The Barr Brothers – The Sinclair – November 29, 2017
(The Barr Brothers play Music Hall of Williamsburg on Friday night.)
The Barr brothers are a pair of siblings, of course—guitarist Brad Barr and drummer Andrew Barr—but the Barr Brothers is also a band, a fabulously shape-shifting one that operates in a unique middle ground made possible only by the combination of the unique talents in the group. The band has a new album out, The Queens of the Breakers, and their supporting tour brought them to a sold-out, mid-week show at The Sinclair in Cambridge, Mass., the Boston area being a sort of midway point between the Barrs’ hometown of Providence, R.I., and their current base in Montreal. Before they even took the stage, the packed room already warmly resonated with the sight of the instruments onstage: so many strings, a more-than-can-count-on-one-hand amount of guitars and basses, all bracketed by the looming harp on one side and a pedal steel guitar on the other.
The brothers and band took the stage to a hearty cheer and immediately opened with the new record’s title track, finding a quick ease with one another and the crowd. That mid-range sound was established right away, depending on the angle you took, it was folk or rock or even jazz. Brad Barr opened on an acoustic guitar, accentuated by the harp and steel on either side and then switched to a 12-string on the following “Hideous Glorious,” the ensuing coda of “Part 2” giving Sarah Pagé a chance to indulge the audience with twinkles from her harp. But it wasn’t just the guitars that changed for every song, each tune featured a brand-new combination of instruments, the music morphing and evolving in significantly new directions each time. At some point I finally lost count of the different instruments, but there were a dobro and banjo and at least one I-don’t-know-what-that’s-called instrument.
Ukulele, harp, pedal steel and upright bass created a dreamy soundscape atop hypnotic rhythms on “Look Before It Changes,” like some sort of jazz from the future. Another highlight was “Maybe Someday,” the bass and drums revealing a slinky groove that seemed to extend infinitely in all directions. Later Brad Barr and Pagé played an extended two-person intro, combining to sound more like sitar and tabla than slide guitar and harp. Playing pretty much all of the new album through the night, the Barr Brothers managed to work in some older material, punctuated by the crowd favorite “Beggar in the Morning” in the encore. As they did a few times during the set, the group appropriately sang it from the middle of the stage, brothers and band around a single microphone in their happy medium. —A. Stein | @Neddyo