Within thirty seconds of stepping onto stage, A.A. Bondy effortlessly ensnares the entire audience in a tangled web of his fingers and guitar strings. In support of his stunning new album, Believers, A.A. (short for Auguste Arthur) delights a humble gathering of fans at The Toff to an evening of the most tender melodies and fragile guitars.

Buoyant before an ocean backdrop, Bondy’s guitar momentarily morphs into a majestic creature of the sea, with its soothing solemnity resembling whale songs. He commences the set with “The Heart Is Wiling”, the opening track and lead single from his recent album. Tall and thin, with eyes that could shatter you with one glance, Bondy’s voice is a refined amalgamation of a raspy grunge growl and a sombre country wail. His fingers tread so lightly that occasionally, if you were to close your eyes and let the music flow to your ears without distraction; you’d swear you were hearing a harp, rather than a guitar.

Bondy’s music recounts the tales of a wayward soul, who has wandered aimlessly across the earth, both through the most beautiful landscapes and urban wastelands. His melodies and lyrics could sing the burden of a thousand men, while his hypnotic guitars and entrancing basslines could soothe the residual pain. “Down In the Fire (Lost Sea)” builds to a climactic conclusion of flawed beauty, while the achingly seductive “Surfer King” displays Bondy’s penchant for penning lyrics can both enthrall and stun.

‘Our brains aren’t working today, so I’m not going to say much,’ Bondy admits, clearly struggling to overcome jetlag, ‘but that doesn’t mean we’re not having a good time, because we are!’ Throughout the set, Bondy seems continually at war with himself on the subject of stage banter, occasionally commencing a story before consciously stopping himself. At one point, he physically muzzles himself with his hands, which results in much laughter from the crowd.

“Mightiest of Guns” bleeds effortlessly into the haunting despondency of “A Slow Parade”. His spellbinding execution of “Drmz” renders the audience completely captivated. Despite being in a room full of people, it’s hard to disconnect yourself from Bondy’s hypnotizing, introspective lyricism and be reminded that he’s not just serenading you.

The set concludes with “When the Devil’s Loose”, a mesmerizing ballad to soundtrack your lone parade through a foreign town, with sinister vocals, abrupt strums of a portentous guitar and lyrics that traverse an intricate maze of misadventure and sin.

Bondy literally leaves the crowd shouting for more, and it’s no surprise when he obliges. Returning without his backing band for the encore, he immediately launches into a cover of the popular jazz standard, “My Funny Valentine”, toned down and injected with his own unique dose of folk and Americana. Finally, he closes the evening with the inhabiting melancholia of “I Can See the Pines Are Dancing”.

Swinging tales of burden and beauty, while forever embedding his magnetic voice in our minds, Bondy offers a live musical experience to which no one can compare. He skillfully draws the audience in, but we should be cautious to not get too close, for fear of catching some of the burden that paints his lyrics in such haunting shades of grey.

– Lara Moates