“It’s gonna get hazy up in here,” Patrick Fiore said in lieu of an introduction. He was referring to the look of the stage, with its humble yet effective assortment of colored lights (both the visual and sonic aesthetics of the night were authentically “glo-fi”), but his prediction also served as a proper description of the music Noble Oak would be playing over the next hour. It was proper Edmonton winter outside but when the set began I felt safe and warm, like that feeling you get when you watch a PBS special from 1995, spurred by the vintage vibe that Noble Oak’s sound has been bathed in since its inception.
It wasn’t until the second track, their 2012 A-side “We Decide,” that I really understood just how much Noble Oak songs benefit from a live lineup. The addition of proper drums and guitar brought the older songs to life and contemporized them while on the newer songs, the mix of the room coaxed these sounds forward to compensate for the lack of thicker instrumentation present on the studio versions. Considering the band took care of their own audio, this is an admirable feat; aside from a few spikes of guitar earlier in the show, the mix was hazy and inviting.
Something that caught me off guard was just how similar the live versions of older tracks sounded compared to the newer ones. This isn’t a bad thing, quite the contrary. More skeletal chillwave grooves would have felt detached from the more organic vibe of the Collapsing songs, but aside from a few programmed drum bits, the whole set felt equally colourful, natural, and expansive. While pre-2015 songs composed the majority of the setlist, nothing felt less mature or fleshed-out due to this unity of instrumentation and the acoustics of the room.
After “We Decide” came “Distance Gone” and “Out There,” both from Collapsing Together. “Distance Gone” was powerful and heavy, with the drums pounding and some soaring guitar leads, but “Out There” was the only time during the show where I found myself really noticing a lack of studio instrumentation, probably due to how dense the recording is with saxophone and expansive vocal layering. This wasn’t enough to ruin it for me by any means; if I’d only had a Valentine’s date instead of a notepad, I’d have done my best Sam Weir on the dance floor. I settled for tapping my foot and singing along quietly.
“Can’t Be Sure” was my favourite live rendition. I felt like I was at a Peter Frampton concert in the late 80s, with the tense piano and drum counterpoint and smooth guitar keeping my head bobbing along. Although “Thea / Vilde” closed the evening with some mellow keys and dreamy vocals, it was “Can’t Be Sure” that stuck in my head as the final synths faded into nothing and, after a few handshakes, I faded back out of the Mercury Room and into the cold Edmonton streets.
So that’s it, then. I was cold, then I was warm, and then I was cold again. I can only hope that the next time I’m stranded in Edmonton during a chilly spell, Noble Oak is here to be my electric blanket.