Victoria Canal inspires, shining spotlight on songwriter community at The Sun Rose

Victoria Canal The Sun Rose 2023 JH mainbar

Victoria Canal and Friends was a “spring recital” of sorts, according to Canal, who really just wanted to gather some of the best and brightest in songwriting talent, most of whom also happen to be her friends. The rising star even suggested “boarding school chic” as a welcome dress code for her themed Class of 2023 event at the intimate and inviting new Sunset Strip venue The Sun Rose on Friday. Canal performed a few tunes off 2022 EP Elegy as well as new, unreleased material, and a slew of special guests each performed a song and some joined Canal for others. The guests included Madison Cunningham, Annika Bennett, Jackson Lundy, Rett Madison, Mike Viola, Lucy Clearwater, Olivia Barton and a special appearance from Jason Sibi-Okumu. It was a night of exceptional music with both super fans and industry folks in attendance, including artists like Blu Eyes and Annabel Lee who were there to support.

Canal introduced the whole evening mentioning her “talented friends” and added that it was her first time at The Sun Rose, “This is fuckin’ lit.” Annika Bennett (who headlines tomorrow at Moroccan Lounge) kicked things off with a lovely and delicate falsetto on a song called “A Tree Falls” which she recently wrote while Canal accompanied on piano and harmonized. Lucy Clearwater was next, sharing “Casual”, about “trying to date in LA” playing guitar with a measured vocal while Canal handled piano accompaniment. Clearwater’s head voice later sprung with more power as she guitar picked while Canal’s harmonies and piano intensified the emotion. Pop-rock veteran songwriter Mike Viola took the stage for “Audrey Forever”, a mid-tempo, with Viola strumming the guitar rhythm along with a smoky rasp in his effortless voice.

Jackson Lundy dropped his jazzy, bluesy tone on “Where Did You Come From?”, with witty vocal moments and a call-and-response loved by everyone in the room, sonically fitting somewhere between Jack Johnson and Randy Newman. Olivia Barton (who heads out on a tour with Lizzy McAlpine in April and May) mentioned she just met Canal a couple weeks back but that she felt they knew one another their entire lives. New song “I Don’t Sing My Songs” offered clever yet heartbreaking lyrics about never being considered “fun”. Recent Best Folk Album Grammy winner Madison Cunningham graced the crowd with her “Something To Believe In”, playing guitar while Victoria Canal joined her on the keys. The ballad had incredible dynamics blending rock, blues and folk, with an excellent guitar solo and some eerie yet beautiful “oohs” were in the mix, as the powerful tune transitioned precisely from minor to major. Rett Madison smashed on “Pin-up Daddy”, a song about the expression of gender, with perfect background vocals from Lucy Clearwater and Victoria Canal. The gorgeous three-part harmonies had Madison giving off some serious soulful Americana, like the Dixie Chicks.

After a brief pause, Victoria Canal thanked her guests and was accompanied by cellist Distant Cowboy as well as Clearwater on violin and vocals. The rolling piano on the song “Hollow” was coupled with the amazing cello strings and violin, giving it so much more poignance, and the texture in Canal’s voice blended well with Clearwater’s. Canal mentioned a new EP is on its way soon featuring some of her favorite people and songwriters, one being Madison Cunningham who joined Canal again for a tune gifted for Canal’s mother’s birthday. The story unfolded about bravery and felt sort of like a love letter to her mother, with the lyric “What I’d give to have known you back then” as Cunningham sweetly cooed.

“I feel like friendship love is super underrated,” said Canal. She mentioned a friend who flew in just for the day and played new song “Yes Man” with so much purity in her voice blended with the organic sound of acoustic guitar. The harmonies were simply stellar on “Pity Season” with Clearwater and Canal on guitars, and the break in Canal’s voice giving just the right magic that is most appreciated during the live experience. 

Canal said it was recently the first time in her life writing about her body as a woman, as a person. “The pressure to be this or that and on top of that I grew up with a limb difference. We spend so much time on that shit and I decided to look at that stuff in its face.” She shared a brand new one called “Shape”, saying, “I’m a little shy about it ’cause it’s very vulnerable.” Clearwater whispered, “I love you” and Canal replied back “I love you too.” It was really sweet on-stage banter you’d easily miss if this show were not at The Sun Rose. The slight squeaky fret noise of the 90s-tinged “Shape” fit the angsty rock vibe well with incredible runs from Canal and the song took different form during the pop-ready call-and-response “don’t be so pretty in front of me, in front of me”, with the audience singing back. Canal hit her stride with some power notes but they were controlled and not overly loud by any means.

Canal introduced “Swan Song” as “likely her most meaningful song”, adding that it’s a song about someone she found out who was sick, sharing the four things to be said when someone is dying —Thank you, I love you, I forgive you and Can you forgive me? Canal shared some personal background to “Swan Song” that added so much weight to an already heavy song.  Distant Cowboy’s cello and Clearwater’s violin and background vocals completely elevated the rich lullaby, sounding like a total masterpiece as Victoria Canal’s instrument and physicality seemed to have embody the song with so much intention as she played the piano with ease.

“That’s all I want to do is hang out with people, I hate being alone”, said Canal as the crowd chuckled with friendly support. As if the waterworks had just started, Canal played another beautiful piano intro on “own me”, with Clearwater harmonizing and just lovely strings as Canal’s voice completely soared. It was all inside of her soul and she let it all out.

Singer-songwriter Jason Sibi-Okumu joined Canal on the stage. He said, “Victoria mentioned the concept of friendship love, I am so blessed,” said Sibi-Okumu. “I didn’t grow up having many friends and I thought if I just became famous, if I can just do that I don’t need anybody. I left Kenya and came to America and sort of became famous. I landed in the arms of such incredible friendship. I want to dedicate tonight to my friends.” He added that the African word “ubuntu” is a philosophy, translating to “I am because you are”, playing a rather gentle acoustic song.

For her final song, the unreleased “Totally Fucking Fine,” Victoria Canal’s rich chords complemented her beautiful vocal, and her piano instrumental was so full of hope. Victoria Canal is a dreamer and she left the crowd yearning for more. “driving your car” is the only song off Elegy that didn’t make the set list, maybe because it’s better suited for a different mood and venue and also missing from the set list was the stirring “EBONY”, and the earworm “Second.” These all offer a bit more tempo and production as well as pop sensibility, not to mention the inspiring, feel-good “Bring It On”, which was a theme on Apple TV+ series Best Foot Forward. After a massive year for Brandi Carlile, Victoria Canal is poised to be a future Grammy darling like H.E.R. before Carlile and with her pop stylings and jazz and soul inflections, Canal could very well experience a career trajectory like other career artists like Sara Bareilles, Norah Jones and Alicia Keys.

Words by Michael Menachem
Images by Justin Higuchi