Insulated against the dead-of-winter chill by the walls of a friend’s basement and charm of sharing newly discovered music, I was first introduced to Margaret Glaspy through her 2016 album Emotions and Math. At the time, her unique sound was the perfect addition to any January playlist, the rock edge to her cool singer-songwriter minimalism like a sip of hot cocoa while watching the snowfall. Fast forward months later, and I found myself in another basement, this time to see the artist perform with musical partner and boyfriend Julian Lage at the bar-cum-venue of l’Escogriffe. Though quite a different scene to my initial associated memories, I’m happy to report her music is equally compatible with the (finally) balmier backdrop of Montreal in May.
The night began with Liza Anne, whose solo live act sounded so different from her band-backed recordings I didn’t recognize her until a few songs in with “Paranoia,” a standout from her most recent album Fine But Dying. She presented the lack of additional instrumentation in her set as an opportunity for the the audience to “hear the melodrama in [her] head,” pronouncing the word almost like “mellow-drama” in a way that, though likely not intentional, was apropos of the frank lyrics addressing mental health and love which she has matured into over the course of three albums. After a final remark explaining their significance, she finished with the two songs that book-ended the songwriting process for the album.
Glaspy and Lage faced the crowd a half hour later to deliver a set that continued with the stripped-down approach established by Anne. This time, my surprise came from the fullness of the duo’s sound even without the drums and bass from the studio sessions, a hallmark of Glaspy’s strong songwriting and the pair’s complementary strengths. Lage took on the duty of guitar accompaniment himself for the first two songs while Glaspy focused on vocals that matched the rich tone of Lage’s playing. The tight quarters of l’Escogriffe can be less than forgiving to mistakes, but Glaspy’s intonation stayed true with an ease that suggested the comfortable intimacy of the bedroom in which the album was first conceived and the confidence from the past two years spent touring it. The musical compatibility between Glaspy and Lage was thoroughly evident even before she affirmed it by describing the opening songs as unreleased products of the duo’s combined efforts under the moniker Rude Ruth. After the introduction, Glaspy eased into the first lines of “Emotions and Math” from her own album, strumming along with the guitar she had picked up. Even as the pair transitioned into songs by just Margaret Glaspy, their musical chemistry was still apparent in the way their guitar parts combined into a balanced, cohesive support for Glaspy’s vocals.
Midway into the set, Glaspy dropped back while Lage enthralled the crowd with “Study for Electric Guitar.” Switching out a vintage-looking Telecaster for his custom TK Smith, the original piece weaved together double stops, seamless counter-melodies, and fluttering tremolos that showcased Lage’s extensive jazz background livened by contemporary influences. After striking a final note on the neck of the guitar, his prodigious technique and breathtaking tone were summarized perfectly by a comment overheard amidst the cheers: “just, wow.”
Glaspy followed up by taking her own turn alone for a symbolically appropriate performance of “Somebody to Anybody,” drawing the audience back in with the raw gravity of her voice. Lage joined back in for the pair to reprise their Rude Ruth status for two more songs before a couple of covers including Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon,” prefaced as a selection from Glaspy’s “favorite Canadian songwriter.” Songs from a freshly released 3-track single, Born Yesterday, were next. Leaning into the dissonant chords of one of these songs, “One Heart and Two Arms,” Lage briefly broke out with a solo that noodled around in unconventional scales before descending back into the song’s crunchy chorus. The pair kept up the distortion with “You and I,” the barreling rhythm guitar furnished by Lage and growling vocals from Glaspy. After a fleeting exit as convincing as stepping off the foot-high platform would allow, the duo returned for a head-nodding encore of the last song off the new release, “Before We Were Together.” A handful of audience members supplied the missing tambourine part with hand claps, topping off the evening with an upbeat flourish and undoubtedly leaving lasting fans awaiting Lage’s upcoming return to Montreal later this year.
Best Behavior (Rude Ruth song)
Book with No Binding (Rude Ruth song)
Emotions and Math
Pins and Needles
Love Like This
No Matter Who
Study for Electric Guitar (Julian Lage song)
Somebody to Anybody
Katonah (Rude Ruth song)
Made A Scene (Rude Ruth song)
Talkin’ Like You (Connie Converse cover)
Harvest Moon (Neil Young cover)
I Love You, Goodnight
One Heart and Two Arms
You and I
Before We Were Together
Review – Dylan Lai
Photos – Steve Gerrard