It seems appropriate that Winnipeg’s first snowfall of the 2013 winter season took place on the evening of Sweet Alibi’s We’ve Got To CD release. A symbol of rebirth, calmness and survival — all of which are summed up the strength and skill embedded throughout this album. ‘We’ve got to’ certainly was my mindset as we braved the weather and headed to the West End Cultural Centre and we were not alone. The venue was packed with family, friends, members of the ever supportive ‘music scene’ and, of course, fans — the latter of which have grown increasingly in number with the aid of touring and now thanks to the exposure Sweet Alibi has received being on CBC Radio 2’s Top 20 Countdown. Their single “I’ll Wait” has been climbing the charts with votes from across the country and I know that many of the folks at the West End Cultural Centre were eager to hear it performed live.
The crowd would have to wait a wee while as there was an opening act to start off the evening. The Bros. Landreth, which indeed consists of brothers Joey and David Landreth, began the night with a fantastic 40-minute set. Included in the mix were Alex Campbell on keys and Ryan Voth on the drums. I had heard talk around Winnipeg about the talented group, but my only personal experience hearing them perform was an acoustic show at a local restaurant and a few jams that could be heard through my floor (I just happened to move above one of the brothers a few months ago…that’s Winnipeg for you). I was blown away by the fullness and versatility in their sound. The band possesses a timeless quality within their music, which stems in part from the musical genes they come with. David and Joey grew up in a musical family and according to their bio, “Joey played the guitar before he could speak and Dave experimented with every instrument in the house before eventually settling comfortably on his Dad’s old Fender P-Bass.” What is presented onstage is a mix between elements of The Band, Bob Dylan, Jack Johnson and something entirely their own. The masculine softness presented by the group was an excellent compliment to the music the ladies had in store for the night.
Sweet Alibi is a trio of wonderful Winnipeg women: Jess Rae Ayre, Amber Rose Quesnel and Michelle Anderson. Originally formed in 2009, these ladies have traveled some incredible personal and joint journeys in the years since. The youthfulness, vulnerability and joy still rings true in their music, but with it there has grown a maturity that only life experience could bring.
Sweet Alibi’s self-titled debut album was a collection of folk-pop bliss which earned the talented trio a nomination for best vocalist at the 2012 Canadian Folk Music Awards. It is still a favourite of mine, however what this second album brings is a more poignant and introspective quality from the ladies. It has been a tumultuous past few years for Jess and Amber and both the girls have used these life experiences in their songwriting. Their ‘hit’ single right now, “I’ll Wait,” was initiated by Amber as she found herself caring for a mother who was/is struggling with cancer. Motivated by the powerful emotions surrounding mortality, Jess and Michelle added their own contributions to the song, showing how collective the creative process is for Sweet Alibi. The deep and meaningful subject matter continues with songs like “Daddy,” a reflection of a father/daughter relationship, and “Get it Right,” focused on one band member’s struggle, perseverance and incredible success with achieving sobriety.
You may be concerned, by reading the descriptions of the inspirations behind the songs, that the concert would be a serious and somber affair, but rest assured — Sweet Alibi brings fun, laughter and entertainment. These fashionable and foxy ladies walked on stage ready to put on a show. Along with Jess, Amber and Michelle was Alasdair Dunlop on bass, and Ryan Voth and Alex Campbell were performing double duty after opening with The Bros Landreth.
The night was filled with banter between the girls, acknowledgments of family, friends, and inspirations for the songs. Their recent months on the road shine through in a growing ease of performance. Having seen them from the start, it is incredible for me to see how much they have matured on stage. Once nervous in the spotlight, they now are charismatic in front of the mic, yet are blessed with the ability to simultaneously make you feel like they are performing in your living room or around a campfire. Despite a full house of seats, the music was so upbeat that a group of dancers began to form on the left side of the stage. With songs like “Hey Hey,” “Bandit Blues,” “Trouble,” and “Never Change” (the ode to the greatest venue to the Winnipeg musician, The Times Change(d) High and Lonesome Club), it was hard not to move to the music.
After showcasing each of the tracks from the album, Sweet Alibi were applauded to come back to the stage where they played a few of the beloveds from their original album. My personal favourite from this encore set was “Suddenly,” a haunting song that brings up imagery of 1920’s circuses and dreams, thanks to the creative video released last year. It was an incredible evening of music and has certainly inspired me to purchase my ticket to the “JP HOE HOE HOE” concert for Friday, December 13th at the Burton Cummings Theatre in Winnipeg, as it will be the next chance to see Sweet Alibi onstage!