The 2022 Jeremy Dutcher Tour University of Victoria Farquhar Theatre

Marking my first outing back into the world of live entertainment, Andrea and I bought tickets for the much anticipated Jeremy Dutcher and band at the University of Victoria Farquhar auditorium Friday night.

It has been two and a half years since I sat for some live music — a very long wait. And without question, this was worth waiting for.

Jeremy Dutcher is a classically-trained Canadian tenor, composer, musicologist, performer and social activist, born in New Brunswick. A Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet) member of the Tobique First Nation in North-West New Brunswick, Dutcher studied music and anthropology at Dalhousie University and currently calls Montreal, Quebec home.

Many know him from his CBC radio exposure and his project of interpreting 110-year-old wax cylinder recordings of ancestral songs and creating breathtakingly haunting arias and ballads in dialogue incorporating samples of those recordings.

Dutcher, winner of the Polaris Prize capping a five-year journey to produce/release his debut album, is one of the approximately 100 individuals who speak Wolastoq. Described as a “severely endangered language”, Dutcher feels composing the songs developed a closer relationship with his own ancestors, creating a medium for healing among the younger generations – victims of generational trauma, cultural suppression and re-navigating an anglo-centric narrative in Canadian music history.

Prior to seeing Jeremy, I had little exposure to any of his multi-media work, videos, live stuff – etc. So it was an extra special treat to see him and the band with no expectations on how he would approach his material.
So it was a pleasant surprise to see a very sparse stage set-up with little more than a piano, acoustic bass, drums, guitar and a trumpet.

Jeremy Dutcher is a very fit and particularly hirsute fellow who commanded the stage in a way reminiscent of performances by Jim Morrison, Robert Plant and (yup, I’m going there…) Freddie Mercury of Queen. There is no denying this man is a force of nature, who seemed to have a maturity and sophistication way beyond his years.

And despite the fact that the bulk of the performance was in Wolastoq, the music held the audience captive through feeling and emotion — at one point the audience was split in two groups to provide a 2 octave drone in the key of G for one of his pieces… and it was pure magic. The line between audience and performers was completely dissolved.

Jeremy’s band consisted of UVic alumna (and Oscar Peterson School of Music faculty) Tara Kannangara, on trumpet, composer-producer-multi-instrumentalist Bram Gielen on double-bass, Spencer Cole,Toronto based drummer, pianist, vocalist, and composer and Thom Gill on some very funky guitar. These were very accomplished jazz musicians.

Jeremy Dutcher’s single 105 minute set felt like something of a seance – a connection with spirits long passed – or a raising of memories – a healing – a learning – a yearning for a better connection to who we are – to the Earth under our feet – to the misfortune and misdirection of our colonial past. Not so much as an exercise in judgement (from Dutcher…) – not at all. His was a position coming from a place of peace and love – a more encouraging exercise… way more than a series of learning moments.

And based on the standing ovations (three) the room as a whole achieved something. Something tangible. Something mystical. Something progressive.

And for a moment, back to the dialogue on pop stars past, Jeremy made me imagine what it would be like to be in an intimate live space with the likes of Jim Morrison of the Doors. It was palpable. He exuded a twin-spirited kind of sexuality that was hard to quantify in purely human terms. He effortlessly played with phrasing, fluid and flawless ascending and descending legato. Little hand gestures reminded me of Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin. Honestly, I have not had this much fun and this many tears at a live performance, well, ever.
So bravo Jeremy Dutcher and band! My first thought with his last note was: When can I experience this again? It was that good. Catch him when you can. Check out Jeremy Dutcher on his website.

Colin Newell is a Victoria area resident and long time author of the website – writing on the subject of cafe culture since 1996.