Review and Photos by Samantha Wu
It was a hot and sweltering night in downtown Toronto when a crowd descended upon the small back room of The Rivoli in Toronto in anticipation of the Durham, North Carolina sextet Delta Rae to take the stage. Originally the band was scheduled to play Toronto in April to celebrate the release of their latest album After It All, when flight delays forced the band to cancel the show. Fans who had eagerly anticipated the earlier show, myself included, had even more to look forward to for this one.
Delta Rae is the kind of band that not many people may have heard of — the crowd at The Rivoli was certainly small but definitely mighty — but it’s only a matter of time before they become a household name. Their music is powerful, passionate, uplifting, and infectious in the best kind of way and their talent is simply breathtaking. One listen is all it takes for many people to become fans, a fact I can attest to as that’s how long it took before I fell in love with their work, and how I’ve managed to turn my friends into fans as well.
The benefit of Delta Rae’s current anonymity on a larger scale is that they’re still able to play smaller venues for a much more intimate performance, and this one, in particular, placed emphasis on intimate. The Rivoli’s back room is incredibly and surprisingly small — indeed one of the smaller venues I’ve been to. The stage is, of course, also rather small. This would be a feat of blocking considering the number of band members and instruments that normally make up a Delta Rae show.
But before I could give the idea of space limitations further thought, Civil Twilight, joining Delta Rae on tour, took to the stage. The rock quartet hailing from Cape Town, South Africa, brought their bluesy folk rock to Toronto promoting their new album Story of an Immigrant. This was my first listen to the band and I have to say, they’re great to listen to with a sound that reminds me of Sam Roberts Band, Oasis, and to a degree, Imagine Dragons. “Oh Daniel”, from their new album, is the kind of song that ear-worms are made of with its instantly memorable hook and thoughtful lyrics. “Holy Dove” is also a song that will stay with you. At one point during Civil Twilight’s set, someone from the crowd called out ‘you sound like Bono!’ to vocalist Steven McKellar. In a way, he kinda does.
It was midway through Civil Twilight’s set that the small space, the packed crowd, and the room’s poor ventilation hit me at full force as it quickly became uncomfortably hot. As sweat was pouring off me and stinging my eyes, it became difficult to focus on the show. Though when Delta Rae took to the small stage (and managed to make great use of the space without crowding each other), their energy and magnetism was plenty enough for me to ignore my discomfort.
They played beautiful set focusing on material from their new album including “Outlaws” with that gorgeous big band roundedness. Delta Rae is one of the few bands out there that can boast having four lead singers who are all equally as talented in the vocal department. Here, all four were able to shine with Eric Hölljes taking lead on “Scared” and Elizabeth Hopkins’ smooth and rich voice igniting the crowd with “Chasing Twisters” and “If I Loved You” which was noted as ‘the most upbeat break up song’. It was at that point that Ian Hölljes announced the unique piece of Canadiana that they added to the band’s repertoire — a ukulele picked up across the street at Steve’s Music Store.
I have to say I’m biased and have an unwavering love for Brittany Hölljes’ dynamo of a voice, a unique set of pipes that can go from a kitten’s purr to a lioness’ roar within the same measure. She was in fine form during “Bottom of the River” and its follow up “I Will Never Die”, my two favorite songs from the band. There’s such a raw energy and theatricality that those songs provide especially as Brittany takes center stage with a spotlight shining up at her from below and a fan gives her hair flight — she’s otherworldly. During one interview, Brittany expressed that she likes to channel the spirit of a bayou witch when she performs. She does and it’s palpable.
The most memorable moment of the entire performance that nearly drove me to tears, was when they performed “All Good People”. It’s a very recently released song, one they wrote immediately after the racially motivated murders that struck Charleston, SC. This song both mournful and uplifting, filled with revival gospel energy, is exactly what makes Delta Rae a band to take note of. They are people-loving humanists, who feel strongly and express that through the power of song.
If there was one way that their performance would have been better, in my eyes, was if they had performed their cover of one of my recent favorites, Sia’s “Chandelier” which other cities recently have had the pleasure of hearing. But this is entirely me being selfish as Delta Rae’s performance as it was, stifling heat in the venue aside, was simply incredible.
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