– By Cristina Dirlea
Let’s start with a note to all concert goers: if the show starts at 6:30, give yourself double the time to get there, because your travel will be smack in the middle of Toronto’s 4 hour evening rush “hour”. You might end up missing the opening band (MTL’s Folly and the Hunter). A mixture of guilt and curiosity drove me to look them up online and turned into regret for having missed a live rendition of their melodic alt-folk sound, which can be found on their album, Residents.
However, the advantage of arriving right after the opening band has left the stage is that the crowd thins out to get drink refills or to start a conversation with a stranger outside, while on a smoke (or vaping) break. This was the time to dart towards the front and secure a spot right by the stage, where one can rest their elbows on the same platform as the musicians. It’s almost like sharing the stage.
Cheers and applause greeted Half Moon Run, as they took their spots behind their instruments and started playing. The stage was littered with tom toms and cymbals, as the set-up included two drum sets and a marching drum at vocalist Devon Portielje’s side, which made the stage and the floor of the venue vibrate with an intensity I’ve never experienced before. Case in point, the sound that sets them apart is the expertly executed heavy percussion. Furthermore, all four members (in addition to Portielje, Conner Molander, Dylan Phillips, and Isaac Symonds) are multi-instrumentalists, adding guitars, keyboard, mandolin, and even a harmonica, which, when played by Molander, elicited high-pitched screams and love declarations from fans, such as “Conner!!! You’re my favourite!!!”
The crowd was made up of fans that knew every single song by heart and collectively accompanied Portielje’s vocals. He rolled with it and allowed the crowd to take over singing the lyrics on numerous occasions, while sporting a genuinely happy smile. Closing his eyes, wrapped in satisfaction, his facial expression seemed to say “All the sweat and tears are worth it; moments like these make it all worth it.”
While the singer-songwriter could be considered the front man, he doesn’t steal the thunder, with the rest of the band also interacting with the audience: Phillips’ banter, Molander’s front stage guitar solos, and cute smiles and shy eye contact by Symonds, along with their excellent musical performances.
The electrifying light show complemented their songs, with oversized vertical and horizontal lines blinking in strobe-light fashion, at times combining to create the impression of a visual “plus” sign. The most striking combination occurred during Portielje’s drum solo from “Call Me in the Afternoon” during the encore (see 1021 insta for a short clip). Other popular singles, such as “She wants to know,” “Turn Your Love,” and “Full Circle” were interspersed throughout their 1 hour set and delighted those fans that didn’t know their two albums, Dark Eyes and Sun Leads Me On, by heart. A new song that stood out was “Devil May Care,” a wonderfully strummed ballad that lacked drums altogether, yet still carried an unmistakable Half Moon Run feel, in part due to Portielje’s unique voice. Other highlights included the lead singer playing a few notes on his guitar with his teeth (!) and an unexpected second encore, during which they were joined by Folly and the Hunter, to the delight of the crowd, expressed through cheers, arms raised high, and clapping throughout.
Half Moon Run have surged in popularity, as evidenced by the increase in airplay of their songs, as well as the fact that their 4 scheduled concerts in their hometown of Montreal, in April, are already sold out. Their two albums contain complex music that let you discover new layers with each listen, combined with thoughtful, relatable lyrics, while their live shows let you connect with the artists behind it, occasionally catching glimpses of their personalities.