Allison Russell and Aysanabee thrill Danforth devotees

Grammy winner ready for bigger stages in her march to the top

Who: Allison Russell and Aysanabee
Where: Danforth Music Hall
When: Fri., March 8
Vibe: Celebrating women on Women’s Day
Highlight: Crowd losing it when she covers a Sarah McLachlan song
Rating: NNNN (out of 5)

IT’S MORE OF a coronation than a concert with two crowns being awarded. First, rising star singer-songwriter Aysanabee and then, Grammy-winning soon-to-be-mega-star Allison Russell delight an adoring International Women’s Day crowd at the Danforth.

The night will feature more clarinet than I am anticipating and showcases two performers on accelerated trajectories in their careers.

A Contemporary Indigenous Artist of the Year JUNO nominee in 2023, Aysanabee is a big presence even alone on stage, with his guitar and a spray of pedals at his feet, self-effacing and funny, at times telling tough stories in his songs. Skillfully using his pedals, loops and backing tracks, his delicate guitar playing is as mesmerizing as his voice. He’ll probably fill this room as the headliner soon enough, and the adoring crowd makes it clear it will follow him back after he departs to thunderous cheers.

When Allison Russell sweeps on stage in a pale green, flowing and swirling evening gown, her hair tied in a ponytail, she is joined centerstage by her all-female band forming a semicircle and tapping their clenched fists together in what feels like MCU characters clanging their armour to gain power. And it kind of is.

Especially fitting for this International Women’s Day show, Russell and her bandmates give virtuoso displays of various styles: R&B, country, folk and jazz with plenty of agitprop too. This leads to the only possible complaint: the constant switch from styles sometimes sabotages the flow of the show.

Don’t try telling that to anyone in the crowd, who is 1,000 per cent satisfied. Throughout the night, Russell chats with the audience, celebrates connection and then raises the roof with stunning and stirring vocals. The concert is intimate and the singer shares stories that are hard to tell and hard to hear, leavened by the masterful presentation.

One minute she is explaining the African heritage of the banjo as she masterfully plays the instrument in a manner more nuanced than we often hear.

The next she wails on the clarinet with her band expertly following her on all he musical adventures, each song confidently coming from the foundation of her powerful voice.

Russell deservedly celebrates her band throughout the night — a lot — and assures us they are all leaders of their own bands, which is easy to believe especially when each skilled performer gets their solo spotlight.

Her set includes all of her “hits,” including her 2021 Grammy-nominated song Nightflyer and her 2024 Grammy-winning track Eve Was Black. She sends the already rapturous crowd “stumbling towards ecstasy” when she performs a cover of Sarah McLachlan’s Angel from the album Surfacing, which I am confident most of the crowd, including me, owns in some format.

The love-in reaches truly ecstatic levels when Aysanabee joins Russell for a two-song encore that includes Requiem and a final song reflecting the apparent theme of the night: You Are Not Alone.