Interview: Brad Barr Talks The Barr Brothers Full-Album Concerts In San Francisco

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Montreal’s The Barr Brothers are gearing up for a three-night stand at The Independent in San Francisco that spans this Wednesday, June 5 through this Friday, June 7. The band will perform a full original album and more at each night of the run. Dubbed “An Album Nightly,” the series is a reprise of similar runs pulled off earlier this year in Toronto and Montreal.

On Wednesday, the group will perform their 2011 self-titled debut album in its entirety. Then, on Thursday, The Barr Brothers will offer a live rendition of 2014’s Sleeping Operator. The residency ends on Friday when the band plays 2017’s Queens Of The Breakers from start to finish. Guitarist Brad Barr who comes off a weekend in which he performed with The Slip & Surprise Me Mr. Davis, chatted with JamBase about the San Francisco full-album concerts:

JamBase: How did the idea of performing your albums over the course of a run come up?

Brad Barr: Last summer, when contemplating our next local (Montreal) play, we were compelled by the idea of playing multiple nights in a smaller venue, rather than jumping to the next logical bigger venue. And the question arose of how we could ensure that each show was unique, so that folks who came to all three nights would have a different experience night to night. I believe it was our manager Meghan who pointed out, “You have three albums, there are three nights, why not do an album a night?” Sounded simple enough at the time!

JamBase: Why did you decide on San Francisco as a location to pull off the full-album concerts?

BB: Mostly because of our love for and confidence in our San Francisco audience, who have always been so extremely supportive and great at making us feel at home. True music lovers. And San Francisco was the only city who invited us to do it.

JamBase: Was there anything you learned over the course of the runs in Montreal and Toronto that will inform how you play the albums in San Francisco?

BB: We learned that the albums, played in sequence, do work as live performances, which was a big question mark before the first run in Toronto, and a big relief to discover. We learned that our lighting designer is integral to the run, as he really helps distinguish the performances from night to night. So he’ll be with us in San Francisco. And we learned to pace ourselves.

The demand on our mental resources is greater than when we’re just touring from city to city, playing a similar set night to night. When touring, your moves become familiar — transitions, open spaces, dynamics. Playing three different shows over three nights requires a bit more left brain calisthenics. I underestimated how taxing it can be. Now I do word jumbles for an hour a day.

JamBase: Which of the albums do you feel lends itself best to live performance and why?

BB: That’s pretty hard to say. They all have their own way of rocking and serenading. And they all have their own booby traps.

JamBase: How has the process of incorporating [harpist] Eveline [Gregoire-Rousseau] into the band gone?

BB: Thanks to her professionalism, her work ethic, her lovely character, and her ability to digest and interpret all this new music, it’s gone incredibly well. We’re lucky to have found her.

JamBase: Are there any songs from the LPs that disappeared from the repertoire that you have now incorporated again since the full-album performances in Canada?

BB: Not really, though we haven’t done that many shows since the first album shows in March. I think the repertoire of our regular shows has remained fairly consistent because it seems to cover most of what we want to convey. That said, we’ve all noted how cool it is now that every song from every album has at least the potential to appear in future setlists. That hasn’t been the case for a long time.

JamBase: Will there be any material played in addition to the albums in San Francisco?

BB: There most certainly will be, but we’ll keep those as a surprise.

JamBase: Has work started on LP #4?

BB: In the most embryonic sense, yes. Andrew and I are always at the studio looking for new ideas, and we get together as a full band a few times a month to try them out with everyone.

JamBase: Was there an album or song that was more challenging to prepare to play live and why?

BB: Sleeping Operator is probably the most challenging to perform, mostly because of its girth. It’s the longest record with the most amount of dynamic shifts. But it also has some of the most fluid and intuitive moments as well.

JamBase: Do you find it easier or harder to play a show when the audience knows what will be played?

BB: I try and never assume how familiar or unfamiliar an audience is with our material. It helps keep me on my toes. And despite what the audience may think they know about what’s coming next in the set, the songs have evolved so much since the recordings, with new spaces for improvisation and experimentation, that even WE don’t necessarily know what’s going to happen next.

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