Anna Atkinson is an up-and-coming one-woman band who hails from Toronto. Her accumulation of musical talents includes the ability to play viola, violin, banjo, guitar, piano, accordion, ukulele, and even the electric guitar. Atkinson most recently showcased her talents at the Stratford Festival, where she has been performing annually since 2010 as a stage performer and singer-songwriter. Her album Mooniture, which was recently re-released, is still something of a well-kept secret. On January 12th, Atkinson graced Montreal with her presence, performing at Grumpy’s bar located downtown just off of Ste. Catherine.
The instant you enter Grumpy’s, it’s clear that everything you’re about to see is going to be a little quirky. The evening had a somewhat sleazy tinge to it: my companion and I were offered cocaine not fifteen minutes after we sat down, which seemed an incongruous choice for an evening of folk music. Otherwise, the eclectic crowd had the relaxed attitude of bar regulars. Red lights adorn the walls, making the room feel instantly warmer, and giving it a woozy glow. The low ceilings and dim lighting do nothing to hide the fact that this is a bar located underground. However, small touches such as a fireplace make it cozy nonetheless. The walls are covered in nostalgia, including license plates from various states, and other collected souvenirs strewn haphazardly throughout the bar. The small, low stage is located directly beside the bar and in front of an array of small tables.
Atkinson, a tall brunette with cropped hair, casually sipped a few drinks at the bar with her friends, before making her way onto the stage. She began her show with a duet with Tamara Sandor, a friend of hers who seemed giddy with excitement about the gig. While Atkinson played the violin, Sandor sang a song she wrote herself. It was a slow number named “Birds” with an eerie melody sung in a deep, monotone voice. It’s a strange pairing, the plucky violin with a sorrowful voice, yet overall it seemed pleasing to the audience. At the close of “Birds,” Sandor exited the stage.
The next song Atkinson performed is titled “Old Man Song.” She gave no explanation for the title and replaced her violin with an accordion. It was upbeat, with a touch of folk thrown in. Atkinson’s strong voice was slightly too loud for the space she is in, and the audience noticed. The chirpiness of her voice, accompanied with the insistent rhythm of her accordion, gave the impression that she is a carnival performer. The lyrics of the song were bizarre and seemed meaningless, especially with no introduction explaining the peculiar subject matter.
Following “Old Man Song” was “Nobody Knows You Like I Do.” Again, the song’s tune was repetitive and choppy. The lyrics are cyclic and sound quite silly and shallow, despite the emotional title. If Atkinson is looking to sound eccentric then she has definitely achieved that goal, but to an almost cheesy degree. Her next few songs don’t diverge from this sound much, which quite disappoints the audience. “So Hard Living Without You” and “Only A Fiddle” are both accompanied with only an accordion and once again mimic a carnival performance that’s slightly folk-inspired.
At the close of her performance Atkinson adopted a different sound. The song was called “Mooniture,” the most well-known cut from her album of the same name. She spoke detail about the source of the song, which she wrote after being dumped by her boyfriend. She comically told us that she immediately drank ten cups of green tea under stress and then peered into her backyard, only to see what she thought was glowing furniture. Delirious from the copious amounts of tea, she began to imagine what it would be like if furniture could be constructed from pieces of the moon, and how enchanting that would be. “Mooniture” is much more sad than her other pieces; however, it works to her advantage. Her strong voice encapsulates the sorrowful lyrics startlingly, and evokes a melancholy feeling for the entire audience who seemed very receptive to the catchy song.
It is clear that Atkinson is far from ordinary, with an abundant amount of musical talent, yet her more experimental compositions stray toward the limited and meaningless. “Mooniture” captured the best of her talents, and despite having a different vibe than the rest of her album, it’s clear that her more conventional pop tunes are where her voice can really shine.