Evening Hymns - Pivo Pivo, Glasgow, Tue 21 May 2013
Alternative folk from Jonas Bonnetta, written in a log cabin on the subject of death
In the revised footnotes of his debut novel Queer, American author William S. Burroughs spoke of the torment he faced surrounding the premature death of his wife, writing that it 'manoeuvred me into a lifelong struggle, in which I had no choice except to write my way out'.
The subject of death has long held the capacity to reach inside an artist and tear out their strongest work, and we only need to skim over the arts to see its power in full force; from English poet Ted Hughes' personal laments to deceased wife Sylvia Plath in his exceptional, award-winning collection Birthday Letters, Frida Kahlo's haunting 1932 miscarriage reflections in the paintings Henry Ford Hospital and My Birth, or even Eric Clapton's sad reaction to his 4-year-old son's death after falling from a balcony, in 'Tears in Heaven'.
Of course, other themes possess a similar ability, but in the case of Canadian Jonas Bonnetta, better known by the moniker Evening Hymns, it is loss which forged his second album Spectral Dusk, and tonight it, as he, is laid before us in a very honest type of mournfulness.
Written in a log cabin about the slow demise of his terminally ill truck-driver father, 'to try and work out what the fuck it all was all about', the songs of Spectral Dusk present the audience with impactive openness, flitting between repentance and frustration; each a natural, polar emotion felt during loss.
The lyrics of both opener 'Arrows' ('How long must I sings these songs of sorrow? What's the trick to get the darkness out?' and 'Family Tree' ('I'm going to chop down the family tree/ break them in the piles and burn all the leaves') grip the balance perfectly.
Bonnetta's lyrics occasionally venture into the forest of poetry; 'You and Jake' comes with the line 'Every transport truck I see/ was carrying your weight/ and leaving it on top of me'. Tonight, he was still finding poetical connections between himself and his father: clocking up over 20,000km in his van on this spate of European dates, he cites them both as 'truck drivers'.
The set may be weighty, but the occasional new song, such as the upbeat (but not as affecting) 'Evil Forces' and onstage humour suggest Bonnetta is pleasingly undergoing a period of catharsis. Sadly, this also holds the potential to hamper future yearnings.
That said, we can revert back to William S. Burroughs for the counter-argument. 'When I become death, death is the seed from which I grow.'