It hasn’t come easy to Elizabeth Powell. The Concordia University music program dropout has worked hard as Land of Talk, but the singer/guitarist has cycled through bassists & drummers like nobody’s business, had her first European tour (with The Decemberists – QRO album review) cancelled, saw her boyfriend/producer Justin Vernon, a.k.a. Bon Iver (QRO album review), go from being the touring guitarist for The Rosebuds (QRO spotlight on) to blowing up – and then them breaking up. She even got into a spat with her native Canada & Montreal, after saying she had more problems back home than in over in the States, in an interview in a certain publication (QRO interview). And late last year, right when she was on the cusp of blowing up, thanks to her excellent first full-length, Some Are Lakes (QRO review), and touring with/in Broken Social Scene (QRO spotlight on) as opener & guest female vocalist (QRO photos on that tour), she had serious voice problems that necessitated vocal chord surgery & voice lessons, knocking her out for most of this year. But she’s coming back, tentatively at first, with the Fun and Laughter EP (QRO review) and a short tour, which hit New York’s Mercury Lounge late on Saturday, November 21st.
Powell had to conserve her voice (aided by an in-ear monitor), and couldn’t joke around with the crowd much (or do another interview with QRO, for the second time – or is she afraid what she’ll say this time about the Great White North?…). In fact, the first time she did talk between songs, it was to say that she couldn’t talk between songs, and she said it really fast. Later, when referencing the last time she’d been at Mercury (QRO live review) and the song a fan has requested then, someone in the crowd shouted that it was him who’d asked; Powell looked over at him and said it wasn’t, with which the crowd mock-oohed, as if she was dissing him, leaving Powell extra embarrassed (especially since the guy was in a wheelchair, too…), saying, "I should just shut my mouth…" Another fan requested a song later on, but Powell couldn’t hear him thanks to the in-ear monitor; the rest of the band tried to tell him that, but that fan was speaking in Spanish (?), so he didn’t understand the rest of the band, and she wouldn’t have understood him anyway (though the Québécois did throw down some French in response…).
Land of Talk playing "Give Me Back My Heart Attack" live @ Mercury Lounge on September 11th, 2008:
Powell likewise had to be somewhat restrained in her singing, and reliant more on her guitar. Outside of that opening tour for BSS, she never got to do one for Some Are Lakes, so she naturally hewed to mostly to that record – not just great singles like "Give Me Back My Heart Attack" & the title track (which were played back-to-back), but also those songs you forgot that you really wanted to hear, such as "Got a Call" and opener "Corner Phone". There were also a number from her first EP, Applause Cheer Boo Hiss (QRO review), like "Summer Special" – but not single "Speak To Me Bones" (QRO video at Mercury last year). And there was only one new song, listed on the set list as ‘1996’ but sounded a whole lot like Fun and Laughter‘s "May You Never".
Land of Talk playing "It’s Okay" live @ Mercury Lounge on September 11th, 2008:
That included the keyboards from bassist Joe Yarmush, who also did second guitar on "Corner" – in both cases, special guest Michael something (Howard?) filled in on bass; he seemed to have a lot of friends in the crowd, cheering him on, and was having a lot of fun when he was on stage (maybe he doesn’t play in front of crowds that often). Yarmush stayed on keys for Some Are standout "It’s Okay", where Powell’s vocals finally got a chance to really grow, but Yarmush’s own sole cymbal stand broke, forcing him to pick up the cymbal and ended up crashing it into another, marching band-style; he later said, "This drum stand is fired! We’re selling it after the show…"
"Okay" was followed by "All My Friends" (probably/possibly the song requested earlier, in what was most likely Spanish…), and Howard (?) wasn’t the only one with friends there that night, as Mercury was absolutely packed [that’s why all the photographs are from the far side of Powell, and the videos are from her last show at Mercury – QRO venue review]; next time, Land of Talk really needs to headline larger Bowery Ballroom (QRO photos at Bowery) [especially as Powell’s regular stage-right side is the hard side to sneak up to at Mercury, but the easy one to at Bowery – QRO venue review] at least. Elizabeth Powell & co. should be coming back in the spring, with a new full-length, but judging by her first New York show in over a year, absence just makes the heart grow fonder.