Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Sing It Forward @ Vogue -- 12/21/11

Name your three favourite Vancouver bands. Chances are pretty strong that at least one of them was at the Vogue last night for Sing It Forward, an evening benefiting the kids of the St James Music Academy. Organized by David Vertesi and Ambrosia Humphrey, they brought together some of Vancouver's finest for a night of music.

Leading up to the night, there was also a series of videos posted on Vancouver is Awesome of the bands joined by the kids of SJMA for a song (see them all on their Vimeo channel), and these were shows throughout the night between sets.

As there were almost a dozen acts, each had a short set of three acoustic songs, so I won't linger too long on each act.

Arriving just in time for the last song by Aaron Nazrul of The Boom Booms, he was joined by just about the whole band for a song about East Van, where they're from. It sounded pretty much what you'd expect from The Boom Booms; upbeat and energetic.

Next up was The Belle Game, starting off with "Sleep To Grow", including a fantastic ending with Andrew Lee on trumpet. Even stripped down acoustically, the band had a lush, rich sound that seemed to fit perfectly for a theatre venue like the Vogue; I would love to see them do a full set there sometime. They wrapped up their set with "Shoulders and Turns" with a good number of the other musicians coming out for percussion to end with a bang.

Rococode was next, their raucous sound translating acoustically very nicely (the use of the xylophone definitely helped out with that). The songs -- "Empire" especially -- were no less catchy, and "Dreams" possibly worked even better as an acoustic song, being much more haunting stripped down, and getting the crowd to sing along for the end of it. 

Up next was the man of the night, David Vertesi himself. With just Andrew Rasmussen joining him on keys, he played some of the softer songs from his album; "All Night, All Night, All Night" and "Learn To Run", the latter building to an intensely emotional ending. He ended the set with a surprise guest, calling out Hannah Georgas to sing backups on "Mountainside", bringing up the energy a bit more to wrap up his set.

Ben, Tyler and Jacelyn of Said The Whale were up next, with Ben taking care of the vocals, since Tyler was still recovering from having his tonsils removed (seriously). Every year the band puts out a Christmas song or EP, and their set consisted solely of some of these Christmas songs, with the dreary "Puddleglum" being one of my favourites of the night. Even in a post-surgery haze, Tyler had pretty good energy, and Ben's great voice effortlessly filled the venue.

Wrapping up the first half of the night was Aidan Knight who started off with the most heartbreakingly beautiful song, "Margaret Downe", and even managed to break a string. At an acoustic show. After some of his usual hilarious banter -- a story about how his guitar got the name Burnt Reynolds -- and some deliberation, he played a brand new song and ended, of course, with "Jasper", bringing up all the kids on stage to sing with him.

At this point there was a short intermission, and then Adaline kicking off the second half. She had a bit of a auspicious start, as the keyboard she rented wasn't working, and the one they had been using all night wasn't ready. But she handled it like a champ, first encouraging the kids to continue on with music, then ready to sing a capella, with Robbie Driscoll on bass. Just as she started, though, they got the keyboard fixed and she was able to launch into her somewhat dark, sexy sound, starting with "The Noise" and then bringing out Laura Smith to help with background vocals for "Keep Me High", ending with her own Christmas song from the Light Organ compilation.

Next, Vince Vaccaro was out solo, armed with just his guitar. I've always found Vaccaro's music kind of hit or miss, personally, but I rather enjoyed his acoustic set, and I can't deny he is a pretty great performer. After his first song, he invited all the St James kids back on stage, and they helped out -- along with Ash from Hey Ocean and everyone's drummer Johnny Andrews -- for "Costa Rica" to wrap up his portion of the night.

Another surprise guest popped up between sets when Shad came out to fill the time before the next act with a couple freestyle verses, including his soliloquy from the end of "Live Forever"

Then it was the only non-Vancouver act, Michael Bernard Fitzgerald coming in from Calgary. After a new song, and teasing an upcoming album, he launched into "Movie Life", with a little but of "The Thong Song" (cleaned up a little, for the kids) slipped in at the end, and another new one with Vertesi -- and the kids back up on stage out to help out with singing. MBF is always incredibly fun to watch live, as he just exudes charisma, and you can't help but be charmed by him.

Zach Gray of The Zolas was the penultimate act, coming out with a couple new songs; "Strange Girl" and, after taking a survey of his own (which went about as conclusive as Aidan's) a brand new one called "Ancient Mars", which Zach described as a nerdy love song that he never played all the way through before. It had me at the first line, "I want to believe in time travel". He ended the set with everyone getting into "You're Too Cool", and some great singing along from the crowd.

And finally, wrapping up the night was Hey Ocean starting with a really cool version of "Big Blue Wave" -- which I may have liked even more than the full band version. They threw in their new Christmas song, which had the best intro; first Vertesi introduced in each instrument as they came in (including everyone's favourite holiday instrument: the keytar) and then brought out the awkward dancers, with the greatest dance moves of the year from Aidan Knight and Alex Andrew from the Belle Game. They wrapped it all up with the St James kids back on stage, and all other musicians as well, for a giant singalong to "Alley Ways", for a pretty great moment to end the night on.

It ended up being a four hour long night, but it hardly felt like it, as there was never a dull moment or a lull in the show. All the performers were top notch, and they kept the changeover times to a minimum, with the videos or the lovely emcees from The Peak keeping things running smoothly.

It would be cliché to call it a magical night, but there is hardly any better description, and I hope some variation of this turns into a yearly event.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

We Are The City w/ Treelines & Fields of Green @ Rio Theatre -- 12/10/11

Two years ago -- to the day -- was the first time I saw We Are The City live. To say I was impressed would be an understatement. They quickly became one of my favourite "local" bands (being from Kelowna), and I have probably seen them a dozen times since. Even the brief departure of David Menzel didn't slow them down, but last night was the first Vancouver show with him back. And along with them was a couple other Kelowna transplants -- and Peak Performance Project alumni -- for a killer lineup at the Rio Theatre.

First up was Fields of Green, and right off the bat I noticed their energy, particularly that of drummer, who is almost a human analog of Animal from The Muppets, with wild arms flailing. They had a bit of a synthy, prog rock driven sound and some pretty catchy songs, with a few new ones in the set, as they had just finished recording a new album and part way through the set they switched things up with the keyboardist taking over on guitar for a few songs, and switching up lead vocals for another.
When I saw them earlier this year, I thought they were quite good, and really fun to watch, but a bit green, and I thought they have really improved in just the last couple months. I am definitely looking forward the the upcoming album, and their next show.

Treelines was up next, starting their set off with a bang by high-kicking right in to the rocking "Ghost Towns". As usual they, they had a great energy, especially lead singer Matt Lockhart, but especially his brother and bassist Steve, who never fails to amuse me by singing along to every word of the set, even though he rarely has a microphone in front of him.
Mid-way through the set they brought things down for a moment with the heartbreaking "When I Get Grown", which saw Matt Kelly on slide guitar, and the title track for their new digital EP, Courage, which starts slow but swells to a grand finish.  After a couple more they ended the set ended with catchy "Ode to the Prairies", and that awkward moment where someone in the front threw a bra at Steve, who didn't seem too amused by it (keep in mind, it was an all ages show). Treelines always put on a fun, rocking show and this was no exception.

And finally, We Are The City hit the stage to a bit of a haunting intro and kicked off with "Happy New Year", garnering a fair amount of singing along. The set was a mix of new and old, with Menzel nailing the guitar parts from the High School EP and the trio sounding better than ever. When I first saw them, I was amazed by how tight they were, and they have gotten exponentially better since then, with a great stage presence and an incredible energy; especially Andy who is up and down more than any drummer I've seen. They also have some of the best banter, which seems less like "stage banter" and more like three friends chatting with you, which is highlighted in the way Cayne & Andy play off each other and interact.
As for the set itself, highlights included the beautiful "April" and the intense "Astronomers", both from In A Quiet World, a newer, unreleased song called "The Birds" which ebbs and flows, and "Mourning Song" off their most recent 7", with an amazing outro/transition between that and "Dark/Warm Air", which saw Andy on vocals and has a bass line that thumps right to your core.
Early in the set I was ever so slightly disappointed that they did not play the entire High School EP in order, with the Amazing Factory video playing on the big screen behind them, but that disappointment was sated when they launched into "Dark/Warm Air" and the video came on screen. That was the "last" song, but they were back out for "Angel in White", with the video projected for that song as well.

My only squabble was that there was a slight buzzing for the entirety of We Are The City's set, and while it wasn't always noticeable, there were a few times during the softer parts of the song where it was; but aside from that, it was an incredible set, and an incredible night of three great bands.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

SchMusic BC Christmas Party w/ David Vertesi, Maurice & Sidney York @ Electric Owl -- 12/07/11

As December comes, so too do the holiday-themed parties and shows. And of course the fine folks at Music BC aren't going to let the season go by without the SchMusicBC Christmas party; some mingling of industry types, followed by a trio of great bands. Bands that regular readers (all 17 of you) will know I am quite fond of.

First up was Sidney York, with the usual trio of Brandi Sidoryk, Sheryl Reinhardt on oboe and Krista Wodelet on bassoon joined by an all star supporting section of Devon Lougheed on guitar, Luke Cyca on drums and bassist extraordinaire Shaun Huberts.
The set started off with Brandi on guitar for "Tea As It Should Be", but she was soon on the keys, where she remained for most of the night -- with a couple exceptions when she broke out the french horn or ukulele. And, as usual, her vocals were powerful and spot-on.
The band, especially Brandi, has always had a great energy and presence but this time seemed everything seemed to be turned up a notch, with the band meshing together so beautifully, and both Sheryl & Krista seeming even more outgoing than previously.
Aside form their own material, part way through the set they threw in a cover of The Naked & Famous' "Young Blood", which sounded great, and they ended the set, somehow topping the energy with "Roll With Me". My only complain about the set -- and the night in general -- was the sound at the Electric Owl was not the best. There were a few moments of feedback and occasionally it seemed the bassoon sounded too low; but aside from that, it was best set I've seen from them this year, definitely energy-wise if nothing else.

Next up was Maurice, who I have seen a few times now this year and am liking more and more every time I see them. Joining JP Maurice was a who's who of Victoria musicians with drummer Jason Cook, Mike Edel on bass and Adam Sutherland on guitar. They opened with "Big Country", and the the set just built with energy from there, with JP's fantastic presence and raw emotion driving the energy and intensity of the songs.
There were a few new tunes, which sounded great, and some off the recent Noverdubs EP, including the fantastic cover of Fleetwood Mac's "Dreams" and the insanely catchy "Mistake", during which Maurice lived up to the the "schmooze" part by hopping off the stage and asking a few people up front who they are and what they did. After a couple more they brought out another cover, this time of Top Less Gay Love Tekno Party's "Robin", which had the band going all out, ending the set with a bang..

And finally, rounding out the night was David Vertesi, who -- much like the previous acts -- surrounded himself with some great and notable musicians; Juno winning Peter Carruthers on bass, Dan Klenner on drums and Andrew Rasmussen on guitar and keys (and keytar). I've seen Dave several times this year, with various members in his band or even solo, and this configuration, which I think is the permanent lineup, definitely worked together the best. Everyone, especially Vertesi, was completely at home and comfortable on stage, with Vertesi's effortless charm and a smooth baritone that lulls you into the songs that are often about love, and usually brutally honest.
The set ranged from the more upbeat, getting people to dance -- or at least shoulder shimmy -- with "Broadcasting", then completely shifting gears to more heartbreaking songs like "Learn To Run", as well as a cover, with his own take on Spice Girls' "Say You'll Be There". It not only got a good number of people dancing at the stage, but Vertesi even had his own little choreographed dance for one of the verses.

Even if the sound in the Electric Owl still leaves something to be desired, it was still a fantastic night of local(ish) music and company, and I am already looking forward to the next SchMusic BC party.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Best of 2011: Albums: Haiku Edition

Okay, so I definitely fell behind this year when it came to album posts and reviews. But that's not going to stop me from subjecting you to yet another Best of 2011 list, which will be my favourite albums of 2011, in -- what else? -- haiku form. It's actually going to be less of a "best of" and more of a "personal favourite". I completely acknowledge that there may have been, technically, better albums this year; but some of those "better" ones I just couldn't get into for some reason *cough*Feist*cough*
So here it is. While the list is not numbered, it is in a vague order of "least-best" to "best", and I've included EPs as well as LPs because why not, that's why.

The King Is Dead by The Decemberists
Back down to basics
Strong songwriting from Meloy
As you would expect

Diaper Island by Chad VanGaalen
Refined and focused
Soaring vocals, instruments
On top of his game

Days Into Years by Elliott BROOD
Suitably toned down
War memorial inspired
Brilliant songwriting

Portage & Main by Portage & Main
A solid debut
Strong folk rock, heartfelt lyrics
Great blend of voices

Eureka by Mother Mother
Infectious and fun
But not without some darkness
Stellar shared vocals

Orchard by Jess Hill
Incredible voice
Beautiful and haunting songs
Mesmerizing folk

Michigan Left by Arkells
A bit more polished
But still more fun rock and roll
A strong follow-up

The Whole Love by Wilco
More adventurous
Bookended with two great songs
Their best in a while

Let's All March Back Into The Sea by The Liptonians
Cacophonous sound
A whole host of instruments
And clever lyrics

Summer of Lust by Library Voices
Energetic songs
Sharp, intelligent lyrics
Pop at its finest

No Bad Days by Wide Mouth Mason
Six years since their last
New bassist Gordie Johnson
Haven't missed a step

We're All Friends & Lovers Until It Falls Apart EP by Redbird
Strong, lovely voice
Coupled with great songwriting
Wonderful debut

Seeds by Hey Rosetta!
Heartbreaking lyrics
Symphonic and grandiose
Complex yet catchy

We're All Dying To Live by Rich Aucoin
Highly ambitious
Perfect, cinematic flow
Brilliantly unique

Apocalyptic Radio Cynic by Sidney York
Insanely catchy
Clever, sexy, sometimes dark
Power-pop with depth

Temporary Resident by Imaginary Cities
Take one stellar voice
One stupendeous musician
For near perfect pop

Kaputt by Destroyer
Rich, dense, and jazz-y
Lyrically ambiguous
Very beautiful

Oh Fortune by Dan Mangan
Darker and more dense
Rich music, poignant lyrics
Exponential growth

Take Care, Take Care, Take Care by Explosions in the Sky
Crashing crescendos
Breathtaking rises and falls
Far beyond "epic"

High School EP by We Are The City
More going on here
Than most have in a full length
Nearly perfection

Degeneration Street by The Dears
All-star Dears line-up
From the brink of destruction
Better than ever

Lights of Endangered Species by Matthew Good
Full of emotion
Amazingly orchestral
A career highlight

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Matthew Good @ Vogue Theatre -- 12/03/11

Full disclosure: Matthew Good is one of my all time favourite musicians. I have been following him for over a decade, since the Band days, and have seen him live at least once a year for the last seven years. That being said, I don't think this post will be bias because of that; rather I think he is my favourite because he puts on shows like this.

Opening the show was Daniel Wesley who I "unfortunately" missed -- I've never really been a fan, and have seen him before live so I wasn't too broken up about arriving after he played.

As it was time for Matthew Good to take the stage, the lights dimmed with only two floor lamps on either side for illumination, and Matt Good in near complete darkness, with Anthony Wright on keys for a stripped down, acoustic version of the normally orchestral "While We Were Hunting White Rabbits". Earlier in the week Good had mentioned on his social medias that he was coming down with bronchitis, but not only would he not be cancelling the remaining shows, he would be going all out, as he usually does on the last shows on the tour. And did he ever. Were it not for a horse speaking voice (and some coughing) I never would have been able to tell, as his voice soared over the beautiful piano for the opening song. If concerts are all about creating "moments", this was definitely the first of several.

The rest of the band came out, launching into "The Boy Who Could Explode", for a set that mainly focused on the new album and Good's solo career. There were the usual older ones, though; "Apparitions" and "Hello, Time Bomb" got huge recognition pops, Good stepped off the mic for the crowd to sing part of "Load Me Up" and the sheer emotion of "Weapon" gave chills. Other "moments" throughout the set included the goosebumps-inducing epic instrumental ending of "Shallow's Low", building in intensity as each band member came in, and "Zero Orchestra" an energy-filled and punchy new song that is one of the best of Good's catalogue.
There wasn't much of the usual banter, likely due to the bronchitis, which is a shame, since despite the heavy material in his songs, Good is always funny and a great story teller on stage. He also melted into the background several times, to let his band -- which included old MGB member Ian Browne on drums -- have the spotlight. Especially guitarist James Reid, who at one point tossed his hat off stage for a killer solo, only for it to be tossed back on stage and land almost perfectly on his head.

The set ended with the title track and final song off of Lights of Endangered Species, but everyone knew it wasn't done, and and during the encore break the crowd spontaneously broke in to the opening chant to "Giant", only for the familiar "K-I-C-K-A-S-S, that's the way we spell success!" and accompanying clapping to blast out of the speakers moments later as the band came back out and launched into the song. After epic "Champions of Nothing" and unreleased b-side "Hornets", the two hour set came to an end perfectly with "Set Me On Fire".

As mentioned above, I have seen Good over a half dozen times, in venues ranging from a couple hundred to a couple thousand people, and while I am not sure if this was my favourite Matthew Good show, it definitely ranks up there, and definitely will make an appearance on any inevitable best-of-2011-concerts list. It was an amazing show, and reminded me why he was one of my favourites.
As if I needed a reminder.

While We Were Hunting Rabbits; The Boy Who Could Explode; What If I Can't See The Stars, Mildred?; Zero Orchestra; Born Losers; It's Been A While Since I Was Your Man; Shallow's Low; Load Me Up; Hello, Time Bomb; The Future Is X-Rated; Non Populous; Apparitions; Weapon; Lights of Endangered Species.
(encore) Giant; Champions of Nothing; Hornets; How It Goes; Set Me On Fire.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Second Annual Movember Mo-Off @ Biltmore Cabaret -- 11/30/11

As November draws to an end, so too do the lifespan of many men's nose neighbours. Of course I mean the moustaches sported for Movember, to help raise awareness for prostate cancer. And to end off the month with a bang was the second annual Movember Mo-Off, the brainchild of Savannah Leigh Wellman. As well as three pretty kickass bands, there were prizes for best 'stache, a barber station to shave (or just trim) the cookie dusters with before and after photos, a photobooth, moustache shaped cookies and lots of mustachioed men in attendance; to either the chagrin or delight of the ladies.

The first band of the night was Redbird, with a mix of songs off their debut EP, We're All Friends and Lovers Until it Falls Apart, and newer ones. I've mentioned before my soft spot for female singers with a strong voice and a little bit of a roots bent (an affliction I blame on the likes of Neko Case) and Savannah's great pipes and beautiful songwriting definitely fit that mould. The guitar riff on "Therein Lies The Grey" will get stuck in your head for days and "No Game" contains one of my favourite lyrics of the year, "My subtlety sabotages me / so please read between the lines".
Another highlight of the set was a new songs which I didn't catch the name of, but saw the band rocking out a little harder than the rest, with a great solo from guitarist John Sponarski.
Redbird has definitely been one of my favourite new bands this year, and I was glad to be able to see them one more time before years end.

Next up was another favourite new band, and a double shot of Sponarski with Portage & Main. They were fresh off a tour with Treelines, which would explain three quarters of the band joining John, Harold Donnelly and Georges Couling; Matt Kelly on pedal steel, Steve Lockhart (with his usual enthusiasm) on bass and Grant McKinnon keeping things incredibly tight on drums. It probably helped that they had spend the previous two weeks playing together, but as a whole they meshed phenomenally well, and it was probably the best set I've seen from P&M this year (and I've seen them a few times).
Highlights of the set were the fantastic harmonies of the catchy "What Have I Done" and the intense "Tonight pt 2", plus a new song, a complete rager, revelling in dirty southern rock. They rounded out the set with my favourite of theirs, "I'd Never Climbed A Mountain" which builds to a soaring ending, and finished in their usual way, with the great singalong "Carolina".

Finally, wrapping up the night was a band I have seen thrice in the last two weeks, The Matinée. And even thought it was the third time, it still felt fresh, as they did a good job of changing up their sets; most of the songs were the same, but they would throw in different touches, like a bit of "Another Brick In The Wall" slipped into a song and a cover of Ryan Adams' "Let It Ride". They were missing keyboardist Dave Young, but were still firing on all cylinders, with their usual blend of folk, roots and rock and great energy & presence, especially lead singer Matt Layzell (even with his self-described creepy moustache).
They didn't end up starting til around midnight, so the weeknight crowd had thinned out a little, but as soon as they kicked off with "Let Her Go", everyone there was into it, with the usual clapping/stomping break in "Sweet Water" and singing along to "Rocking & Rolling". After the great drum breakdown in "The Road", that has each member bashing on various drums, they ended the night with "Stomp", which starts with Pete Lemon shining on drums and builds to an insane climax, featuring one of many face melting guitar solos from Matt Rose.

Not only was it a night of three killer bands, but they ended up raising over $1,500 for Movember. I'd say it was a huge success.