Last night at CityFolk Festival, eager fans packed the great lawn in front of the City Stage to celebrate the triumphant return of Amanda Marshall after nearly a two decade absence since her last trip to the capital. But time hasn’t seemed to have made any difference in her physical appearance, nor in her voice. In fact, it’s quite possible she sounded even better than ever. Dressed in a stunning red outfit from head to toe, she made her entrance while her band of seven members was already warming up the first bars of “Ride”, from her second album “Tuesday’s Child” (1999). She greeted the crowd: ”Are you ready, Ottawa?!” We were, and the journey began into revisiting the songs of her 3-album library that won her legions of fans the world over.
“Sunday Morning After” surged with vocal power from Marshall and her two backup divas, Stacey and Nicky, whose combined efforts gave a full choral punch to all the material. She then spoke to the audience about how much the world has changed since her last visit to Ottawa: “The world thinks that our Prime Minister’s hot, and Canada’s almost got legalized pot”, she half scatted before delving into “Until We Fall In”, one she co-wrote with her bass player, Rob Misener, in 2003. A song she referred to as “cowboy music“, “Last Exit To Eden,” had a slow burning energy, a steady hypnotic beat, strong choruses, and finished with a dramatic build. The three girls delivered their synergy of harmonies that sent shivers down my spine once again.
“Fall From Grace”, one of the many hits from her debut self-titled 1995 album, was performed in all its soulful glory and uplifting energy. The crowd knew where to chime in on the song’s iconic chorus laden with long sustains. Marshall continued to work the stage from one side to the other, her signature long curly tresses trailing behind her. “Be honest, Ottawa,” she coyly quipped, “is the humidity affecting my hair?”
One of the songs that stood out for me was power ballad “If I Didn’t Have You,” and powerful it was. The song was filled with more of those ethereal three-part harmonies and brimming with Marshall’s stupefying vocal ability. A little bit of girl power came during the outro of “Trust Me (This Is Love)”, where Marshall began her talk/scat on “girls, we’re running the world“, which led into a few lyrical bars of “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”. But the song that really did it for me was “Beautiful Goodbye”, whose instantly recognizable opening piano chords brought a swell of cheering from the crowd. She sang the song’s achingly pretty melody with ease and passion before she charged in full throttle with some high sustains that brought another round of chills, along with a few tears.
The hits kept coming with “Dark Horse” (one Elton John remarked was his favourite of hers), and the crowd was swept up in the throes of its gentle rocking rhythm. “Believe In You”, another medium tempo tune with an uplifting message and a gospel-rock feel, showcased more of Marshall’s high-hitting vocal command. Then came a beautiful acoustic guitar intro, and a familiar rhythm that brought an immediate reaction of hand-clapping to its beat, because we all knew what was coming. Marshall began by singing her thanks to the Ottawa crowd, before pouring herself into the first lines of “Birmingham”, her biggest hit to date. The guitar solo took the place of the album’s original sax solo, and brought more of a rock edge to the song’s jazzy chord structure. The song carried on instrumentally while she introduced the band one by one, then showed us her “Marshall two-step”, which got the crowd dancing and shaking their hair.
The encore was a sweet surprise intro of “I Can’t Stand The Rain”, where she hit the highest note of the evening before plunging into “Let It Rain.” More vocal acrobatics of long sustains and gospel-laced harmonies brought the song to its robust ending. Marshall thanked the audience and made her exit while the band played out the last few bars. The music, the musicianship, and the voices had left their potency on the crowd, and I gingerly left the grounds still reeling from the performance. I looked around to see that I wasn’t the only one. There was no doubt about it… Ottawa had indeed missed Amanda Marshall.
CityFolk runs from September 13-17, 2017 at Lansdowne. Visit https://cityfolkfestival.com for the lineup and schedule. Keep checking back for more Apt613 CityFolk and Marvest coverage and follow us on Instagram for the latest photos.