Haley Bonar at Varsity Theater, 5/16/14

Haley Bonar
With Anonymous Choir and DJ Shannon Blowtorch
Varsity Theater, Minneapolis
May 16, 2014

On one of the most crowded local music weekends in the Twin Cities in recent memory, Haley Bonar filled the Varsity Theater with fans, friends, and family on Friday night for her record release show. Everyone turned up to hear Bonar and her talented four-piece backing band bring life to the stirring songs on Last War along with her tender older numbers. During Bonar's emotional 65-minute set, she proved once again that she is among the best songwriters in the current music scene.

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Slideshow: Haley Bonar wows the Varsity Theater

The group took to the stage with Queens of the Stone Age's raucous anthem to druggy excess, "Feel Good Hit of the Summer," appropriate enough since many of Bonar's new songs should become favorites of their own, no matter the season. The show started with "Kill the Fun," which did anything but, and got the set off to an assured start. Bonar spent the set alternating between acoustic and electric guitars with a short stint behind a keyboard. She was flanked by Jake Hanson on electric guitar, his brother Jeremy on drums, Rob Skoro on bass, and Kate Murray on keys. The band was tight and polished throughout the set, providing a lush, spirited edge to Bonar's rollicking new numbers.

"No Sensitive Man" built gradually to a raucous finish, with Bonar losing herself in the chorus while the upbeat arrangement swelled to match her passionate delivery. "Heaven's Made For Two" was an acoustic-driven reflective number that featured gorgeous harmonies of Bonar and Murray that eventually gave way to a cacophonous outro that was driven by the Hanson brothers' lively sonic flourishes. Bonar strapped on an electric guitar of her own for a moody, atmospheric run through of the title track, one of the freshest singles to emerge out of the Twin Cities music scene in quite some time.

While the songs on Last War clearly have more of a potent kick than Bonar's past work, she still reveals a series of unguarded emotions through her sincere lyrics that always manage to shine through, no matter the din building up around them. Those delicate sentiments clearly have an effect on Bonar, as she sang many of the songs with her eyes closed tight, adrift in the lingering poignancy of her songs. Haley took to the keys on lovely version of "From A Cage" and the smoldering "Ransom," locking in with Murray on both the arrangements and their vocal harmonies. The subtle psychedelia of "Ransom" blended smoothly into the free-form jazz-like intro of "Leo," which gradually blossomed into the instrumental's touching melody.

A string of Golder songs really gave the second half of the set a heartfelt resonance, as Alt-country drenched versions of "Candy Machine Gun," "Raggedy Man," "Silver Zephyrs," and "A Piano" all took on an evocative elegance due to the group's textured, studied arrangements. Bonar clearly relished having these talented musicians by her side, as she exclaimed appreciatively towards the end of the set, "I love playing with this band! It's so much fun."


After a rousing take on "Bad Reputation," Bonar thanked the crowd for coming out for her big night and sang the praises of the support shown to her by the Twin Cities music community. Then she got personal for a moment, and revealed proudly that, "My family is here tonight. I hope they are still here. And I hope that my daughter isn't throwing a fit in the bathroom."

Bonar's songs took on more a forceful edge when she switched from acoustic to electric guitar during the set --like on a mercurial version of "Can't Believe Our Luck" -- though her mellifluous vocals were subsequently lost a bit in the rousing mix. But there was no problem hearing Bonar during the stunning set closer "Eat For Free," as the band ceded the stage to her and Murray, who were joined by openers the Anonymous Choir for the exquisite, anguished new number that silenced the crowd with its vulnerable charms.

Haley returned alone to start the encore, apologizing as she got herself sorted, "I haven't played this one for a while." A lovely, acoustic version of "Us" deepened the impact of the evening, with the track echoing the graceful melody of Pink Floyd's "Fearless." The Hansons returned to the stage, and joined Bonar for a rambunctious run through of "Bad For You," with Haley introducing the song by pointing out Jake's fancy choice of neck wear: "Since Jake's got his country bling on, we thought we'd do a little country song for you." A rousing, full-band take on "Woke Up In My Future" emphatically closed the night down, with Bonar confidently sharing her new songs with her fans at long last, who will take them into their own hearts in due time.

Critic's Notebook:

Personal Bias: Haley's 2008 album, Big Star, first made me a believer in Bonar's talents, and I've been a dedicated fan ever since.

The Crowd: A pleasant, if a bit talkative, bunch, featuring a mix of older and younger music fans all there to support Haley and her band on their big night.

Notes About the Opener: Nona Marie Invie's Anonymous Choir started the night with a lovely set featuring spare piano arrangements and the moving harmonies of the group. The Dark Dark Dark singer/songwriter led the female choir through a stirring set of haunting originals and well chosen covers, including Cat Power's "Good Woman," and selections from their take on Neil Young's classic, After the Gold Rush. The title track to that record along with "Only Love Can Break Your Heart" gorgeously ended their set, although I could have listened to them all night. Their reappearance during Haley's set was definitely a welcome one.


Kill The Fun

No Sensitive Man

Heaven's Made For Two

Last War

From A Cage



Candy Machine Gun

Raggedy Man

Silver Zephyrs

A Piano

Bad Reputation

Can't Believe Our Luck

Eat For Free (with Anonymous Choir)



Bad For You

Woke Up In My Future

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