From the Wilderness of Manitoba to the Wilds of the Lower East Side

March 20th, 2013

The Wilderness of Manitoba – Mercury Lounge – March 19, 2013

What’s in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. OK, so it’s not exactly Shakespeare, but the outfit known as the Wilderness of Manitoba hails from, you guessed it, Canada. Not Manitoba, but Ontario, and more specifically Toronto, although you couldn’t tell from their roots-y compositions that conjure up images of campfires and log cabins, not to mention the group’s three- and four-part harmonies harkening back to the age of Crosby, Stills and Nash.

Playing from a yet-to-be-released EP, The Leslieville Sessions, the group offered sunnier compositions that were a welcome distraction from the chill outside of Mercury Lounge. Opening appropriately with “Summer Fires,” vocalist and guitarist Will Whitham warmed the audience. He and his band drew quite a bit from their previous release, When You Left the Fire, even playing a harmonica for “Hermit.” They followed with newer material offering the peppy call for spring in “Echoes” and “The Aral Sound/Southern Wind.” Whitman sang, “Freeze our grasses green until the winter’s gone/ And the smoke melts away the drown of fears/ While the sun is the golden hand holding everything dear.” Now that just might be seasonal Shakespeare.

Following the new tune “Chasing Horses,” violinist Amanda Balsys took the lead with the bluesy torch song, “Carolina,” from her former band, the Gertrudes. And to fans’ satisfaction, the Wilderness of Manitoba showcased their harmonies for old favorite, “Orono Park,” and ended the set with the rollicking “In the Family.” As a special treat, the band returned to encore with a cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Help Me.” The evening was a fitting precursor to the first day of spring. Now let’s hope Mother Nature cooperates. —Sharlene Chiu