Arts & Life
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The first lyrics out of Winnipeg-based singer-songwriter William Prince's mouth Sunday afternoon — "So am I dreaming? Or is this just how we're living now? from The Spark — took on new meaning when belted them out to the third sold-out crowd in as many days at the West End Cultural Centre.
Feb. 17, West End Cultural Centre
Attendance: Sold out
5 stars out of 5
The entire afternoon, in fact, was glazed with a sort of humble incredulity at the roots artist's own current state of affairs; not in a way that was corny or annoying or false, but instead Prince, 34, emitted genuine joy at being able to share these shows and the release of his sophomore record, Reliever, with so many people.
The setlist was a good mix of old and new, pulling from both his 2015 release, Earthly Days, and his one-week-old release, Reliever; one of the best traits of the newer tracks is Prince's ability to live more in his upper register. Though he's known for that booming baritone, the brighter vocal moments, such as the sweet chorus of Always Have What We Had and the poppy verses of The Gun, are beautiful and smooth in their own right.
To see Prince live is to understand what an effective storyteller he really is, both in song and his banter in between. As Prince hovered on a stool centre stage, a near-constant stream of guitar strumming soundtracked stories about his life, the people he's met, the songs he's written, his priorities and perspectives on life and a series of in-depth thank yous — to his son and his son's mother, to his own mother, to his current partner, to his incredible three-piece band, to his fans and label and the Winnipeg Folk Festival and West End Cultural Centre and just about anyone else who had a hand in making his dream life a reality.
Much like the set on stage — a trio of warmly lit lamps scattered among the instruments and musicians — what Prince offers is coziness; part of that comes from the general richness and deepness of his voice, of course, but it also comes from the richness and deepness of his feelings and the candid nature in which he presents them.
But it's not all dense emotion and introspective anecdotes; Prince has the kind of casual confidence on stage that creates an immediate and fun rapport with his audience and gives him the leeway he needs to wing it without a setlist (which he did), make many jokes mid-song, and, one time, forget his own lyrics (he swiftly called himself out on this, much to everyone's amusement.)
The audience ushered Prince offstage after a solid 60-minute main set with an immediate standing ovation; Winnipeg is a city that hands out standing Os like candy, but this one, somehow, felt a bit more sincere. After a very quick break, Prince and the band returned for a three-song encore of the wonderfully jangly Wasted, the soaring Breathless (his breakout hit), and a lovely, semi-improvised rendition of Little Things.
It's not common to feel so certain someone is destined for the highest tiers of success, but if I were a betting woman, I'd go all-in on Prince.
Erin Lebar is a multimedia producer who spends most of her time writing music- and culture-related stories for the Arts & Life section. She also co-hosts the Winnipeg Free Press's weekly pop-culture podcast, Bury the Lede.
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