Highs Bus Stop Theatre, Halifax NS, January 24

Highs Bus Stop Theatre, Halifax NS, January 24
Photo: Lindsay Duncan
Though its scope has expanded a great deal over its 10 years of existence, Halifax's In the Dead of Winter still bills itself as an "acoustic based festival," and the vast majority of acts could be slotted into categories like folk, roots or singer-songwriter without too much trouble.
This explains why Toronto indie pop band Highs started their set, essentially, with apologies. "We're going to play the poppiest songs you've ever heard really loud," said the band's Doug Haynes. "Hope that's ok." To ease into things, the band opened with their quietest song, "Harvest," sans drums and bass. The slow, pretty performance provided an ideal introduction to the Highs' not-so-secret weapon: the harmonies between Haynes, keyboardist Karrie Douglas and guitarist Joel Harrower. Douglas, in particular, adds high-pitched flourishes to many of the songs' best vocal runs, giving them a sense of surprise and playfulness.
As the set went along, Highs felt increasingly out of place among the rest of the festival's acts, and not just because the performance was louder. It's more that the band's reverb-laced guitar leads, high-energy stage presence and choice of live gimmicks (like the classic "give the lead singer a drum to hit during select big moments") all came across incredibly summery — the sort of performance tailor-made for the festival circuit, not a dark Halifax theatre space in the middle of January.
But as the set continued with solid material from the band's debut EP (such as "Nomads" and "Mango") and the band's youthful enthusiasm proved too endearing to resist, any qualms one might have had about the odd juxtapositions faded. Highs know their pop tricks, and though they still bear the hallmarks of "new band" — like, say, their seeming excitement to tour the Maritimes in the winter — they had most of the weekend's final crowd on their feet and dancing, a reaction that's hard to argue with.
"I don't know how we got mixed up in this, but I'm really glad we did," said Harrower. For a crowd ending the Dead of Winter fest with a taste of summer on a cold, wet January night, the feeling was more than mutual.

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