Hillsburn @ LIVE! on Elgin

Arts Coverage

East coast indie band Hillsburn treated their Ottawa fans to a sold-out show at LIVE! on Elgin on Monday.

Hillsburn mixes Atlantic folk themes with indie hooks and arena rock anthemics, exemplified by songs like “Strange Clouds,”  “Young Desire,” and Monday night’s torchy opener “Sun Ought To Shine.” The Halifax-based group delivered a thrilling live show, their soulful sound complemented by gregarious stage presence.

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Harmonies from guitarists Clayton Burrill and chief songwriter Paul Aarntzen were a perfect anchor for Rosanna Burrill’s powerhouse vocals. Drummer Clare Macdonald ensured a steady, stomping beat, and virtuoso keyboardist Jackson Fairfax-Perry added a modern touch to the band’s rootsy sound, often intermingling with Burrill’s fiddling.

The audience was clapping and stomping along throughout, and eagerly joined in for singalongs on songs like “Farther in the Fire.” During quieter moments, Burrill occasionally walked into the crowd to sing, making the small venue feel even more intimate.

In between songs, the band told self-deprecating stories about life on the road, bedroom recording studios, and doing an all-vocal session with Nova Scotia rapper/producer Classified after mistakenly showing up without instruments (ironically, that session produced Hillsburn’s heaviest song, the alt-rock tinged “Everywhere”).

The band are as compelling singing a capella ballads in hushed tones as they are belting out gritty July Talk-style rockers. Their website cites Neil Young and Florence and the Machine as influences; listeners may also hear notes of The Eagles, The Strumbellas, The Jerry Cans, and Bruce Cockburn. The result is a unique blend of rock, folk, and pop that never feels forced or derivative.

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Line-up: Hillsburn

Venue: LIVE! on Elgin, Ottawa ON

Date: April 9/2018

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