Toronto folk band Wild Rivers filled a small space with big sounds Sept. 20 at Eddie’s Attic in Decatur, Ga. The intimate Eddie’s Attic is a tight space with the stage only inches off the ground. The four musicians — Khalid Yassein, Devan Glover, Andrew Oliver and Julien Laferriere — made no grand entrance. They simply got on-stage, set up their equipment and jumped into their first song without an introduction. The moment they hit the first chords, they captured the room’s undivided attention.
The first song they played, “A Week Ago,” started the show on a high note. From the moment Devan opened her mouth, I was captivated. Just as I found a word to describe her sound, the dynamic would change, proving the range of her talent. At some points, her voice was soaring and gliding with the clean, sharp movements of a hawk. At others, it rippled and swelled like the path of a rolling stream. Her texture provided a beautiful contrast to Yassein’s rich and smooth vocals. The chemistry in their harmonies was like peanut butter and jelly; it just worked.
“I feel like it’s going OK so far,” Yassein said after a few songs. The room agreed with him. Khalid decided, after a few upbeat songs, that it was time to play a sequence of breakup songs.
One breakup song the band played, “Mayday,” was inspired by situations in which your friend won’t stop texting you with all the personal details of their recently ended relationship. Yassein said he wrote the song about his friend Kevin. Apparently, Kevin sent Yassein a rather comprehensive picture of a relationship, partially characterized by a shared love for the Canadian T.V. show “Mayday,” a documentary series about plane crashes. The metaphor is pretty obvious.
Yassein admitted to copying and pasting the text messages directly into the lyrics, which include lines like: “I’ve been setting fire to my bedsheets. / Don’t twist your tongue just to protect me. / Just scream ‘Mayday, we’re going down.’ ”
The next song, “Speak Too Soon,” was more upbeat and funky. I was almost tricked into thinking the concert had reached its climax but then Glover suddenly pulled out a tambourine, and what’s better than a tambourine? Very, very little.
Perhaps one reason that the songs resonated so well was because the band was singing about themes relevant to college students. They sang about leaving and returning home, relationships that begin one way and turn out another and growing into a better person. One song went, “I love this city but I’m not really from here” and “I’ve got bones to break and miles to go alone.”
That song was titled “Paul Simon,” one of many references to other artists embedded in Wild Rivers’s music. In “Paul Simon,” the band borrows the line “I am a rock, I am an isle” and mentions that “one day I’ll start writing like I’m Leonard Cohen.” The song “Do Right” shouts out band Death Cab for Cutie and incorporates the title of the Postal Service song, “Such Great Heights.”
Toward the end of the show, Yassein said, “We’re going to do ‘The Thing’ if you’re all on board.” I assumed “The Thing” was an encore, and I was right. They went through the motions of leaving the room for about five seconds before coming back. “Thank you for indulging us,” Yassein said, adding, “I love ‘The Thing.’ ”
Their encore song was called “Wandering Child,” named for the lyrics “May my body and heart remain wild / For I’m a wandering child.”
When the song ended, the energy levels remained high. Glover promised that the next was really going to be the last song — the band broke into “I Won’t be Back.” It began like a traditional folk song, but exploded at the refrain. Then the tambourine returned and my heart was flying. Who needs love when there are harmonicas and tambourines? Not me.