The Strumbellas | photo by Emily DeHart for WXPN | dehartvisuals.com
The Strumbellas swept the crowd away with an engaging Union Transfer set
Six-piece Ontario-born indie-rock band The Strumbellas successfully combine relatable emotional grief and spirited tunes to create music that is able to touch each listener. At Union Transfer on Saturday night, lead singer Simon Ward illuminated the band’s set with simple yet heartfelt words: “be kind, you never know what someone is going through.” This was a constant theme throughout the night, though it was certainly not the only aspect of the night that kept the audience engaged. The fact that The Strumbellas were able to make the audience feel as if they were a part of their family was quite the feat, and another major part of their appeal. Time and time again, the band made sure to reach out to the crowd in unique and humble ways, including them in their performance. Sure, other artists might try to do the same, but they certainly don’t connect as successfully as The Strumbellas do.
Illustrating this unique engagement, Ward captivated the audience with a story about how the band flew to Texas to shoot the music video for the title track to their new album Rattlesnake. He turned his back to the audience, continuing his story while wrestling with a cage on stage, joking about how easy it was to get a rattlesnake named Charlie out of Texas. As the story went on, listeners laughed and shook their heads, complimenting Ward’s assumption: “99.9% of you are like ‘oh this is the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen,’” as he threw a rattlesnake out of the cage and into the audience — a fake rattlesnake, of course.
Continuing the discourse regarding their latest album, Ward later mentioned how he saw an Instagram photo of a woman named Karen with a tattoo of the rattlesnake from the new album. He explained how shocked and touched he was by the sentiment, but little to his knowledge, Karen was right in front of him, leaning up against the stage. Upon realizing this, he finished up the touching story while speaking directly to her and eventually moved onto their next song, a new single called “I’ll Wait.”
Light, airy, white backlighting complimented this dreamier song, just as stated in the beginning lines, “you say that I’m a dreamer / you always let me be myself.” The only thing for the audience to do in this moment was to sway back and forth, giving their voices a chance to rest from shouting along to the previous songs. Although they had this chance, hardly a single person took it.
Later, openers The Moth & The Flame joined The Strumbellas on “Wild Sun,” and each band singing into one microphone on either side of the stage proved to be a powerful performance — not because of the amount of people on stage, but because of those who were performing.
Saving one of the most well-known songs for last, “Spirits” swept the crowd away, allowing them to reminisce and embrace any past or present struggles that have been faced. It’s always been said that music heals, and The Strumbellas make this quality increasingly obvious. This song is especially touching because of the history of its creation. In an interview with The Star, Ward discussed how the root of this song was based on years of depression and other struggles. This juxtaposition of the bright notes and dark roots makes for an extraordinary musical moment to chant along to with truly heart and soul.
While appreciatively introducing everyone on stage again for one last time, Ward discretely handed out not only his own set list, but those from the five other members of the band. It’s common for front row fans to ask for the setlist from the stage crew at the end of the show, but the fact that Ward wanted to take the time and make just another form of contact with his fans speaks true to the band as a whole. Just another illustration of the unique and profound connection between audience and these particular artists.
The Strumbellas felt like a family member you haven’t seen in awhile. The Strumbellas felt like an old friend from school, immediately establishing a sense of nostalgia. As the audience members gazed at the stage, it was almost as if they were looking at pieces of themselves up on stage. The Strumbellas felt like home.