The Sweetest Honey: Samia Live @ The Opera House
"To Me It Was A Good Time"
After the cancellation of a highly anticipated show at Horseshoe tavern in 2021, Samia has finally come to grace Toronto soils, coming off the heels of her sophomore outing, Honey. A collection of cathartic earworms, wallowing anecdotes, and somewhere in there jubilant breaks of synthpop and dance music that compound an album unafraid to stray from the largely indie-rock stylings of its predecessor, The Baby. With a treasure-trove of quality deep cuts, lyrics memorized, and a VIP pass secured, I was more than elated to wait in line for 4 hours!
Despite short delays in entering the venue, we were instantly greeted by one of Samia’s bandmates, a literal sweetheart who handed out VIP merch and herded the crowd into the main room. Ambivalent glee filled the room waiting for the Q&A, as we were all (rightfully) tense about meeting the indie darling in such an exclusive, personalized situation. And there she was! The belle of the ball, our lord and saviour, giggling her way onto the stage, so happy to see all of us. Never have I met an artist as genuine, there was a mutual appreciation that became pertinent as she took every individual question and compliment to heart. From questions about specific lyrics, favourite books, and somehow her mom (the great Kathy Najimy from Hocus Pocus). The vibes were immaculate, especially with an artist that, like her songs, is an open book.
After taking a few pics with the superstar herself, we counted down the hours to see her again. Thankfully, indie-rock duo Tommy Lefroy was there to tide us over. Their heavenly harmonics, pragmatic lyricism, and differing vocal tones unsuspectingly created a beautiful clash of ambivalent textures. Despite not knowing any of the songs myself, the entire audience went wild, this might as well have been a coheadlined show with every lyric recited word for word. Songs like “Trashfire” even had particular hand motions, the pressing down of the thumb, that go along with “you’re the one with the thumb on the lighter.” The duo played their entire discography, with the remaining time utilized to tell us they love Toronto, and Tessa (no, neither of the members is named Tommy or Lefroy) telling us about her childhood in BC. Finally, artists that don't try and forcefully relate themselves to Canada by talking about their enjoyment of Justin Bieber, the Weeknd, or Drake!
A singular light shone down, droning matrimonial-sounding synth-organs started blaring, and there she was. Samia grasped the cloth-wrapped microphone stand, gracefully reciting the painful anecdotal envy of “Kill Her Freak Out,” a deceptively subdued outburst. Samia’s powerhouse vocals show wear as she sang, “I’ve never felt so unworthy of loving,” losing all control as she uncontrollably belted out, “and I’ll fucking kill her, and I’ll fucking freak out.” The panicky, almost delirious delivery, so unrefined but impassioned - it was all so surreal. My favourite track of 2022 was realized in a live setting and was everything I dreamed of. With many songs performed off Honey teetering on the edge of poised, reserved and unhinged frantic liberation, Samia managed a harmonious balance that fluctuated and flowed naturally.
The contrasting tracks “Breathing Song” and “Honey,” the former being a solitary and autotune-doused outcry and the latter, a light, digestible, out-with-the-girlies type track, played back-to-back. Songs that are sonically antithetical but fall on two sides of the same thematic coin present the breezy highs and depressing lows of substance use so gut-wrenchingly well. Samia's resistance on the chorus of "Breathing Song" reached an irrefutable boiling point with one last haunting screamed "no." Her voice echoed, and lingered in the hall, a permanent stain on the ears I will cherish forever.
Samia wasn't scared to be goofy, unafraid to prance on stage, elegantly sashaying between band members during instrumental breaks and getting tangled in wires doing quirky dances. Samia was unequivocally herself, overjoyed that we were there for the ride. In particular, the 80s pop-tinged track “Amelia” was brimming with infectious positive confidence, an unapologetic love anthem that celebrates life and the wonderful people we choose to surround ourselves with. Her masterful vocal control was on full display as she gracefully ascended, hitting her absolute highs on "percolatin', breathin', dancin', dyin'" - a line that kills to see live. Sleek bass riffs, a steel-drum-sounding synth pad, and a cathartic “Fuck / delight, to live another night,” compounded a delightfully carefree performance that exceeded the original recording.
I will always vouch for smaller, more intimate indie shows that are improvisational, as while the theatrics of stadium shows can be attractive, nothing can beat the candour more intimate performances provide. The minimalist set-up of Samia’s stage only encompassed fake candles and the aforementioned dolled-up microphone, encapsulating Samia perfectly. She was confident in her abilities and does not need distractions from her undeniable talent.
Tracks from The Baby were (thankfully) not forgotten with the album's more popular tracks, and by special request, "Minnesota," being played to a rousing success. The apprehensive, conflict-averse "Big Wheel" went off without a hitch. The crowd collectively exorcised their unsaid frustrations when Samia sharply delivered, "god I'm really gonna blow with all this empathetic shit." In contrast, the exceptionally confident "Fit N Full' greatly benefited from a live setting with a more prominent electric guitar and drums that can dominate the space. All reins were off; Samia soared vocally, shining within this chaotic soundscape all the while jumping around, headbanging, and screaming lyrics away from her microphone. The guitarist and drummer killed their parts, adding embellishments to their solos and committing to transforming a commentary on diet culture into an aggressive rock spectacle. As she assertively motioned to the ending beats of "Fit N Full," she struck a pose as the lights and ringing guitars faded, and there's only one word to describe it: iconic.
Samia has this uncanny ability to sensationalize the anecdotal mundane, sorrowful, and carefree fun so vividly through her body language and free-flowing performance. Her emotionally gratifying performances and evocative language were perfect in a live setting. As imagery from her lyrics and situations started to manifest in my mind, I felt like one of many vicarious onlookers there to tough it out through the thick and thin of Samia's life. I am more than willing to admit I cried during “Kill Her Freak Out” and “Pink Balloon,” relenting out every lyric, feeling vulnerable but subsequently reassured by an artist who understands the affective capabilities of her music.
The ending track “Show Up,” a song about never missing the opportunity to see the people she loves, is a grand love letter ending to her fans and everyone that came out to see her. Samia is a generational performer, and I can never commend her enough for how seamless she makes it all look. The show reaffirmed Honey as my current album of the year and Samia’s status as pure indie-folk gold. Until Samia drops another Toronto date, I will patiently wait because when it eventually happens, nothing will stop my ass from showing up (again).