I thought I was going to have a simple time getting there. Yet, as this was a special event in downtown Vancouver, I should have known better. I waited… and waited…. and waited… upwards of 40 minutes. Multiple busses passed by and all were full. The cabs could only go five blocks as many of the roads were closed. So, like many other determined Vancouverites, I walked the 25 minutes or so. Although I arrived roughly 21 minutes, I finally reached my destination and the woman I came to see. She had already been rocking out for 20 minutes or so, yet I still made it in time to hear all my favourite songs. After searching the beachfront venue for a few minutes, I finally found her on the rooftop, addressing the thousands who had gathered for the annual festival of lights. Serena Ryder had to come to party.
I have previously stated that my musical girlfriends are Jenny Lewis and Zooey Deschanel. My three-dimensional significant other would probably say that Serena belongs along that list. I would agree with that sentiment. This was my second time seeing her this year (and 4th overall). I am quickly becoming a superfan. I was only able to see her for about 35 minutes this time round, but it was still epic nonetheless.
While it is fantastic that so many new fans are discovering Ryder’s music – thanks to constant radio play of her uber-mega-super hit ‘Stompa’, as well as ‘What I Wouldn’t Do’, it is lamentable that many of these same fans don’t know her awesome, earlier work. I also worry that the new ‘pop-centric’ Ryder has become too mainstream (but maybe that’s just my hipster community radio host ideology coming out). At any rate, there is no denying that Ryder is a fantastic songwriter, has a great vocal range (roughly 3.5 octaves) and knows how to entertain. She can also play about a zillion instruments.
While I definitely enjoy both ‘Stompa’ and ‘What I Wouldn’t Do”, my two favourite Serena songs have always been the punching folk-rock number ‘Little Bit of Red’ and the mournful love ballad “Weak in the Knees”. However, her latest album – Harmony – has spawned a new favourite of mine – the gospel-tinged dance-a-thon “Circle of The Sun”. Serena always gets the audience to participate in this upbeat track, with hand actions, dancing, and Serena expertly and rhythmically banging on a couple of floor toms. In many ways, it reminds me of Billy Joel’s ‘River of Dreams’ – the title track off his 1993 album of the same name.
What ‘Harmony’ also shows is Serena’s versatility. With ‘Stompa’, Serena’s inner rockstar explodes with a vengeance. It also shows off her sheer skill as a guitar player – she’s even got the triangular-shaped guitar to boot. She adept at both acoustic and electric, swiftly and freely moving between the two. ‘What I Wouldn’t Do’ shows off her more emotional side and really gets to the heart of what ‘Harmony’ is all about. Ryder has confessed that ‘Harmony’ was the first full album written after she fell in love for the first time. ‘Circle of the Sun’ is a fun, get-up-and-dance number that has an almost spiritual quality and is one of two songs where Ryder plays the drums. (in addition to guitar and drums, she can play the piano, ukulele, mandolin, harmonica, banjo, clarinet, and bass. – On second thought, how did it take this long for her to break out?) She also wrote an amazing duet – Please Baby Please – which often sees her at concerts performing with a fan.
I’m worried slightly, just ever so slightly, about what this new exposure will do to and for her career. Not because I think the fame will go to her head, but because over-exposure is not always a good thing for an artist. She is so well-known now in the U.S, that she recently made her debut on late night television, with an appearance on the “Tonight Show” – personally I would’ve preferred that she make her debut on Conan – he has much better taste and knowledge of music, is funnier, plus I’ve never really forgiven Jay Leno. At any rate, I am glad that a wicked Canadian artist is getting the respect she deserves and is getting known around the continent. She also does something I’ve seen no other artist do yet. At the end of each of her shows, she takes out a camera and takes a photo of the entire audience and subsequently posts it to her various social media pages. Clearly, she is someone who truly loves an appreciates her fans.
Serena Ryder played as part of Vancouver’s 2013 Festival of Lights. For more information go to festivaloflights.com Other musical acts include Daniel Wesley, Mother Mother, the Boom Booms and No Sinner.
Harmony was released in October, 2012.
RIYL: Rilo Kiley, Jenny Lewis, Feist, Hannah Georgas