the YouTube ascendant musical mavens Lily & Madeleine on Friday – however the one most appealing and promising (in my opinion) presence to come through Nashville and The High Watt stage was the empowered pop reinvention of Basia Bulat on Thursday, March 24th.
Bulat is smack dab in the middle of a whirlwind tour in support of her exceptional third record, Good Advice. She had just finished some SXSW spots before heading up to Nashville, and damn did she bring the sound and fury. She opened the set draped with a magnificent sequin cape, and without saying a word dove right into her set with one of the early singles for her record, “Fool.” For the next couple of tracks, Bulat and her super tight backing band went from one song to the next, running through other Good Advice liners “Let Me In,” and “Long Goodbye” before ever really addressing the crowd. Bulat’s personality of stage was vivacious and confident, despite the occasional reference to being nervous about performing in front of a Nashville crowd “of talented musicians” – never hurts to play to the egos of your audience, thought from Bulat it felt genuine.
As it turns out, Bulat is a considerable fan of Nashville, even referencing a possible future role for a “Canadian Polish girl who came to Nashville.” The set shifted from high energy pop to encapsulating folk in an instant as Bulat’s backing band left her to her own devices – guitar and autoharp – on stage in a brief four song solo set that featured the heavy hitting “Five, Four” from her sophomore effort, Tall Tall Shadow, and arguably the best song of the entire set, “Paris or Amsterdam.” Bulat’s band returned and they finished out the rest of the set in raucous pop fashion with a revamped version of “Tall Tall Shadow” and a couple other tracks.
All in all, Bulat has made some incredible strides as a performer thanks to Good Advice, as the Jim James produced record has helped the Montreal native come into her own as a commanding stage presence. For someone who has casually released one of the best records of 2016 to date (again, just my opinion), there’s nothing casual to her live show – just pure, unadulterated pop prowess.