Friday, December 12, 2014

The New Pornographers @ WISE Hall -- 12/11/14

To promote Google Play Music, Google Canada hosted a series of Home for the Holiday shows around the country this month. Last week Toronto got City & Colour, next week Montreal gets Coeur de Pirate, and last night Vancouver got their very own New Pornographers. The "secret" intimate show took place at Wise Hall, quite the change of scene from the last few times I saw them; at a sold out Commodore and in front of thousands of people in Stanley Park.

(And not to sound like a pitchman, but I've always been an Android guy and have been using Google Play -- not the streaming service, but the app itself -- on my phone since before it was available in Canada. It's pretty great.)

But on to the show. I had caught The New Pornographers at the start of their tour, a few months back, and I was actually a little disappointed by it, so I was eager to see them again, especially in a venue so intimate. It was the first time the Vancouver group had ever played the Wise Hall, and the venue sounded great. They started off with all seven members present -- minus Neko Case -- with the title track to the new album Brill Bruisers and into one of my favourites, the Bejar-fronted "Myriad Harbour". From there the set ran the gamut from the old, going back to their first album for the eponymous "Mass Romantic" to the the frantic "War on the East Coast", and all the hits in between.

Dan was on and off stage, there when he was needed, in a trench coat and often with a glass of red wine in hand, in a way that only Dan Bejar can pull off. And Carl Newman was in fine form joking between songs, thanking their Google sponsors (then being shocked that no one could name the inventor of Google) and ringing in every holiday until the end of the year, since it was their last show of 2014.

Other highlights included the softer "A Drug Deal of the Heart", "Testament To Youth in Verse" with its chorus of nos at the end, and a couple songs that really showed off Kathryn Calder's powerful vocals, "The Laws Have Changed" and "Born With A Sound".
After a good hour, they came to a close with one of my absolute favourites -- not just of New Pornos -- "The Bleeding Heart Show", a perfect song, building to a chest-busting ending of intertwined vocals and powerful drums. Though it may have been the only song of the set where their new drummer, Joe Seiders, wasn't quite up to par with Kurt Dahle. But that's not a knock on Joe, he just had some big shoes to fill.
And of course, they were back out for one more, Carl jokingly insisting that the word "encore" came from the Latin for "more", not from the French, before wrapping the night up by singing us Spanish Techno.

With their previous show this year, I couldn't quite place what was "off" about it. But whatever it was, was gone for this show. Maybe it was because they are wrapping up a tour, having just got home from Europe, but they were on top of their game and put on a strong show in a great, intimate venue. And I hope this is going to turn into an ongoing series from Google Canada.

Brill Bruisers; Myriad Harbour; Moves; Dancehall Domine; War on the East Coast; Use It; All The Old Showstoppers; Jackie, Dressed in Cobras; A Drug Deal of the Heart; The Laws Have Changed; Fantasy Fools; Testament to Youth in Verse; Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk; Backstairs; Silver Jenny Dollar; Champions of Red Wine; Born With A Sound; Mass Romantic; Ballad of a Comeback Kid; The Bleeding Heart Show. 
(encore) Sing Me Spanish Techno.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Steam Whistle Unsigned w/ Skye Wallace, Miss Quincy & The Showdown, and Dead Soft @ Biltmore -- 12/05/14

Steam Whistle Unsigned is a concert series started by the Toronto microbrewery to promote local unsigned talent, and they returned to Vancouver last week to spotlight three more bands. The ongoing series, which takes place in multiple cities across Canada, also partners with a charity or non-profit that receives 100% of the proceeds of the show. This time it was Music BC, a non-profit society helping support, develop and nurture the BC Music community. (Who was also having their annual holiday party & "SchMusic" event right before the show!)

Kicking things off was Skye Wallace, her three piece band joined by a couple members of the Four on the Floor String Quartet on cello and violin to add mood to Skye's dark, alt-country sound -- her music would be perfect for the theme and score if someone decided to make a Canadian Deadwood.
Starting off with "Carry Our Son", the first song on her latest album Living Parts, her voice swirling around the haunting strings, setting the tone for the set. Highlights included the intense "Monster" as well as a version of Timber Timbre's "Lay Down In the Tall Grass", definitely a fitting choice for a cover song.
Skye invited Jody Peck (aka Miss Quincy) on stage -- the two just finished a tour of Europe together -- to perform a couple songs to end off, including a new one called "Guiltiest Hymn" which I quite liked, their voices blending together really well.

Not long after that, Miss Quincy & The Showdown started their set with just Jody Peck and Skye Wallace on stage doing an a cappella song, their powerful voices supported only by their handclaps, before the members of The Showdown joined the fray. The trio filled the room with their badass rockin' blues sound, which had feet stomping and hips swaying to songs like "What Is Life If It Ain't Strange" and "Making Money".
Skye came out one last time for a song that showed off Miss Quincy's "soft and sensitive side" (though I don't think her mic was on for half of the song) before they kicked the energy right back up with a great one-two punch of closing songs two of my favourites off her latest album Roadside Recovery; the sultry soundtrack to a great night out, "Bad Love", and the gritty & unapologetic "Wild Fucking West".

The three-piece Dead Soft finished out the night, with their grungy, pop-punk a bit of a departure from the previous two acts. They opened their set with the single "Phase", which didn't quite seem as polished live as the recorded versions. They had a rambunctious energy, but a lot of the set sounded pretty similar, the only songs that stood out from the rest was when bassist Keeley Rochon took over on vocals. It was by no means a bad, but the crowd had thinned by the time they finished their short set, capping it off with their other single, "Never Forever".

This was the sixth Unsigned in Vancouver, and having been to almost all of them, they're always a great time. It's an excellent way to promote local music, and help local charities, and I only hope it runs here for as long as it's been running in Toronto (we are on show #6, they just had show #29).

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

3am Mixtapes: Episode Sixty: Birds

Each week on the 3am Mixtapes podcast, I will share with you the Top Six Songs of a certain subject. The topics can be as general as best chill out songs, but some might be a little more... specific. Top Six Bands Who Haven’t Put Out A New Album in Way Too Long. 

This week the topic was suggested by my good pal Jessica over at Vancouver Music Review, it’s the Top Six Songs For The Birds!

Peep these:

"One Crow Calling" by Jess Hill
"Blue Bird" by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
"Cicadas And Gulls" by Feist
"Blackbird Bakey Pie Blues" by Sit Down, Servant!!
"Hummingbird" by Jenn Grant
"Birds" by Wintermitts

Any questions or comments or waffles or criticisms or suggestions for future themes are welcome!

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Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Trews @ Commodore -- 11/29/14

Hot off the heels of their latest album, Nova Scotia's The Trews embarked on a cross-country tour. Some lucky stops got acoustic and electric performances, which unfortunately we did not as they hit Vancouver at the legendary Commodore Ballroom. Which, interestingly enough, was the very first place I saw them play ten years & a month ago, opening for Big Sugar.

I got to the venue just to catch the last couple songs from The Glorious Sons. The Kingston five-piece had a pretty straight-forward hard rock sound -- maybe a little too "rawk" for my tastes -- but had a great energy. And the crowd was definitely reciprocating, as a clearly strong fanbase for the band sang along with "Mama", the charismatic lead singer Brett Emmons thrashing and headbanging about the stage.
I definitely wouldn't be surprised if, in a few years, they're headlining the Commodore on their own.

Not long after that, the screens lit up and The Trews took the stage to a canned intro, before John-Angus MacDonald picked up the guitar for the intro of the first song off their new self-titled album -- and namesake of the tour -- "Rise in the Wake".
The Antigonish rockers has always had a great raw energy live, and this show was no different. Lead singer Colin MacDonald had the crowd in his palm from the get go, leading the packed venue to sing their hearts out as the set spanned their five albums (and more). From drinking songs like the aptly named "The Power of Positive Drinking" to songs for the troops (but not the war) "Highway of Heroes"; from all-out rockers like "Age of Miracles" to softer songs, like the sweet "In The Morning" (which was sadly lacking Serena Ryder, as Colin performed her verse as well).
They cheekily dedicated "Paranoid Freak" to Russel Brand and wished him "good luck with his revolution", I assuming a result of his new webseries called The Trews. And as they usually do, the band slipped little bits of others songs into theirs, normally just a few lines of a chorus. Rolling Stones' "She's So Cold" got the nod in "So She's Leaving", and they showed some Nova Scotian love to Joel Plaskett by adding a little of "Nowhere With You" during their self-proclaimed east coast drinking song, "Can't Stop Laughing".

The set came to an end with not one, but two showstoppers. After a phenomenal drum intro from Sean Dalton, "Poor Ol' Broken Hearted Me" burst into a huge singalong, with the band inviting Glorious Sons back on stage to play with them -- and even letting Brett Emmons do a little bit of their song "Mama" in the middle. And after that they wrapped up the main set with another fiery old favourite, "Hold Me In Your Arms" during which the band slipped offstage to leave John-Angus shredding front and centre before he too disappeared from stage, only to come out the side door, walk to the back of the venue, into the sound booth, then back to the stage through the other side... all while maintaining the solo. THEN getting back on stage and accompanying himself on kick drum, before the rest of the band came back to finish.

If they hadn't come back, it would have been a great ending to the show, but they returned for the obligatory encore; an acoustic singalong to another drinking song -- and one of my favourites -- "Ishmael and Maggie" before a cover of Roger Miller's "King of the Road", and finally ending the night night off on one last rocking note, a one-two punch of their first hit "Not Ready to Go" and "New King" from the new album.

Having seen them a number of times now in the last ten years, I am never disappointed by a Trews live show. Their talent and passion, and raw energy, culminate to make them one of the finest live performers this country has to offer.

Rise in the Wake, Fair is Fair, The Power of Positive Drinking, So She's Leaving (w/ She's So Cold [Rolling Stones]), Age of Miracles, Paranoid Freak, Sing Your Heart Out, Hope & Ruin, Oblivion, Where There's Love, Tired of Waiting, In The Morning, Can't Stop Laughing (w/ Nowhere With You [Joel Plaskett]), Permanent Love, Highway of Heroes, Poor Ol' Broken Hearted Me (w/ Mama [Glorious Sons]), Hold Me in Your Arms. 
(encore) Ishmael & Maggie, King of the Road [Roger Miller cover], Not Ready To Go, New King.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Matthew Good @ Rio Theatre -- 11/27/14

When the ticket website StubHub announced that their "Next Stage" concert series would include an acoustic Matthew Good at the Rio Theatre, I knew there was no way I could miss it. Good has long been a favourite of mine, and his solo acoustic shows are among the best shows I have seen, especially when in a relatively intimate venue.

Toronto's Dani Jean (also of Mickey Loves Mallory) started things off for the night, behind the keys with a stripped down, soulful pop sound. Her breathy vocals drove haunting songs, many of which seemed to be about various stages of love.
Mid-way through her short set she swapped to an acoustic guitar for a song called "Broken Angels"
and a cover of "Habits" by Tove Lo (which I had never actually heard before, but from the lyrics could tell it was more of a pop song than her gentle interpretation) before going back to hey keyboard for one last one, a song called "Hurts Like Hell".
She put on an enjoyable set, and I would be interested to hear what she's like with a full band, or as part of the Mickey Loves Mallory project.

Matthew Good took the stage armed with his guitar, launching right into "Strange Days" from one of my favourite albums of all time, Beautiful Midnight for a two-hour set that spanned nearly his entire career. He reached as far back as the hidden track on his debut Last of the Ghetto Astronauts -- and what may have been the first popular use of the phrase "first world problems" -- "Omissions of the Omen" where he broke a string on his guitar; had the entire crowd singing along in a hushed choir for "Symbolistic White Walls"; played a few older favourites like "So Long Ms Smith" and a re-worked "Truffle Pigs" all from the Matt Good Band days.

The set also included a few personal favourites, like "Prime Time Deliverance" a powerful song that never fails to give me chills; the intense "A Boy And His Machine Gun", which I don't think I had ever heard live before; and the usually-symphonic "While We Were Hunting Rabbits" simplified to a cool acoustic version while Good's voice soared and filled the theatre.

There were a few songs that were completely re-worked to fit the acoustic format. The frantic and thumping "Load Me Up" was turned into a slower, almost alt-country flavoured song. "Alert Status Red" into a classic protest song. He even mentioned that more songs would probably be given acoustic versions, as he will be embarking on an acoustic tour next April, following his new album in March.

As is the case with most of his acoustic shows, the atmosphere was very relaxed and candid. There were a few small flubs during songs, but when he admitted to screwing something up, or not remembering lyrics to songs he hadn't played in 15 years, it didn't come across as "bad". His proclivity to banter with the crowd between songs made it feel less like a show, and more like some friends sitting around someone's living room. He even occasionally chatted to people one-on-one as he recognised longtime fans in the crowd, or people from his past.

During the set he talked about everything from behind-the-scenes jokes, and why he changed some songs and couldn't play others -- at one point he just let people yell song titled and explaining why he couldn't play each (sometimes sincerely, sometimes glibly). He went from the absurd (don't get into music, get into washroom fixtures) to political (who exactly declares that there is a "war" on Christmas?) and everything in between (Lamb's Rum) as the show was about three quarters music and one quarter storytelling.

After a sold hour and a half, he brought the main set to an end with "Apparitions" -- which, when someone yelled it out earlier he joked of course he was going to play it, they day that he didn't would be the day he was beaten to death by fans -- before he was obviously back out for a few more including a song that his record label deemed "too country", "Hopeless", and the absolutely gorgeous and heartwrenching "Sort of a Protest Song", before finally ending the night on a positive note, his fantastic cover of Daniel Johnston's "True Love Will Find You In The End".

I've said countless times before on this very blog that Matthew Good ranks among my all time favourite musicians, and it's shows like this that cements that position. How he can effortlessly shift from light-hearted banter to heavy, dark songs. His powerful voice that, even if it can't still hit the highs, can blast you right in the chest and rip open your heart. He played for two hours, and I probably still could have stayed for more. 

Strange Days, Tripoli, Born Losers, A Boy And His Machine Gun,  99% Of Us is Failure, Truffle Pigs, Symbolistic White Walls, Prime Time Deliverance, So Long Ms. Smith, Metal Airplanes, While We Were Hunting Rabbits, Omissions of the Omen, Load Me Up, Apparitions. 
(encore) Alert Status Red, Silent Army in the Trees, Empty Road, Hopeless, Sort of a Protest Song, True Love Will Find You In The End.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

3am Mixtapes: Episode Fifty Nine: Space!

Each week on the 3am Mixtapes podcast, I will share with you the Top Six Songs of a certain subject. The topics can be as general as most perfect songs. Some might be a little more... specific. Top Six Songs To Play While Punching and Kicking The Air To Get Your Frustrations On Life Out.

And this week is going to be a little topical. Inspired by something that happened last week, it's the Top Six Interstellar Songs!

Space out to:

"The Universe Expanded by Franz Ferdinand
"What If I Can't See The Stars Mildred? by Matthew Good
"Go Go Space Man by Top Less Gay Love Tekno Party
"Cosmic Destroyer by Chad VanGaalen
"Cold Moon by The Zolas
"Space Oddity by David Bowie

Any questions or comments or waffles or criticisms or suggestions for future themes are welcome!

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Monday, November 17, 2014

Paper Lions @ Media Club -- 11/14/14

Flashback to two years ago -- almost to the day. I was at the Media Club to see PEI's Paper Lions as they came through town, and I remember looking around at the modest crowd and being so angry. This is a band that way more people need to see live! I thought. Cut to this past weekend, as they rolled through town again, still touring strong on their 2013 album My Friends, this time to a packed and sold out club.

Opening the night was Djavin Bowen and the Uproar. Maybe. Despite the promo material saying Lonesome North, lead singer Djavin Bowen introduced themselves as such, and even hinted it was a temporary name. Whatever they are called, the seven-piece included members of Young Pacific and other local bands, and even a trumpeteer -- whose tuxedo was in contrast to the rest of the bands' t-shirts and denim -- to fill out their sound.
With a high energy, their songs were filled with an indie pop vibe, occasionally sauntered into folk territory, and had some catchy songs; a few that were definitely made to sing along to, and an ambitious cover of Arcade Fire's "Sprawl II" that broke down into some folksy harmonies at the end.
The set was a little rough, perhaps because they are a fairly new band, but is was not bad. Not great either, but someone to keep an ear out for in the future (if you can figure out what they're called).

Not long after it was time for Paper Lions, starting with lead singer John MacPhee taking the stage alone, with a drum machine pumping out the beats to "Bodies In Winter" as the rest of the band burst in mid-song. From there they hit the gas on their incredibly infectious indie rock, spanning from old favourites like "Sweat It Out", that had the crowd appropriately yelling along with the chorus, "I'll sweat it out from nine to five, to sweat it out on Friday night", to a rockin' song from their newest EP, Acquaintances, called "Do You Wanna".
Songs ranged from the softer, harmony-laden "Ghostwriters" to the all-out-rocket "Strawberry Man", which goes all the way back to their time as the Chucky Danger Band. The latter they may have even broke some strings -- or worse -- as the band had to quickly duck off stage to fix it while John told the story about the video for their next song, "Travellin'".
After one of my favourites, the ferociously catchy "Lost The War", they wrapped up the main set with "My Friend", John jumping into the crowd at the end to proclaim each person in the crowd his friend, doling out hugs and high fives while singing.
But of course, they were not quite done as the encore began with drummer David Cyrus MacDonald exploding into a drum roll that would make "Wipeout" blush, as the band joined him for the fierce "So Lonely", and wrapped up the night with one of my favourites from the new album, "Sandcastles", leaving the crowd with the sentiment "We build sandcastles, knowing that they'd wash away"

Paper Lions are such a strong live band, the four members having incredible chemistry together on stage, with near-perfect harmonies, and put on one hell of a fun show. I'm already looking forward to the next time they're through town.

Bodies In Winter, Stay Here For Awhile, Sweat It Out, Philadelphia, Don't Touch That Dial, Ghostwriters, Do You Wanna, Little Liar, Strawberry Man, Travellin', Lost the War, My Friend.
(encore) So Lonely, Sandcastles.