On Sunday night, the line to enter Philadelphia’s First Unitarian Church stretched around the block. However, this was no midnight service. Instead of leading inside the building, the line wound underground like a trail of ants following the irresistible promise of HOMESHAKE, the Canadian indie group led by Peter Sagar.
During the opening act’s casual performance, the crowd packed itself into the low ceilinged, subterranean venue. And, when HOMESHAKE finally stepped into view, their enthusiasm shook dust from the ceiling of “the Lord’s basement,” (as Sagar later described it).
Confronted by the audience’s excitement, Sagar remained imperturbed.
“I’m sick,” he told the crowd by way of introduction, his voice synthesized to sound high and nasal. Then, he laid out his plan with the brevity and candor of someone bent on getting a job done:
“I’m just gonna play 16 songs, no breaks.”
And that’s exactly what he did. Throughout the set, Sagar’s band handled most of the instrumentals while he digitally manipulated his voice so that it fluctuated between squeaky highs and lows so deep you could feel them running down your spine. However, the music didn’t sound overly synthetic. Not only did the instrumentals offset his computerized voice, but the reverberation of the venue made the songs feel visceral. He didn’t just press buttons on a keyboard, and the audience appreciated it. All around, people started shedding winter coats, and in some cases even more, so that they could dance without passing out from the heat.
But despite the crowd’s enthusiasm and raucous response to hits like “Every Single Thing” and “Give It to Me,” HOMESHAKE played continuously, without pausing to introduce songs or banter. His reservation did not detract from the performance; instead, it cultivated an air of mystery, leaving the audience to wonder what his real voice sounds like. Furthermore, he recognized the audience’s enthusiasm and capitalized upon it; toying with them by stopping to take a leisurely drink from a plastic cup and ending the show by walking straight offstage without an encore.
When the lights flicked on after the concert’s closing bars, everyone looked bewildered. Instead of a show, the experience had felt like an immersion into one of HOMESHAKE’s records. An experience that, until the lights came on, made us all forget the stifling body heat, our classes the next day, and the fact that we were standing in Philadelphia’s holiest basement.