Concert Review: A Fellow Ship in Piranha Seas

Toronto-Based Band Gave an Energetic Performance in Montreal

  • (left to right) Forest and Joe have a very unique vocal dynamic that plays out in their music. Photo Simon New

Piranha Bar had a pretty relaxed vibe going on Wednesday night. Downstairs, people sat scattered around the bar, drinking and watching the TV as Metallica played in the background.

Normally, you’d find some metal bands putting on a show at this venue, but that night Toronto-based folk-pop band, A Fellow Ship, was onstage.

The band is made up of seven musicians in all: Joe Dent on guitar and lead vocals, Forest Van Winkle on vocals, Jack Stone on guitar and mandolin, Teddy Liptay on piano, Tristan Schultz on bass, Ryan Johnston on drums, and finally, Austin Jones on the trumpet

They include Mumford and Sons, The Lumineers, Edward Sharpe, and the Magnetic Zeros as early influences.

“We’ve kind of strayed quite a bit from that in recent years,” said Dent.

Their upcoming EP, “Black Sheep,” has swooning pop sounds that were accentuated by optimistic trumpet-playing. Dent and Van Winkle’s dynamic vocal interplay, one sad and the other deep and calming breathed some more life into each track. “Black Sheep” is set to be released this Saturday.

Take that for good or for bad, that’s what I was expecting to hear when I checked out their show.

Upstairs, some bands are chilling and eating takeout food next to the stage while the sound guy is doing his thing. They’ve got a pretty cool neon sign up there, and there really are piranhas in the fish tank.

It’s 8:30 p.m., and the bands are supposed to be starting, but people haven’t really shown up yet. It was kinda dead, so we hung around for a bit and checked out some of the band’s merch, some of which was really nice. They had a sick t-shirt design that gave off some Henri Matisse vibes.

Pretty soon, though, it became clear that the show wasn’t going to start anytime soon. So we left.

It looked like it was gonna be a slow night in there, and clearly, we aren’t the biggest fans of folk music, or alt-rock for that matter, so Simon, my accompanying photographer, and I decided to hit up Five Guys, and then a dep for some drinks.

We returned to Piranha Bar where a decent-sized crowd had formed at the back of the room. Local indie-folk band Matty Parker were up onstage getting ready to perform.

After their performance, the place had filled up a bit more as A Fellow Ship were about to come on. I noticed a couple people wearing last year’s tour merch. They’ve got fans, and when that trumpet first pierced the air, a crowd filled up the front, and started to dance.

This is the grooviest folk-pop group you know, and their trumpet is what Dent said is their signature sound. The brass instrument’s blissful sound hits every track in a joyous return, and really comes through live. In fact, every member of the band really brought things together.

“Tristan, Ryan and Austin […] are all graduates of University of Toronto for jazz,” Dent explained.

A Fellow Ship’s trumpet player, Austin, lends the group their signature sound. Photo Simon New

A Fellow Ship’s sound is clean and practiced, and it looked like they were having fun onstage. As they start out with some of their older stuff, Jones danced and sang enthusiastically, tapping the tambourine as Dent jammed out some guitar riffs while facing the drummer. It was hot, sweaty, and energetic music, and the crowd was vibing with it.

Comparing their recorded album sound to their live performance, I find that I much prefer their sound live.

When they played “Black Sheep,” Dent’s voice came in with an uninhibited, soulful tenderness that cut far deeper—and less like pop music—than the studio recording of the song. The rest of the band echoed his lyrics like a gospel, and then the drums hit, deep, hard and rhythmic. That was their folk-soul bleeding through onstage, fueling the audience and filling the room.

As they played more of their new EP, things got funkier. The drums rolled in with a thumping fill and the guitar slaps, as Van Winkle’s deep, husky voice glided effortlessly over the pulse of the music. Everyone was bobbing and dancing, and by the end of their set, they’d moved into the crowd and interacted with everyone.

“The crowd instantly gave us that much more energy,” said Dent, praising the group’s fans. “They right away were like, ‘let’s go to the front. Let’s dance.’ That was really cool.”

People were smiling from the band’s infectious energy. I hope to feel it coming out of the studio more, as a voice like Dent’s is one like Joe Cocker’s; it’s beautiful because it’s raw, and that’s when it’s best. Uncut, emotional and filled with soul.

A Fellow Ship // Black Sheep // Sept. 30 // http://afellowship.net

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