Sunday, October 19, 2014

WiL @ Vancouver Fanclub -- 10/16/14

Americana North is a series of shows at Vancouver Fanclub that focuses on "amazing music that fits under the broad 'Americana' description and consisting of Roots, Folk, Bluegrass, Alt Country, Gospel and Blues..!". 
And while I hadn't managed to catch any of their previous shows, with artists like Neil Osbourne and Lindi Ortega, when one of my favourite guitarists to watch live popped up in their lineup, I knew I couldn't miss it.

The openers of the night were Old Mare, from Abbottsford, with a bit of an alt-folk/alt-rock sound. They wore their influences pretty heavily on their sleeves, and while they were all fine musicians, it was not really all that memorable either. A Perfectly Acceptable Opening Band.

It wasn't long after them that Wil took the stage, and I think it was the first time I had seen him with more than just a drummer; in addition to Keith Gallant on drums, they were joined by Lena Birtwistle on keyboard and sometimes backup vocals.
Wil started the show with "Hold Me On", the lead off track from the new album El Paseo, and immediately said that was it, show was over, just one song. But of course, he was joking as he launched into a two-hour set that spanned all the way from the first song he ever wrote, and still a crowd-pleaser, "Both Hands", to more off his new album, like the insanely catchy "Make Make" and "Roam", written for Travel Alberta, which almost gives you the sense of soaring over Albertan landscapes (in a good way).

"Roam" was also the first song of the set where Wil lived up to his "I Break Strings" moniker, breaking a string in the outro. But while that may be one of the things he's known for, it never feels gimmicky -- he even admitted that he doesn't necessarily want to break strings -- just a byproduct from his intense, blurry-handed strumming. (Also, fun fact: his wife Caroline makes jewelry from the recycled broken strings.) And so after changing the string in under a minute, he was back on track, his frantic strumming going to precise picking, and even slide guitar, while emotion poured out of his soulful vocals.

As the main set came to a close, he built in energy and intensity until it all came bursting out on the explosive "Honey Pie", before ending on a slightly calmer note, the slow and heartfelt "Dance With The Devil". And of course he was back for one more, the intense "Look Around", where he snapped not one, but two more strings from his guitar, leaving everyone in the room spent.


It's a testament to his on-stage performance that a singer/songwriter with a guitar and only a couple backing musicians could play for two straight hours, and it never seemed to drag on.


setlist
Hold Me On, Wedding Dress, El Paseo, Oak Tree, Make Make, Both Hands, Morning Sun, Ride, Roam, Brother, Hey Now, If You Want Me To, Here We Go, Honey Pie, Dance With The Devil.
(encore) Look Around.

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Darcys @ Media Club -- 10/15/14

The Last couple times that Toronto band The Darcys were through town, it was in the opening slot for someone else. And both times, I felt the set was criminally short. So lucky for everyone, they hit the Media Club as they came back around on their most recent tour, on the rainy Wednesday night.


I only caught the end of the first band Hollow Twin, who seemed interesting, before the next band, The Lion The Bear The Fox, featuring Christopher Arruda (the lion) on keys and Cory Woodward (the bear) & Ryan McMahon (the fox) on guitars. All three of the musicians had solo careers, to various degrees of success, but joined together for something more than the sum of its parts. Arruda even admitted he was close to quitting music before joining up with the other two, in the introduction to a song that he wrote for his two friends & bandmates. Another highlight of the set was the final song, an incendiary stomper of a song, that transitioned a little into Pink Floyd's "Another Brick In The Wall".
Solo artists coming together can always have mixed results, but the three of them meshed so well that you would think they've been a band all their lives, their three voices intertwined for some great alt-folk harmonies.


And finally, it was time for The Darcys. They started off with the dark and moody "Close to Me", the first track from Warring, as they were celebrating the (just over) one year anniversary of the album's release.
Most of the set focused on the dense and atmospheric art-rock of the album, with songs like the more upbeat and driving "Pretty Girls" and "Itchy Blood", with its slow-simmering intensity. Singer Jason Couse has a great stage presence to him, with a voice that ranges from haunting whispers to soaring heights, and even up into the falsetto.
They reached beyond the album a few times, for some older ones like "Don't Bleed Me" from their self-titled, as well as a couple new ones; near the end of the set they prefaced a song with the fact that they were going to rock & roll now, before playing a new song called "LA Jesus", a huge rocker that I immediately wished I could play on repeat (the only thing I had in my "show notes" for that song was "fucking killer")
The set came to an end, appropriately enough, with the final song off Warring, "Lost Dogfights", seeing Couse coming up to the very front of the stage and just pour his soul through the microphone, before the band brought the song to a swirling ending. But as they went to leave the stage for the faux-encore, they realised there wasn't really anywhere to go in the Media Club, so just stayed there and proclaimed it was now the encore. Jason teased a cover, saying it was only the third time they played the song live, before getting everyone remaining to put on their red shoes and dance the blues with David Bowie's "Let's Dance".


I can't remember the last time The Media Club sounded so good, and this is going to be a show to remember, especially as The Darcys inevitably move to bigger and bigger venues.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

3am Mixtapes: Episode Fifty Five: Opposites

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 like best songs over 15 minutes. Some might be a little more... specific. Top Six Parenthetical Songs.

This week is pretty simple, it's the Top Six Opposites! What do I mean by opposites? Well, you'll just have to listen to find out. Or I suppose you could also just read the song names...

How about some:

"In The Beginning" by The Stills
"End Of An Era" by The Strumbellas
"Hold On, Hold On" by Neko Case
"Let Her Go" by The Matinée
"We Won't Last The Winter" by Small Sins
"Summersong" by Treelines


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



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Sunday, October 12, 2014

Then & Now @ Wise Hall -- 10/10/14

Now in its third year, Then and Now is a simple concept; take a handful of local artists, and get them to play a brand new song & an old song -- their newest, shiniest song, and one of their first songs -- and tell stories about both. Put on by Altered By Mom's Devon Lougheed, and Leigh Eldridge, the night was also a fundraiser for Megaphone Magazine, a local publication that is sold by the homeless or low income people, who get to keep the profits of their sales.


Even though Devon was absent from the event, the night was hosted by Caitlin Howden (The Sunday Service) and Stu Popp (SADCAST, Fat Kids On Basketball), who kept things rolling along and even started an impromptu auction of things they took out of the musicians pockets. Such wondrous items included a guitar pick, an unused bus pass, an american $10 bill, and a partially used Earl's gift card, all of which helped earn over $40 more for Megaphone.

Each of the eight acts was slotted two songs, so even with a little bit of setup in-between a few of them, the night never seemed to drag on.


The night started with the husband & wife duo The Wild Romantics and the first song they sang together, a cover of "Valley of Decision" by The Horse Thieves. Their 'now' was a new one called "Memphis, TN", fitting of the duo's alt-country twang, as they ended the song forehead-to-forehead, sharing the microphone, their voices blending together beautifully.

Badgerchild made some of the crowd feel old as she told the story about her then-song, the first song she put up on YouTube as a teenager, Vince Vaccaro's "Costa Rica" after being inspired to pick up the guitar after a breakup. She followed that up with breathy vocals on a new song called "Out of my Head".

Next was CityReal, supported by Tonye Aganaba on guitar, for some acoustic hip hop. He said it was the first time he had ever performed his songs acoustically, as he played on a djembe with Tonye's voice mixing quite well with his rapping.

The first half of the night wrapped up with Hot Panda. Lead singer Chris Connely came out alone on guitar, singing a cover of the first song he ever performed live, "Steak For Chicken" by The Moldy Peaches. Their 'now' turned into a hilarious performance art piece, after Chris claimed guitars were done, and technology was the future. First he pulled out his phone to get Siri to play the sick beat they made, then once that failed, he went to the tablet... which was out of power. And finally just went to the laptop for some (acceptable) backing tracks and brought out the other two band members in their DJ personas, on "synth" and "instagram video". No text description can live up to the performance, but the song itself was ridiculously catchy.


After the intermission, the second half began with CAST, a really interesting and unique performance by the jazzy drum & vocal duo, with Ben Brown on drums, who were accompanied by a tap dancer.

Tonye Aganaba returned to the stage next, taking the concept to heart with her first song being how she felt about love then -- raw and unbridled emotions -- and her now being how she more currently felt, her amazingly impressive voice silencing the hall.

Going to the very extremes of "then and now" Wide Mouth Mason singer Shaun Verreault -- like a few others during the night -- played the very first song he ever performed in front of people, Black Crowes' "She Talks to Angels" while his 'now' was the most 'now' he could have gotten, a brand new song which he had just finished writing while at the show itself, as he silenced the hall with his effortless and amazing guitar playing.

And finally, after one more short break to set up her gear, the night came to a close with Chersea. The singer/songwriter/looper went back to the very first song she wrote on a loop station, a gorgeous a capella song called "Classy" that showed off her own incredible voice, and her new was also the newest song she had in her arsenal, an upbeat and high energy dancy song.


Like the first two iterations, the night was fun and eclectic, zipping through genres with stories about why each performer chose the songs they did. It's always interesting hearing the change in artists over time, or seeing some of the influences of their work, and I hop it'll be back again for a fourth year.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Peak Performance Project Showcase #3 @ Fortune -- 10/09/14

Can you believe it's already the sixth year of the Peak Performance Project? This year they've changed the project up a little. 102.7 The Peak and Music BC have pared it down from a Top 20 to a Top 12, but that was only to make room for a Top 12 of Alberta bands through the newly launched 95.3 The Peak, and Alberta Music.


Part one of the project was a "rock & roll boot camp" where the musicians went on a week long retreat to get lectures and advice from industry pros, to help them refine their craft, and team up with an Albertan band for a collaboration song. Phase two is a series of shows at Fortune Sound Club; three artists a night for four weeks, showing off what they learned to not only an audience, but a panel of judges. They've also been assigned to learn a "Classic Canadian Cover" to play during their set. I always love hearing bands play cover songs, and it's always interesting to see who each act chooses, if it's someone obvious to their style, or something way outside the box. (And yes, I do have a running tally of bands that chose Neil Young)

They took a week off showcases last week, so everyone could celebrate Break Out West and the Western Canadian Music Awards in Winnipeg, but they were back last night for showcase number three.


Jodi Pederson: The Vernon BC native started the night off with a few small sound issues; in fact, the sound the whole night wasn't the greatest, but Jodi's set seemed hit hardest with a muddy mix. But that aside, a good stage presence and great voice drove her set, with a smokey and soulful pop sound. But while she was a great performer, I don't think her songwriting was quite on the same level. From what I could tell, a lot of her songs were about the same thing -- love -- and certainly none of the songs were really bad, few stuck out. One that did, though, was a darker song called "Boys" that really let her voice soar.
She brought things down in the middle of the set for a couple slower jams, including her classic Canadian cover, "Born To Be Wild" (as I found out, while Steppenwolf is still American, the song was written by a Canadian Mars Bonfire) which was a really interesting, almost jazzy, take on the song.
Jodi wrapped up her set with the single, "City Lights", with what I thought was a slightly out-of-place drum breakdown in the middle, and ended with a number of her fans in the crowd holding up and spinning glowsticks.
She's definitely got the performance aspect down, and I think given a little more experience writing, she'll take off.


The Tourist Company: No stranger to radio competitions, the self described experimental folk-rock band was the Vancouver finalist in this year's CBC Music Searchlight contest. The took the stage joined on & off by some familiar faces, Michelle Faehrmann and Stephanie Chatman from Four on the Floor String Quartet (every year it seems at least one band makes use of members of the talented Quartet, and this year it was The Tourist Company).
I've said a few times before on this blog there's a certain type of prevalent folk sound that I just no longer care about, and while they are not the worst offender, they fit in to that category. Which isn't to say they are not objectively good, with solid harmonies, and tight, catchy songs, all greater than what you would expect from just four members. Stand-out songs were the driving drums and jangling glockenspiel on "Irrepressible Future", and "One Giant Leap" with Jillian Levey on lead vocals, instead of main singer Taylor Swindells.
Their set hit a lot of the expected beats of a folk-rock set, including breaking out the floor toms, and their cover was, a little predictably, a soaring folksy version of "Wake Up", closer to the acoustic version Arcade Fire did recently. They ended off with a big, high energy song that I didn't catch the name of, leaving a good chunk of the crowd cheering for more.
While I can not deny they are very good at what they do, what they do is just not for me.


Shred Kelly: On the other side of the "folk coin" is the Fernie BC stoke folk band. They were the one of three bands I was rooting for going into the project, having been a fan of them for a couple years now.
The five-piece started off with a newer song that encapsulates the band perfectly; Tim Newton starting the song slowly plucking his banjo until he picked up the pace to a blurry hand, joined by Sage McBride's lovely voice, the song building to an explosive crescendo. From there they kept up the energy, getting the crowd clapping and stomping along, before it came to a head with another new song, a bit of a darker song for them and my favourite of the set, and "Tornado Alley", culminating in a frantic storm of instruments worthy of the title.
They brought the set down for a moment, for a couple of their (relatively) softer songs, and then wrapped up with the perennial singalong, "I Hate Work", letting the Thursday night crowd blow off steam. That then segued nicely into their Canadian cover, Loverboy's "Working For The Weekend", during which they not only got a surprising number of people to "get low" and crouch down, but also split the room for the singalong: one side singing along with Sage "Everybody's working for the weekend" and the other with Tim, chanting "I Hate Work", to wrap up a set that reinforced my desire to see them in the top three.


And with that, there was only one more showcase to go, spotlighting the last three of the Top Twelve. Next week will be The Wild Romantic, Dearrival, and Damn Fools.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

3am Mixtapes: Episode Fifty Five: What's In A Name?

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 like best video game songs. Some might be a little more... specific. Top Six Songs To Listen To While Reading Horror Stories,

And they say you should never judge a book by its cover, but what about judging a book by its title? Because this week is the Top Six Band Names!

How about some:

"Terraform Mars" by Carbon Dating Service
"We're So DIY!" by Math and Physics Club
"Nightwater-Girlfriend" by Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin
"The Ghost Within" by ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead
"Lamia" by YAMANTAKA // SONIC TITAN
"Mama's in the Backseat" by The Harpoonist & The Axe Murderer


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



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Sunday, October 5, 2014

The New Pornographers @ Commodore -- 10/04/14

Fresh off the release of their sixth album Brill Bruisers, The New Pornographers kicked off their tour with a pair of hometown shows at the Commodore Ballroom.
I caught the second of the two, but for some reason, I was not as excited as I should have been. Maybe it was the recent news that Kurt Dahle (one of my favourite drummers) had left the band. Or maybe it was the lack of the promised Neko Case who, due to issues at the border, was not able to get into the country.
But I was intrigued by the announcement that Amber Webber, of Black Mountain and Lightning Dust, would be filling in, and excluding free outdoor shows, it was the first time seeing the band in a proper venue in over four years.

Unfortunately I missed the first two bands, Cool TV and The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, getting to the venue just as The New Pornographers hit the stage with the first song, and title track, "Brill Bruisers" and as soon as Dan Bejar joined them for one of my favourites, "Myriad Harbour", a lot of my misgivings had faded. The set dug heavily into their back catalogue, with lots of deep cuts throughout the night, showing off the bands 14 years of crafting some of the best power pop songs out there, from "Champions of Red Wine" all the way back to "Execution Day" off their debut album.

Frontman Carl Newman occasionally chatted with the crowd a few times, joking that in revisiting some of the older songs he found some were "pretty good" -- specifically "The New Face of Zero and One" -- and looked happy to be home, asking if anyone else went to school in White Rock. Bejar was on and off stage, joining only when he was needed, as he usually does, and while the absence of Neko Case was felt, Kathryn Calder unsurprisingly stepped in with her own fantastic voice. Guest Amber Webber was mostly on backup and harmonies, and there were only a couple times that her voice really soaring above the rest, the best example being "Born With a Sound", which featured her on the album. I actually ended up wishing they utilized her more; I would have loved to see how her haunting voice fit with songs like "Challengers" or even "Letter From An Occupant", neither of which ended up in the set.

After over an hour, they ended the main set with my two favourites from the new album, Dan Bejar's frantic "War on the East Coast", and the impressive vocals of Calder shining on "Dancehall Domine" before thy were back out for a few more. Bejar returned one last time for "Spyder", before they went all the way back and wrapped up with the with the first song, and title track to their debut, "Mass Romantic", a nearly perfect song, with Calder once again filling the room with her powerful pipes.

In the end, it was definitely a good show. There was too much raw talent on stage for it not to be, but something about it just felt... off. I have seen the band perform without Case a few times, and I think it all came down to the new drummer. He was a fine drummer, don't get me wrong, but the absence of Kurt Dahle left some pretty big kickdrums to fill.

setlist
Brill Bruisers; Myriad Harbour; Sing Me Spanish Techno; Born With a Sound; The End of Medicine; Twin Cinema; Execution Day; All The Old Showstoppers; The Moves; Silver Jenny Dollar; You Tell Me Where; The Spirit of Giving; The New Face of Zero and One; Champions Of Red Wine; Ballad of a Comeback Kid; Backstairs; Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk; War on the East Coast; Dancehall Domine.
(encore) Spyder; The Laws Have Changed; Mass Romantic.