Monday, September 27, 2010

The Flaming Lips @ Malkin Bowl -- 09/26/10

Sometimes you see things. And in your head you build and you build, and it becomes something much more than it was. For me, this was the first time I saw The Flaming Lips back in 2007. It was one of the greatest live experiences I had ever, er, experienced. The minute I found out they were coming back, I knew I had to go; that nothing was going to stop me. But I was kind of worried that I had hyped it up in my head so much that nothing could compare, or that I would see it and it wouldn't live up to this standard I had placed in my head. Well, skip to the end: it lived up to it. And then some.
Before I go on, though, I have to ask what the hell happened to Malkin Bowl??? It used to be a large patch of pretty nice grass, but that night it was pretty much a big mud pit.

First up was Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti. I got there just in time to hear them starting, and I was glad I made it to catch them. With a weird psychedelic sound that was part of Montreal, part classic rock, part acid trip, they rocked through a set of a little over 45 minutes. Near the end, they were joined by the Flaming Lips drummer, for a few songs of dual drum kits going.Though there was not much, if any, crowd interaction, just song leading into song, and the odd comment or song title between the two. It was definitely an interesting set, and I would be interested to see them live again.

As they came to an end, the crew quickly worked to set up one of the most elaborate stages I've seen. But before the band even hit the stage, Wayne Coyne came out with a quick disclaimer, warning of the intense flashing light and telling us they took a chance setting up at the front of the stage, but it was set up so that if it did start to rain, they could quickly move everything back with little delay. Luckily, the rain held off for the show, so there was no need.
A few minutes later, it was time for The Flaming Lips. The show itself started with a woman on the big screen and the members being, er, birthed, coming out of a door in the screen. Wayne then stepped into his Space Bubble and ran/crawled through the crowd, before coming back to kick off the show with "Worm Mountain", with the confetti guns blasting and giant balloons being strewn throughout the crowd. There were also the usual dancers on both sides of the stage as well as other hijinks throughout the set, but good theatrics does not a great show make. Musically, they are unparalleled; you can tell they have been around for years and still absolutely love what they're doing. The focus was on the new album, with a usual assortment of their bigger hits, and every song was fantastic. From the absolute intensity of "Evil" to the fun singing along of "She Don't Use Jelly" everything sounded just perfect in the beautiful venue. There was crowd participation with "I Can Be A Frog", with everyone acting out the animal/thing mentioned in the chorus, followed by "Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots" which had damn near every single person in the packed bowl singing along.
Other shenanigans included someone in a bear suit running out during "Silver Trembling Hands" and Coyne got on its shoulders to sing; Coyne putting on the giant hands -- which shot lasers out of the palms into the giant disco balls, and also into the crowd; and for "Sagittarius Silver Announcement" all the lights being turned off for the song to be performed in complete darkness.
After they "ended" the set, the came back for just one more: "Do You Realize??" which, again, saw the entire park singing along, as well as more massive blasts of confetti. It's hard to describe in text, but it was an incredibly uplifting experience that I doubt will ever be matched by another band.
They ended promptly at 10, which was the curfew for the park, but people were still clamouring for more, to the point where Wayne had to come out and tell the remaining people, on his bullhorn, that they were not able to do any more, due to the curfew, apologizing and thanking everyone profusely for coming. It was a nice touch, to show that he wasn't ignoring the cheers, but literally was not able to play more.

There was a few songs that I wish they had played... "Race for the Prize" and "The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song" being two examples, but they were more than enough amazing moments in the show to "make up" for it. It's hard to put into words the feeling that you get after seeing The Flaming Lips play live... you feel happy and uplifted and like you can take on the world. Very few other bands have had even close to the effect that The Flaming Lips have on me, and I will go to my death bed insisting that everyone see them at least once live. Fan of them or not, there is no other live show like it.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Wooden Sky & Yukon Blonde @ Biltmore -- 09/25/10

For a while now, I had been hearing how great a band Yukon Blonde was live, but I just never had a chance to find out for myself. So when I found out they were not only coming, but co-headlining with The Wooden Sky, who I had seen live once before and recall enjoying, I jumped at the chance. Even though I didn't realise until a couple hours before the show that it would be the latter, not the former, closing out the night.

We were still lined up outside when the opening songs from the first band, Great Bloomers, wafted outside. Since it was a curfew show, they started at 8 sharp -- which was the same time as doors -- so I think a lot of people in this perpetually late city missed them. Which is a shame, because they were quite enjoyable. A very upbeat sound, with a twinge of roots and alt-country mixed in. Though as energetic as they were while playing, they seemed a little less so with their banter; there was maybe one monotone "we're excited to be here" and not much else. But their enthusiasm while playing made up for it and I am pretty sure I'll be catching them next time they're in town.

Next up was Yukon Blonde, and holy crap, wow, are they ever great live. With an intensity and raw power that is hard to match, they just straight up rocked out for the set. As soon as they launched into their first song, they completely owned the stage, and several times the audience was more than eager to clap or sing along. From the harmonies on "Wind Blows" to the energy of "Loyal Man", there was not a single note out of place in the set. Though there was a little bit of banter, they just let the music speak for itself. You could still definitely see their 60s influences throughout the set, but it comes off as just that, influence, and not blatant ripoff. I would definitely not hesitate to see them live again. Though I just have to ask, why don't they sound like this on the album? I like their self titled debut well enough, but it just seems so... flat compared to their live show. They really need to record live off the floor, or do something to capture the energy their performance.

While I admit I was going to the show more to see Yukon Blonde, I was looking forward to seeing The Wooden Sky again, even though hadn't listened to their new album. After a bit of a false start due to technical difficulties, they proceeded to rock the crowd. They, too, had a bit of a roots/folk influence, but combined it with a rock edge for a great sound. The set was very tight, and you could tell the band was completely at ease up on stage. And the lead singer was pretty damn charming. Mid way through the set they broke into a cover, "American Girl" by Tom Petty, which was a pretty straight ahead cover, but worked damn well. They wrapped up the set, but were obviously coming back for the encore, that started with "Oh My God (It Still Means A Lot To Me)". After a set like this, I think I am definitely going to have to start listening to them more.

I've had lots of luck this year, seeing shows where each band on the bill would be worth seeing on their own, and I think I can add this one to the list. All three of these bands I would definitely be interested in seeing live again.

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Peak Performance Project Showcase #3 @ The Red Room -- 09/23/10

The Peak Performance Project is a multi-year contest in which The Peak, along with Music BC, picks 20 BC musicians/bands a year and makes them stars.
Last year it was won by We Are The City, and they have barely slowed down since winning. This year it seems like the competition is a lot tougher; at least half the bands I have either liked before the contest, or have grown to like because of it. I definitely do not envy the judges on who should take it come November.
Part one of the project was a rock & roll boot camp where they went on a week long retreat where industry pros helped them refine their craft. Phase two is a series of shows at The Red Room, four artists a night for five weeks, each playing a 45 minute set, which includes a cover of a classic Canadian song. I always love it when bands play covers live, so that is one aspect I am definitely looking forward to. That, and seeing who everyone picks (I am going to keep a running tally on how many Neil Young and Leonard Cohen songs we get -- so far, one Young, no Cohen).

This week was unique, in that each of the artists I had heard before this years project, and each one I was looking forward to seeing, in varying degrees. First up was Christina Maria, who I was quite interested in seeing live. She hit the stage in a sequin dress and launched into her single "Carolina", immediately wowing the crowd. A couple songs in, there was some technical difficulties, causing the mics to turn off, but she finished the song like a pro. Then after waiting for a minute or two, she decided to just keep on going, shushing the crowd (which in itself was no small feat) and starting the next song just at the front of the stage, unamplified. It was a really cool moment, and she gets points for rolling with the problems. Midway through the song, the problem was fixed and they just kept going. She looked completely natural on stage, and had great charisma & presence, not to mention a really good energy, eliciting a sing-a-long from the crowd. There was also an overhead projector with images throughout the set, but I'm not sure how many people were paying attention, as it was off to the side. And a mbira made a brief appearance for a song. As for her cover, she broke out the Bruce Cockburn (not Barenaked Ladies) classic, "Lovers in a Dangerous Time". It was a pretty good version of it, which she made her own, but not really straying too far from the original (or BNL version, for that matter).
She was definitely impressive live, and based on the sets I've seen so far, I wouldn't hesitate to put her in the top five.

Second up was 41st & Home, who I saw at their CD release party (that they didn't even play last at, for some reason). They had a really rich sound, with good energy and intensity, but a few songs may have been a bit.. similar-y. Good, absolutely, but maybe just a little lacking. Their cover was Tom Cochrane's "Life Is a Highway", which was a bit more of a mellow and slowed down version. It was definitely an interesting interpretation of it. From then, they played a couple songs that were a bit slower paced, before closing the set with "Sleeper", which had the members came up to the front, one by one, for a sing-a-long to the ending. They, too, all seemed pretty comfortable on stage, and seemed to even relax more as the night went on; there wasn't much banter, especially at the beginning, but by the end they were joking around a bit more. And visibly enthused at being there. Though the set was quite good, there were still times you could tell they were a relatively new band, and I have no doubt given time, and a larger catalogue of songs, they'll be great. 

Next up was a veteran of the Project, Ben Sigston. He was in last years and reapplied for this years, making it in by a hair, after two of the initial twenty dropped out. He had members of Familia as his backing band, and the first song almost had a bit of a bluesy-roots feel to it, but over the set he kind of went in a variety of directions with his sound. While nothing ever seemed out of place, I think I liked his more rootsy stuff better than the rest. He did seem pretty charismatic, too, even if he didn't talk all that much (and sharply dressed, as seemed to be a theme for the night). His cover was "Still Believe in Love" by Jacksoul, which was good, but I am not overly familiar with the original, so I can't speak to how different it sounded. Like 41st & Home, I think he's got a great potential, and maybe just needs a little more work. Hopefully this Project will be a great help to them.

And closing up the night, Adaline. She was another repeat entrant, but she was automatically entered by making the top 5 last year (though not the top three). Despite liking her music since then, I had somehow never seen her live, so I was glad to remedy that. As the stage was set with smoke and lasers (and mannequins) she came out while her backing band (which included Laura Smith and Robbie Driscoll) and proceeded to blow the crowd away. Her strong voice seemed like it should have clashed with her electronic-infused rock, but it really worked. After a few songs, she pulled out the into-the-crowd trick, deciding to do a whole song with her keyboard in the middle of the dance floor. Though there was a bit of a miscommunication, so the set came to a halt as they had to move the keyboard between songs. She played it off a bit, but it definitely hurt the momentum of the show (especially since, as she was last, it was past midnight) and the song was a bit of a slower one. But the transition back on stage was a lot more smooth, and they brought back the energy to end off the set. Which included her cover of "Sunglasses At Night" by Corey Hart, definitely the best cover of the night.
(So while the Leonard Cohen count is zero, and the Neil Young count is one... the Corey Hart count is two?)
Adaline also major points for being in a car accident earlier that day, and not letting her affect the show in the least. Had I not known about it, I never would have guessed by her performance. She is definitely another strong contender for

This may have been the best overall week of sets, and while it was a tough call, I think Christina Maria won the night, even with great performances all around. Next week should be another good night, with Steph Macpherson, Christopher Arruda, Behind Sapphire and Said the Whale playing!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Jess Hill @ The Railway Club -- 09/22/10

As I mentioned in my first Peak Performance Project Showcase post, Jess Hill's music has had an immediate effect on me. I'm pretty sure it's because I have a soft spot for alt-country women with powerful voices (see also: Neko Case, Carolyn Mark, Jenny Lewis, Kathleen Edwards, et al), but from the moment I heard her I had a new musical-crush.

Shiloh Lindsey was first up, though, and she was pretty good. An alt-country sound, but a little on the twangy  side for my taste. There also didn't really seem to be that much by way of diversity through the songs... They were still good, just not quite my taste, I guess.

Up next was Jess Hill, who started her set much the same way as the Showcase, with an a capella song which she launched into while the bar was still chatting. But her powerful voice effectively shut (most) everyone up (almost) immediately, before the band kicked in for "Orchard". She's got a great sense of songwriting and story telling, with a lot of her tunes having an edge, or even a darkness to them, and that just compliments her folk style and voice perfectly.
Mid way through, the two members took a break and she played a few songs alone, as well as a tale relating moths, and their being drawn to light, to love. It's awkward to relay, but made complete sense in context, and the way she told it. After a couple solo songs, the band came back, and she did another song that started off a capella, but then the band crashed back in for one of the more upbeat songs of the set. It was probably my favourite song of the show, and I am not quite sure the name of it (venturing a guess, I'd say "Digging A Hole"), and am eager to get a recorded version of it. She ended the set with "From Above", and even though guitarist James Lamb, who was at the Peak Showcase show, wasn't there -- he had to drop out of this show at the last minute -- it in no way detracted from the show. At least not that I could notice. (Though, it would have been cool to see him there, too)

I'm honestly not really too sure how Jess Hill will fare against the predominantly indie-pop-rock offerings of the Peak Performance Project, but from what I've seen so far, and in my humble opinion, she more than deserves to at least be in the top five.
And, hey, the two bands I was rooting for most last year ended up in the top three, so here's hoping!

Monday, September 20, 2010

The 2010 Polaris Music Prize goes to...

Les Chemins De Verre by Karkwa!
Anyone who follows the blog closely (both of you), or people who follow me on the twitters, or see my ramblings on the CBC Radio 3 blog should have an idea of how ecstatic I am right now. This has been one of my favourite albums so far this year, and I have been a huge fan of Karkwa in general since I first saw them live. I fell in love with this album immediately, and it has done nothing but grown on me.
The last few years of Polaris had, to be frank, left me wanting. So even though I very much wanted Karkwa to walk away with the prize (the only person I would be okay beating them would be the Nice, Nice, Very Nice Mr. Dan Mangan), I did not think in the least that they would be the recipients of the $20,000 prize. I have never been so glad to be proven wrong. But I feel that I am just fanboy-rambling now, so I'll wrap it up.
The best thing about this? Now people outside of Quebec know who they are. And deservedly so.
Oh, that, and hopefully now they'll tour a little more, and come back to Vancouver for a show.

For previous blog posts about Karkwa, see:
Review of the album.
Initial impressions of the title track.
A free live show during the Olympics.

Thank you, Polaris Music Prize. You and your grand jury have chosen, what is in my humble opinion, the best album.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Peak Performance Project Showcase #2 @ The Red Room -- 09/16/10

The Peak Performance Project is a multi-year contest in which The Peak, along with Music BC, picks 20 BC musicians/bands a year and makes them stars.
Last year it was won by We Are The City, and they have barely slowed down since winning. This year it seems like the competition is a lot tougher; at least half the bands I have either liked before the contest, or have grown to like because of it. I definitely do not envy the judges on who should take it come November.
Part one of the project was a rock & roll boot camp where they went on a week long retreat where industry pros helped them refine their craft. Phase two is a series of shows at The Red Room, four artists a night for five weeks, each playing a 45 minute set, which includes a cover of a classic Canadian song. I always love it when bands play covers live, so that is one aspect I am definitely looking forward to. That, and seeing who everyone picks (I am going to keep a running tally on how many Neil Young and Leonard Cohen songs we get -- so far, one Young, no Cohen).

I fully admit, going into the P3, I had a few artists that I was already fans of, so I may have a bias towards. One of those is Aidan Knight, whose album Versicolour I am in love with. He came out with his backing band, The O'Darlings, but without a drummer -- only having a couple floor toms on stage with them. Kicking the set off with "The Sun", he then went through a few new songs, visibly excited and enthusiastic to be there and playing for us. A few times through the set, he chatted to the crowd, with his own humble banter that comes across more charming and funny than awkward. Another new song featured some borrowed Simon & Garfunkel lyrics, and is a song I hope to hear recorded very soon. After intense endings to both "North East South West" and "Knitting Something Nice For You" he played his classic Canadian cover, which was a really slowed down and melancholy version of "The Light Is You" by Said The Whale. While is was a great cover, I do have to question its status as "classic" song. He ended the set as he usually does, with "Jasper", which had the whole crowd singing along with him from the beginning, and then to cap off the song, he jumped into the crowd with his guitar, surrounded by people singing. It was a pretty amazing sight, and just helps prove why he is one of my top picks to win the whole project.

Next up was Yes Nice, who I had heard a little of and was looking forward to. But the first half of their set, they seemed really unenthusiastic, almost like it was more of a chore for them to be there; not even talking very much. But half way through they broke out their Canadian cover, the theme song to The Raccoons, which was pretty awesome and full of energy. The rest of their set kept it up, and if their whole set had the same level to it -- or at the very least, mixed it up a bit -- I would have liked the set a lot better. Once they got into that groove, they were a lot more enjoyable to watch. They ended with "Horses", the most upbeat and poppy song about the apocalypse I have ever heard, which even had the chorus projected on the wall, for a sing-a-long... but after the natural one for Aidan, it seemed maybe a little forced. They also wove through the crowd before the set, sneakily putting small pieces of blue tape on people, and when they hit the stage, they too were adorned with tape. I am not really sure what that was about, but... it was something.

Debra Jean and the Means was third of the night, with Debra Jean Creelman being formally of Mother Mother. Both her and her backing band were all very talented, but there was just something... missing. They had a very eerie and creepy rock sound, but it was a little... "generic" is too negative of a word, but it just didn't strike me. She also didn't use her range very much, at least until her cover of The Band's "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down", which she brought out a small brass section for. I've heard really good and really bad covers of that song, and this was definitely the former; probably even the best cover of the night. She had an excellent stage presence, though, owning the mic for every song. While I don't want to say they were bad in the least, I was just a little underwhelmed.

Wrapping up the night was Parlour Steps, who had a VERY upbeat and energetic set; probably the most of the night. Though again, they didn't have much by way of banter, they seemed very comfortable and confident on stage. At one point, they passed out egg-shakers to some people in the front for crowd participation, which is always a nice touch when bands do that sort of thing. The only thing was they did have a bit of a similar feel to a lot of their songs, even their cover of The Northern Pikes song "Teenland", but with their kind of power-pop, that isn't necessarily a detriment to their set.
After they wrapped up their alloted 45 minutes, some people in the crowd were chanting for an encore, so the lead singer came out and said that out of respect for the other bands, they would not be doing one. Which I found very classy and applaud them for doing so. It wouldn't have been fair to the rest, and that definitely improved my opinion of the band.

And so the winner of the showcase number two? Aidan Knight. I would like to think that Knight did not win because of my previous bias, but rather I have the bias because he puts on shows like this. I am really hoping he makes it far the contest.
Next week is another stacked week, with Christina Maria, 41st and Home, Ben Sigston and Adaline. Should be a good one!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Forgiveness Rock Record by Broken Social Scene

Given how the various members of Toronto's "musical collective" Broken Social Scene have gone on to their own success, Jimmy Shaw & Emily Haines of Metric and Feist perhaps the two best examples, and the pair of "BSS Presents" solo albums by co-founders Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning, it was not unreasonable to be in doubt of the future of the group. But after "slimming down" to a core nine members, the group feels more like a band, and less like a loose gathering of musicians. There are still guest stars galore -- there are 30-something credited musicians on the album -- but most just pop in for a song or two, including BSS alumni Feist, Haines, Amy Millan, Jason Collett, members from The Sea & Cake, Pavement and many more. But will the new, streamlined lineup provide the same magic that previous albums hit?

Forgiveness Rock Record starts as the almost seven minute long "World Sick" slowly creeps in, before swelling to grandiose proportions. The sprawling song is reminiscent of their previous work, but once the frantic and frenzied "Chase Scene" kicks in, you know the album is going to be their most diverse yet. The topical "Texico Bitches" is an effortless song, and "Forced To Love" is a more straight ahead rocker, featuring Sebastien Grainger. Those gives way to the more electronic-y "All To All", the first song to showcase the vocals of relative newcomer Lisa Lobsinger, who proves she is right up there with the rest of BSS's talented female vocalists. The horn-laden "Art House Director" is another high energy rocker, where the influence of Apostle of Hustle's Andrew Whiteman shines through.
"Highway Slipper Jam" slows things down with a more chill, loose, acoustic-y vibe to it, and the lo-fi and twitchy "Ungrateful Little Father", crawls to a dreamy ending. But then the energy is right back up with the epic "Meet Me In the Basement", an absolutely intense instrumental battle of guitars and horns that leaves you drained at the end. Which is probably best to be followed by "Sentimental X's", which starts a little more subdued, but then builds to a grand climax. It also, if I am not mistaken, marks the first time Feist, Haines and Millan have sung on the same song.
The sexy bass line of "Sweetest Kill" belies some of the darkest lyrics on the album, which seem to have a focus on romance, abandonment and death, as "Romance To the Grave" also does a good job of showcasing. After a few slower tracks, "Water In Hell" brings the energy back up with another great cacophonous rock song. The album ends with a kind of strange song, "Me and My Hand", which sounds like it's a one-take screwing-around song that should be a hidden track rather than the closer.

In the end, the album manages to be their most eclectic, yet most accessible. It is less sprawling, and while at first it may seem a bit too focused, the more you listen to it, and peel back the layers, the more you see new elements you missed the first, second, or even fifth times. Is it their best yet? No, probably not, but that is only a testament to how brilliant their previous albums are. But it is definitely their most engaging, and absolutely worthy of being short listed for a Polaris Prize.

Download Chase Scene

Download All to All

Download Meet Me In The Basement

Clicky to exchange monies for music

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Analog Bell Service (w/ Tariq) @ Railway Club -- 09/10/10

I'm not sure how it happened, but it seems like forever since I had been to a show at the Railway Club. It's probably one of the better live venues we have, but perhaps because of it's size, you have to catch bands at just the right point to be able to see them there. Last night featured two Vancouver bands who will be no doubt moving to bigger venues soon enough. Both also had the CBC Radio 3 connection, with members being hosts and/or behind the scenes work.

While he wasn't first up for the night (that went to Aunts & Uncles, who we missed), Tariq was the first act we caught. He was joined by Brasstronaut-bandmate Brennan Saul, Colin Cowan & Chris Kelly (of Analog Bell Service) and Jody Glenham as his backing band. I'm not sure why, but when I first heard Tariq's solo material, I was a bit surprised that it had more of a folky, almost alt-country sound to it. But it really works well for him. There was especially one song that struck me, as it did last time I saw him play, called "Front Row Seat" which is a love song by way of concert seating. Which sounds awkward, but turns out really well written. He was also joined, at one point, by Brasstronaut trumpeteer Bryan Davies for a song. I think I liked the first time I saw him a little better, at Little Mountain Gallery, because there seemed to be more banter/joking that time, and the "encore" with Tariq playing in the midst of the crowd... but that kind of thing is a bit more difficult at the Railway.

And hitting the stage around 1am was Analog Bell Service. This was my third time seeing them in about as many months, and probably the best of the three. The other two they were openers, so this time they had more time to stretch their legs. Their energy was through the roof, as usual, as they burst through their poppy art-rock sound. I guess that is how you would describe it, they have a hard sound to peg down. Aside from the songs from their self titled album, they played some brand new stuff and a few covers, as they seem to like to do; "Sunglasses at Night" and "I Can See Clearly Now", both of which they've done before. They also threw in a really cool cover of Stevie Wonder's "Superstition", their sound giving the song a really unique twist. They also teased covering The Pixies at one point, I think, but it wasn't to be. The set was wrapped up with "I Guess", which they went completely all out for, somehow managing to raise the intensity. So much so that Chris Kelly even seemed to break his guitar somehow. Because of that, it didn't seem like there was going to be more, but the crowd brought them back for a for-reals-encore, which saw them pull their friend (and bandmate, or former bandmate, I am not sure) Chris Leitch for vocals on the last song, "There She Goes".

Despite the fact that they went on so late (Tariq started at almost midnight, ABS just after 1am), it was still a damn good show, and I will definitely be seeing either of them next time I have the chance.

PS: I don't know who made the poster for the show, but I love the Python-ness of it.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Peak Performance Project Showcase #1 @ The Red Room -- 09/09/10

The Peak Performance Project is a multi-year contest in which The Peak, along with Music BC, picks 20 BC musicians/bands a year and makes them stars.
Last year it was won by We Are The City, and they have barely slowed down since winning. This year it seems like the competition is a lot tougher; at least half the bands I have either liked before the contest, or have grown to like because of it. I definitely do not envy the judges on who should take it come November.
Part one of the project was a rock & roll boot camp where they went on a week long retreat where industry pros helped them refine their craft. Phase two is a series of shows at The Red Room, four artists a night for five weeks, each playing a 45 minute set, which includes a cover of a classic Canadian song. I always love it when bands play covers live, so that is one aspect I am definitely looking forward to. That, and seeing who everyone picks (I am going to keep a running tally on how many Neil Young and Leonard Cohen songs we get).

Going into the first showcase, there were two artists I was looking forward to seeing. The first of which being Jess Hill, whose voice I had fallen in love with the minute I heard "Orchard" on The Peak. She came out to kick the whole event off with an a capella song, only aided by stomps & claps, that really let her powerful voice shine. The band, which featured an electric upright bass and James Lamb on guitar, then kicked in for "Orchard" and were with her for the rest of the set. Her sound was sort of a folk sound, with a bit of an alt-country twinge, but it wasn't without an edge, or a bit of darkness to some of the songs. The style definitely played to her strengths, and she seemed to have a great sense of storytelling to the songs. Near the end she broke out into another a capella song, her commanding voice taking hold of the crowd (except for the annoying people in the back who talked the whole night) and then the band kicked in for a really incredible song, which I wish I got the name of. She also had a pretty good stage presence, confident in what she was doing, but also very appreciative to the crowd; slightly shy without being awkward at all.
For her cover, she explained that she didn't want to go for the obvious choice of Joni Mitchell, so decided to pick someone who shared her birthday. And then launched into "Cuts Like A Knife" by Bryan Adams. The fun part about covers is seeing an artist making it their own, and she not only did that, but I think I liked her version better than the original.
Going in to her showcase set, I had already liked her from the album, but after the set? Wow, just wow. She had definitely secured her spot in who I think should be the top five.

Next up was Bodhi Jones, who was actually in the project last year, and made it in for the second year. His sound was a little more of a folk-pop sound, and he definitely wasn't bad, but he just seemed to be missing a certain something. A few of his songs sounded a bit too similar and while they were not bland, they just kind of... were there. He did, though, look completely natural up on stage, and that was probably due to his relentless live playing, as he can often be found busking in Vancouver. An effortlessness surrounded him which did add to his performance.
There was one song near the end where he was joined by a cellist (whose name I am blanking on, but I believe she played with Broken Social Scene at Sasquatch) for a really emotional song about an addict friend, which was definitely the best of the set. Before his cover he mentioned that he didn't like playing them too much, and then went into "Old Man" by Neil Young (one), and did a decent version of it, but didn't really make it his own or anything. Much like his whole set, it was good, and he is an admirable player, but he was just missing something.

Vince Vaccaro was the other act I as interested in seeing, having been an idle fan of his for a few years. Meaning I have caught him live once for a free show, and have enjoyed his stuff on the radios, but never quite got around to picking up an album. The first thing that struck me was his energy. The man ran around stage like a squirrel with ADD, going into the crowd, even, barely slowing down for a minute. And the energy translated really well to playing live. For the beginning of his set, he had the electric out, and his sound seemed to be a bit more funk-infused; his Boot Camp Challenge song (which was to write a song around the title "Last Night") had a downright reggae flavour to it, but it was when he brought out the acoustic that I really got into it. Not to sound like "that guy", but I think I like his earlier material better, with songs like Heart & Hands, which he didn't play, having more of an East Coast Rock sound, something that you don't find much here (for obvious reasons). He did touch on that aspect of his sound, though, when he pulled out his cover song, "Uprising Down Under" by Sam Roberts -- which made me wonder how "classic" the song has to be. Don't get me wrong, that's one of my favourite Sam Roberts songs, but it is from four years ago. In any case, the beginning half of the song sounded almost identical, with Vaccaro playing softly on his guitar. But then the rest of the band kicked in to give the end a more rocking vibe, making it their own. It was quite a good set, and while I may not put Vaccaro in my top five, he would easily make the top ten.

Finally, wrapping up the night was Acres of Lions. I had heard a bit of them before the show, and to be blunt, I wasn't really into what I had heard, as it seemed to be a bit more pop-punk. But I had heard second-hand that their live show was fun, so I was open to it. And that it most certainly was. They, too, were full of energy, and effortlessly got the crowd into it and moving. Though they also had a little lack of diversity in their set, with most of their songs sounding like variations of the same. At one point, however, they mentioned something about a cancelled TV show before going into a song, then part way through, I think confirming that it was Firefly. I am not completely sure on that, but if it was... they earn major points from me. They also earn points for their choice of cover, "Never Surrender" by Corey Hart.
I'm not sure it's anything I'd want to listen to on a regular basis, but they did put on one hell of a live show, I'll give them that.

All around good performances, but for me, Jess Hill won the night. Best cover for sure, and as tough as it is to call, probably the best set. Next week is going to be a good one, and will be nigh impossible to judge, as there is Aidan Knight, Yes Nice, Debra Jean and Parlour Steps. Can't wait!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Live at Squamish. Day two, part two. -- 09/05/10

Down to the final entry. I will take this moment to give my eternal thanks to everyone who made this possible. From the festival organizers, to the bands, to my friends (and my friends in bands), and the new friends I met there. The lineup was as good as any two-day festival can be, the setting was gorgeous, the festival itself was incredibly well run and everything was organized. My only complaint was that while the grass at the main stage was incredibly nice and comfortable to sit on, the field at the second stage was very much less so. And when that minor annoyance is my only complaint, I think that the whole place did a damn good job. But the day was not over. Let's take a look at the rest of the acts!

I had only seen Tokyo Police Club live once before at a show that, frankly, I was attending more to see the opening band. At the show they raced through their entire set in about 45 minutes and were done. That being said, they were still enjoyable. That show was three years ago, so I was interested to see how they had progressed. As they hit the stage, it was obvious that they still had the same levels of enthusiasm -- especially keyboardist Graham Wright, who reminds me of a hummingbird -- but learned to pace themselves a bit more.
But they sounded even tighter and more energetic, which made the set really fun, and everything sounded great. People were clapping and singing along when appropriate and dancing up a storm, especially when they got to the hits. The set made me appreciate them that much more, and I will have to be sure to catch the show next month (especially since Arkells will be there, too)

And then, the dudebros were out in force for Bad Religion. I can't really say I'm much of a fan of the band, but it was obvious that they had been around for 30 years. In a good way. They knew exactly how to put on a show, with good energy, stage presence and banter. And they made it seem pretty effortless, from where I was standing. A few of their songs sounded kinda... same-y, but less like they were all the same song, and more like they've just found their groove and have stuck with it. That, and the lead singer has a pretty distinctive voice.
It was nice to see they we're not super serious about things, as well, as some bands of their ilk seem to be. When they first came out, the bassist was wearing the head of the festival's mascot, Square the bear, and played the first few songs with it on before proclaiming it was too darned hot.

And finally, to close out the whole shebang, there was The Decemberists. They were one of the best last year I saw last year, and while I was sure they were not going to do the whole Hazards of Love, a part of me was still hoping. Well, those hopes were dashed, but they still put on an incredible show. They played songs from all over their career, including "O Valencia", with a little bit of "Dracula's Daughter" slipped in (he didn't explain it, but fans know Colin Meloy considers Dracula's Daughter the worst song he's ever written, and he usually prefaces it as such) and the multi-part "The Crane Wife". After the call and answer "la-di-da-di-da" of "16 Military Wives", he spoke the line of the festival, saying "now that we're friends and have developed a rapport... here's a song about infanticide" and launched in to the brilliant "The Rake Song". From there, he ended the set with mostly tracks from The Hazards of Love. They also played a few new songs, teasing us with news that a new album is in the works. (To get a taste, see the embedded video. You can't see much, but you can hear it just fine). The new songs were very much Decemberists, and I can't wait to hear the rest.
Even though the crowd had thinned out a little by the time they were done, it was still a fantasmic way to end the festival, as they put on quite possibly my favourite set of the weekend.

I gushed about the festival enough above, so all I am going to say is... I can't wait to be back next year.
(that, and check out my picture set on the flickr!)

Live at Squamish. Day two, part one. -- 09/05/10

After a first day that would be hard to top, I was looking forward to see where the second day would take me. And not to mention the night, where Leigh, acting Vancouver is Awesome Indie Music editor for this month, got us invited over to The Peak's Tamara Stanners' house, where there was a bonfire (something our campsite was sorely lacking), where we shared s'mores with members of We Are The City, Said The Whale, The Dudes, The Zolas, Adaline, other Peak people and more. I can't even begin to describe how much fun was had there. But enough shameless name-dropping.
While the first day had some stage-hopping, the second would be spent plunked down at the main stage for the day -- there were a couple I was interested in on the second stage, but they conflicted with acts I wanted to see more. Delayed slightly by a trip to Grilled Fromage, a Squamish restaurant that makes only grilled cheese sandwiches (seriously, it is way, way better than you'd think) we arrived at the overcast site just in time to catch...

You Say Party. It isn't their first live show since the passing of their drummer Devon Clifford, but I think many will mark this as their triumphant return. Honestly, I've never been that big of a fan of the band, but that's more just because they're just not for me; I don't dislike them and they certainly do what they do very well. There was a decent sized crowd amasses for being so early in the day -- crowd that lead singer Becky Ninkovic was noticeably moved by, thanking them for their support with a slight quiver in her voice. Aside from the old material, they played a trio of new songs, which showed that they won't be slowing down anytime soon.

Next up was South African band Civil Twilight. I've heard the band likened to folks like Radiohead and Muse, and I can see both similarities, but at the same time they have enough of their own sound to not seem derivative. It was also pretty incredible how intense a sound they made with just three members.
There are a few things in music that I have a soft spot for, and playing guitar with a bow is one of them (I blame Jónsi), so when they came out and used that in the first song, then at least once more, they definitely had my attention.
They also did a couple of covers, including "Teardrop" by Massive Attack and, what I thought may have won Cover of the Weekend, "The Immigrant Song". They put their own spin on it, without butchering it, and the lead singer was actually able to match Robert Plant's wail. A few of their songs were a little... similar, but I think I may have to check out more from them.

After them was yet another Vancouver band, Mother Mother. They are one of those bands that I always forget how much I like them until they pop up again, so it's always nice to be reminded of how great they are. Aside from the songs off O My Heart, including "Hayloft" which I still think is one of the catchiest songs, they also played a few new songs, "Simply Simple", "My Baby Doesn't Dance", and "The Stand", the latter of which was my favourite of the three. Rumour has it they're sitting on a new record, which will be out early next year, so there is that to look forward to! With their gorgeous harmonies and tight musicianship, I have no doubt that their power-pop goodness won over anyone in the crowd that may not have already known them.

Yet again, since there was so much to see and do, I have decided to split the weekend into four parts. Coming up: Day two, part two: Tokyo Police Club, Bad Religion and The Decemberists. And I have posted the weekends pics on my flickr, check them out!

Live at Squamish. Day one, part two. -- 09/04/10

Yes, it is even more of day one of the Live at Squamish festival! When last we left off, I had just seen We Are The City on the Serf stage, and the day was just about half over. One thing I will point out is how great it was to see the festival supporting the local and/or smaller artists. And I am always going off on how neat it is that Vancouver musicians support each other... well, there were more than a few of them in the crowd. Adaline, David Vertesi and Zach Gray were all among the people who were there, not playing, but to see their friends. And even the ones that were there would be at each others sets. But I digress, back to the music!

At this point I was torn about going to see The Dudes or Hollerado. Both bands I had heard they were fantastic live, and neither I had really heard all that much of. But I liked what little I had heard from Hollerado more than what little from The Dudes (and I was too lazy to change stages) so I stuck around the Serf stage. And I am glad I did, because man, did they put on a hell of a show. I don't think anyone would call the band "groundbreaking", but they have a fantastic energy about them, and made their set just pure fun. Aside from their assortment of songs -- I actually recognized more that I thought I would -- they threw in a couple covers. The first was "Surfin' Bird", which saw the lead singer jump down into the corwd, then get hoisted back on stage. The other was a pretty damn good cover of "Rockin' in the Free World". They definitely won me over for their set, and I can see why they won the Big Money Shot Competition put on by Ottowa radio station Live 88.5.

After them, it was time to haul ass to the main stage. In the first post I mentioned that I knew I had to come when they added my favourite musician. Well, that man is Matthew Good.
The set started with the familiar cheer of "K-I-C-K-A-S-S, that's the way we spell success", and the band coming out to open with "Giant". It had been a while since I saw a show open with this, so that was awesome. It was followed by a couple more from Beautiful Midnight; "The Future is X-Rated", which is a song I'm not sure I've ever seen him play, and the song that really set the crowd off, "Hello, Time Bomb". Actually, the crowd seemed to be kind of rowdy during the set, moshing and crowd surfing to songs that you really can't do those to... I guess it was the usual somewhat liquored up festival crowd type, though. After a few others, mostly from the newest album, Vancouver, and a great version of "Apparitions" which features a lap steel, he ended the night with "Champions of Nothing", dedicated to Geoff Lloyd, founding member of the Matthew Good Band who passed away in February.
There was also an odd energy from Good. He wasn't nearly as talkative as he usually is; even stating that he had nothing, really, to say. I know in the past, festival-like shows haven't been kind to Good, but there was nothing thrown on stage this time, so I am just going to assume he was having an off day. But even with all that, he was still pretty damn great when playing, and it was, as usual, a treat to see him live. The show didn't quite match up to the last few times I saw him, but I guess it's hard to compare a festival set to a proper show.

At this point I could have left happy, but there was still one more... Devo! I never thought I would ever actually see Devo play live, so this was pretty damn nifty. Even though they were looking their age, they sure didn't sound like it. Though they did sound very much like the 80s still; they do have a very distinctive sound. A sound which maybe... should not have gone on for as long as it did. Some bands can play an hour and a half (or longer) set no problem. Some... not so much. Devo was in the latter. But don't get me wrong, the show was still incredible fun to watch, with multiple costume changes, and some funny/appropriate/great videos up on the screen behind them. There were the obvious hits, like "Whip It", "Beautiful World" and "Jocko Homo", which saw the lead singer go into the crowd for the call & response "Are we not men? We are Devo!" Aside from the length (which, I admit, could have just been fatigue and/or hunger setting in), it was still really cool experience.

And luckily, the rain more or less held off for the day, just sprinkling a little as the night came to an end. And so, that was day one. Some incredible acts -- many I have, would, or will pay to see live on their own. I also got to meet some great people.

Again, since there was so much to see and do, I have decided to split the weekend into four parts. Coming up: Day two, part one: You Say Party, Civil Twilight & Mother Mother. And I have posted the weekends pics on my flickr, check them out! Will day two live up to day one? Stay tuned to find out!

Live at Squamish. Day one, part one. -- 09/04/10

Wow. Just wow. Having never been to a music festival before, I really had no idea what to expect, but those three (two?) words sum up my reaction pretty well.
When Live at Squamish was first announced, I was impressed by the lineup. Then when they added my favourite musician, I knew I had to go. I was fortunate enough to win tickets (they seemed to be giving them away like hotcakes... I guess to spread the word, since it was the first year?) and gathered up a posse of pals to help make the weekend unforgettable.

The first day was incredibly nice, weather-wise, and the backdrop for the festival was just gorgeous. It started a bit slow, as the first few acts we saw were... mediocre. First up was Step Twelve, a drums & bass duo. Musically, they were quite good, and at times you even forgot he was playing the bass. And an electric mandolin is a plus to any set. But the guys vocals left a little to be desired; it was especially noticeable when they covered "Baba O'Reilly" to middling success -- it was a decent cover, especially considering there were just the two of them, but again, the vocals is where it came apart.

The next band was Kostaman on the main stage, a reggae band from Whistler. Now, there is nothing wrong with a band from anywhere wanting to play reggae. But there is something wrong when they go out of their was to appear Jamaican. With an abundance of red, yellow & green and the lead singer putting on a fake accent (which he kept slipping in and out of) the whole thing just seemed way too forced. Which made the medley of cover songs at the end seem less of a tribute and more of adding to the overcompensation.

But soon after, the fest kicked in to high gear with Said The Whale. Playing a mix of their older and newer songs, they brought people flocking to the main stage with their usual energy and upbeat stage presence. I am not too sure why I was surprised to hear "Love is Art/Sleep Through Fire", but was certainly glad since it is one of my favourites. A new one, which I am going to randomly call "Information Age" was slipped in the set, and they ended with "Camilo (The Magician)" and "Goodnight Moon", which I don't think I will ever tire of hearing live. It was pretty awesome seeing them play a festival like this, and they certainly delivered. And seemed to be as excited to be there as the crowd was.

From there it was a mad dash over to the Serf stage to catch Michael Bernard Fitzgerald. I hadn't seen him live before, and had only heard a couple songs off The Peak & R3, and while I had liked those, I had no idea what he would be like live. He turned out to be amazing. His set began just as Said The Whale ended, so we arrived just as he -- up on stage alone with just an acoustic guitar -- was solving his looping problems. Which he immediately put to good use on "Movie Life", doing a multi-part harmony with... himself; looping the line, then singing on top of it over and over and over. It was a really cool effect. The song then led into an amazing cover song medley that included: "Thong Song", "I Like Big Butts", "Waterfalls", "My Humps", "Get Low" & capping it off with Justin Bieber. It was as hilariously awesome as it sounds. To wrap up the set, he was joined by Zach Gray (The Zolas) and David Vertesi (Hey Ocean!) for them to stomp-stomp-clap along to "Brand New Spaces". His set was probably one of my favourites of the fest. Definitely the biggest surprise, and I am absolutely going to go see him live again next time he swings through Vancouver.

After him, also on the Serf stage was We Are The City. It seems like I've seen them live about once a month this year, but every time they play, then just keep getting better. It is always cool to see a young band grow. The set was, as usual, great, and they threw in all three new songs they've been playing live of late. I've always marvelled at the intensity of Andy's drumming, and this time was no different; he even broke a stick at one point, with the tip flying off into the crowd! Another great moment was when a group of annoying girls were talking loudly during a quiet part of a song, and Cayne (who was pretty much right in front of them) just looked over, paused and gave them a look until they embarrassedly stop talking. Though it was kind of bittersweet, as with David leaving, there is a chance this was the last time I'll see the three of them playing together.

Since there was so much to see and do, I have decided to split the weekend into four parts. Coming up: Day one, part two: Hollerado, Matt Good & Devo. And I have posted the weekends pics on my flickr, check them out!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

This Is Good by Hannah Georgas

I don't know what it is about Vancouver, but it seems like an abundance of musical talent has popped up in the last few years. It's not like there has been a dearth of talented people from here, but it just seems like the last little while, a huge pool of talent has formed. Case in point, Hannah Georgas (even though she is originally from Ontario, which we forgive her for). After last years stellar EP, The Beat Stuff, she is back with This Is Good, her debut full length. Produced by Ryan Guldemond (of Mother Mother, who also plays on the album) and Howard Redekopp (who has done a crap load of great albums from excellent artists), there is certainly no lack of creative force behind the album.

The punchy "Chit Chat" opens the album, and sets a good tone for what you're in for. While never crossing the line into Morisette-esque bitterness, when she acerbically spits out "is it just that you like to hear yourself speak?" you know she isn't afraid to say what's on her mind. Or wear her heart on her sleeve, for that matter, as seen with the fantastic harmonies on the revealing "Lovesick". Electro-pop infused "Dancefloor" was, as the title implies, made for dancing and it's impossible not to at least bop along to. The album doesn't stop its twists and turns, with the lush and encouraging "The Deep End" showing off Georgas' talent at arrangements and layering sounds. Her sharp tongue returns in both "Lovers Breakdown" -- "winners lose and lovers break down" -- and "Thick Skin", an eerie song, full haunting strings that builds to a dramatic crescendo (with an interesting video). A great one-two punch follows, with the more straightforward, but catchy "This Is Good" leading into the even catchier "Bang Bang You're Dead", bringing back a little synth for a great sing-a-long track. The album then brings things down for a bit with two slower songs; "Your Ghost" features more harmonies and lush arrangements, and has perhaps grown to become my favourite off the album, and the most [heartbreakingly] beautiful song on the album, "Shine". And to wrap things up, a song that is completely out of left field, in the best way possible. "Something for You" sounds like it was taken right out of a 50s jazz club. It is quirky, fun, a perfect way to end an album, and it is impossible not to listen to with a big grin on your face... and maybe even fall in love a little with Ms Georgas.

I'm always wary when an artist puts out an excellent EP because I've found it can sometimes be followed up with a sub-par full length; the same amount of awesome, spread out in twice the length, watered down with mediocre. But that was definitely not the case here. It was long-listed for the Polaris for good reason (and probably even deserved to be short listed) as it is an excellent debut. And I can't wait to see where she goes from here.

(Also, I am somewhat proud of making it through the review without making the obvious [and overused] "This is Good" pun!)

Download The Deep End

Download Your Ghost

Download Something For You

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