Thursday, June 30, 2011

My Morning Jacket @ Orpheum -- 06/29/11

I have a list of bands that I have not seen live, but need to. And had you asked me before yesterday, My Morning Jacket would have been in the top three. Having been a fan of the band since 2005's Z, I was growing increasingly sad that they had not come through town. Sure, Jim James had been here with Monsters of Folk and had done a few MMJ songs, and they had been at a couple nearby festivals, but a show of their own in Vancouver seemed elusive. But as excited as I was to finally see them, and with all the stories I had heard about their live show being beyond incredible, was I setting the bar too high? I went in to the show with equal parts excitement and nervousness, on the chance I had overhyped myself.

First up, though, was Everest, a straight up rock band with definite 70s and 80s influences. Their sound was catchy and the songs upbeat and energetic, but they were without much variety. Of the handful of songs they played, only one really stood out, "Let Go" off their latest album On Approach where the lead singer got behind a second drum kit.
The whole band was pretty stoic, too -- the bass player, especially, who hardly moved -- with one exception; one of the two guitarists had more than enough energy for the rest of the band, jumping around.
They were a good choice in opener, playing Perfectly Acceptable (if a little forgettable) music.

And then at 8:30 sharp, the lights dimmed and the smoke rolled out as My Morning Jacket took the stage. In his long coat and scarf, Jim James took command from the very first minute. Just his presence alone commanded the attention of every last person in the Orpheum, as he strode across the stage throughout the set, occasionally running from one end to the other, jumping around, and even throwing in a few power slides when appropriate. Even when he was hunched over the microphone, draped in a cloak, you almost couldn't tear your eyes away.
Almost, because the rest of the band was in fine form.. Patrick Hallahan on drums, Bo Koster on keyboards and especially Two-Tone Tommy on bass, but especially Carl Broemel on guitar, pedal steel, and saxophone were all on top of their game. They were in front of five large screens that adapted to the songs, from random colours to album art to flying scenery, the screens (and lighting) added to the mood of the set without being too distracting.

Started off with "Victory Dance", the first track form the new album Circuital, the song set the stage for the rest of the night. Building with swirling guitars and flashing lights, it was the perfect opener, and from there they wove through the band's catalogue. With songs off all but one of their six albums, they showed off the vast range of their oeuvre, from the heavy rocking "Holdin On To Black Metal" to the poppy "Off The Record" to the soft and beautiful "Wonderful (The Way I Feel)" and everything in between.
The highlight of the set for me was definitely "Dondante", one of my favourite songs of all time. An incredible experience, it starting soft and calm before exploding into writhing cacophony of guitars and keys and the sound of minds being blown, before the ten minute epic came to a close with a perfect sax solo from Broemel.
Any other band would have called it a night there, but not MMJ. They saw that there were still a couple faces left un-melted and blew through a few more, including the psychedelic "Touch Me I'm Going To Scream pt. 2", and then coming to a close with the straight up rocking "Mahgeetah".

But a mere two hours wasn't enough for the band, as they came back out for an encore of a few more older ones, including another one of my favourite MMJ tunes, "Anytime" and ending the set with "One Big Holiday", a song that has one of the best opening riffs in music.

After nearly two and a half hours, any fears I had of them not living up to the hype were completely demolished. My Morning Jacket is a breathtaking live band, and it was not only one of, if not the best show I have seen all year, but definitely goes up there as one of the best shows I've seen.

Victory Dance, Circuital, Outta My System, Off the Record, Gideon, First Light, You Wanna Freak Out, Wonderful (The Way I Feel), Golden, The Way That He Sings, I'm Amazed, What A Wonderful Man, Holdin' On to Black Metal, Slow Slow Tune, Dondante, Smokin' From Shootin', Touch Me I'm Going To Scream pt. 2, Mahgeetah.
(encore) Wordless Chorus, The Day Is Coming, Anytime, One Big Holiday.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Brasstronaut @ Performance Works -- 06/27/11

It's that time of year when Vancouver International Jazz Festival is in full swing. And while I have missed more of the shows than I would have liked to, one of the two shows I knew I didn't want to miss Brasstronaut at Performance Works on Granville Island. (The other is The Tom Fun Orchestra at David Lam Park, this coming Sunday at 8:45. It's free, and you need to be there.)

They took the stage as the emcee asked us to "give a warm welcome to... the... brass-tronaut" and launched into "Requiem for a Scene". It was their second of two back-to-back shows of the night, but that just means the band had a longer chance to warm up. Any kinks they may have had were worked out, and they sounded better than ever. The songs were all very tight; the fast ones pounding through you, the slow washing over you, and everything in between. Some of them got longer and cooler intros, like "Hearts Trompet" which got a spacey, ethereal intro -- fitting since it was played on the Space Clarinet.
There were also a few new songs thrown in; one that they introduced as unnamed (but was "Hollow" on the setlist) sounded very dark, both musically and with the echoing vocals. They sounded really cool, and I am definitely looking forward to their next release.
The whole band also seemed a lot looser on stage, as there was more banter and joking around than any of their other shows, which was great. They engaged the audience (sometimes individually) and had a few funny stories. That, combined with the great sound at Performance Works, culminated to probably the best show I have seen them play yet.

setlist (as stolen from the scrap of paper on stage)
requiem for a scene, hand behind, six toes, hollow, hearts trompet, bounce, insects, lo hi hopes, Fan, JT.
(encore) old world lies, slow knots.

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Belle Game @ The Cobalt -- 06/23/11

The take-away show website Green Couch Sessions is, in their own words: "a series of experiments in which we attempt to marry the artist with the environment. The music fills the space and the various locations inevitably produce a sound unique to the session, never to be reproduced, only to be enjoyed by you, the viewers." They've got some great bands to shoot videos with, and more recently they have begun presenting shows, like last night's with a trifecta of young local acts.

The awesomely named Chimpanzebras (that's a portmanteau of chimps & zebras, not bras for chimps) started off the night. They had a sound very reminicent of the mid-2000's indie rock scene, bands like The Strokes and Arctic Monkeys. They were very high energy and pretty fun, but they were very raw and, at times, a little sloppy. Not sure if it was by design, or just that they are a young band, but they definitely have the potential, and given time I can see them being really good. Aside from their own songs, they threw in a cover of Bowie's "Suffragette City", which was a pretty good, but straight forward cover of the song. They didn't do much to make it "their own".

Next up was Aardvark Robinson, with half of the members not even looking old enough to be in the place. They had more of a spacey, prog-ish sound with lots of harmonies and tempo shifts. Probably too many, in fact, as just about every song changed speeds part way through, sometimes more than once. The songs were also a little derivative, with one reminding both Leigh and me of, sequentially, The Zolas, We Are The City and Bend Sinister, in the span of about two minutes. That said, they were still very enjoyable, and very talented. Much like Chimpanzebras, given some time and growth, they could turn into something big. They also threw in a cover, ening their set with Devo's "Gut Feeling"
There was one other thing, though; they seemed to bring along a large chunk of equally young fans... and while I try my best not to judge a band by their fans, I gotta say they were kind of annoying. Drunk teenagers, "moshing", and a couple times they had the audacity to mess with the on stage equipment -- so much so that the lead singer/keyboardist looked frustrated at least once. 
(I swear I'm not an old man shaking my fist at "kids these days")

And finally was The Belle Game, hiting the stage seven members large -- including Trumpetite Andrew Lee, on loan from The Ruffled Feathers. Their sound can only be described as grand-indie-folk-pop, with a deep, layered sound. The keys and horns, as well as the guy/girl harmonies gave the incredibly catchy songs a great depth. The set was incredibly fun, and while there wasn't too much by way of banter, they whole band had a great stage presence -- each member looking sharp and like they were having a blast. 
They are a part of the current Peak Performance Project, and while I had only heard a couple songs from them before last night, their live show definitely blew me away and I would not be surprised one bit if they do quite well in this years contest.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Steph Macpherson with Mike Edel and The Ruffled Feathers @ The Railway -- 06/22/11

Even though I've seen Steph Macpherson a few times this year, it's always been opening for someone else. So when her co-headlining tour with Mike Edel stopped at the Railway, I was excited. And add Ruffled Feathers to the mix, and you got yourself a show.

Up first was The Ruffled Feathers, with their rich chamber-pop sound and usual assortment of instruments, from slide trumpet to ukulele, megaphone to mandolin -- which was at one point played with a bow! I have had the chance to see them a couple times this year already, and the have been improving each time. The songs, and each member of the band, were brimming with energy.
Most of the set had (the adorable) Gina Loes on vocals, but there were a lot of group vocals, as well as other members, Andrew Lee and Charley Wu (both only slightly less adorable) taking over from time to time. They ended the set with their new one, “Blueprints for a Failed Revolution” and and older one I didn't catch the name of, but started slow and soft and built to a great big ending.

Victoria's Mike Edel was up next, and he had an upbeat and energetic folk rock vibe going. His voice, at times, reminded me of both Colin Meloy or Marcus Mumford, or a bizarre cross between the two, but didn't sound like a copy of either. He had a good mix of faster, upbeat songs mixed with a few slower ones, and part way through the set, he broke out a Gretsch White Falcon, which is a guitar I want, even though I don't, and probably never will play. He also brought out another secret weapon near the end, Steph Macpherson for backup vocals on a song, and getting the crowd to join in as well.
His set did seem to go on a bit long, though. While the set was enjoyable, it definitely dragged on a little toward the end.

And rounding out the night was Steph Macpherson, whose band included Edel on guitar and Savannah from Redbird providing backup vocals. Her set had a good mix of older songs – the emotional “Letters” was a highlight -- and new. The new ones sounded really good, especially the last two; the first I didn't catch the name of, but was quite good, and the final song of the night, Steph's entry in the Shore104 Song Search Competition, was “Summer Salute” which is a fantastic song, very upbeat and insanely catchy ; definitely my favourite of the night and a great song to end the show – and start the summer – with.
(In fact I decided then and there that it would be my “summer jam” of this year).

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Redbird EP Release w/ Debra-Jean & The Means @ The Kozmik Zoo -- 06/17/11

After months of waiting, the debut EP from Redbird, We're all friends and lovers until it falls apart was ready to hatch. The release party was at a new venue for Vancouver, The Kozmik Zoo (formerly The Hennessey Lounge), which is a restaurant-venue, so it had the usual problems that those tend to, such as an odd and awkward layout and more-than-usual chatter, but the sound was actually really good, and that's what matters most.

First up was Diego Zaragoza, who took the stage with just an acoustic guitar and harmonica. His set started with a little bit of generic-acoustic-singer/songwriter fare, but as the set went on he showed more depth. He also had a pretty strong voice, at one point stepping away form the mic and letting loose, he could be heard at the back of the room. For the last song of the set, he brought up Savannah to help out with vocals.
To be honest, I had a little trouble really getting into the set, since his acoustic folky sound combined with the noise and chatter didn't mesh well, but he was a good opener and I wouldn't mind seeing him play again in a quieter venue.

Next up was Debra-Jean & The Means, with Debra-Jean being, of course, formerly of Mother Mother but now off on her own. The last time I saw her, as part of the Peak Performance Project last year, I was a tad underwhelmed from her set -- but I ended up really liking it this time around. The songs had a very dark and moody feel, that were definitely driven by her stellar voice, and it seems like both the songs and her voice had a much stronger range than previously, which was my only complaint then. Debra also had a great presence, completely owning the stage for her whole set; and to say nothing of her band, the Means, who provided excellent backup.
She's only got a five song EP out right now, but I'm looking forward to what is to come from the band.

And then was time for Redbird. I had seen them [more than] a few times this year, and they just keep getting better and better. The band was firing on all cylinders last night, and Savannah Leigh especially seemed to be brimming with not only confidence, but enthusiasm as well. You could tell she was thrilled to be playing, and that translated to a great set. They kicked off with the first song from the EP, "Therein Lies The Grey" and went on to play all the songs from the album, as well as a few others. Including a brand new one called "Set Me Free", which was really upbeat, and I quite liked. Another favourite of the set was "No Game" (which I've mentioned liking a few times before). They were joined by Debra-Jean on backup vocals for a couple, "Some Birds" & "Oh Please My Heart", and her voice complimented Savannah's voice -- which is equally awesome -- quite well.
They ended the main set with "In The Hands of Ghosts", but didn't even get a chance to leave the stage before the one song encore, with Savannah breaking out her new guitar, one used and signed by a certain influence of hers, Mr. Sam Roberts. (for a moment I was almost expecting a Sam Roberts cover, but it was a Redbird song, "Treasure Map")

Therein Lies The Grey, The West Wind, The Tower, Set Me Free, Some Birds, Oh Please My Heart, Roll Over Me, No Game, In The Hands of Ghosts.
(encore) Treasure Map.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Sumner Brothers w/ Portage & Main @ The Cobalt -- 06/16/11

On the eve of a tour that sees them heading south to California, The Sumner Brothers gathered a few friends to kick things off at The Cobalt. Surprisingly, it was my first time at the venue (or maybe not, since they used to be known more for punk), but I quite liked it. It had... character, but also great sight lines and pretty good sound.

First up was Rolla Olak, who took the stage alone. He has a folky-blues sound, which set the tone for the night. His songs were good, and well written, but nothing that really jumped out to grab you, but still Perfectly Acceptable Music that was definitely enjoyable. 
Though while the music was good, there wasn't much in terms of stage presence. He was just up there playing, not very much crowd interaction, or banter; he didn't even say who he was at any point during the set. There was, though, an offhand mention of having a full band, and I would be interested to see that. He was okay on his own, but I can see the songs sounding a lot better with a full band to round them out.

Next up was Steve Brockley, who had more of a country edge, with a bit of a bluesgrass feel as well. Their set was mostly a slower tempo, but there were a few songs that were a bit more driven, and the band definitely sounded better when they had more energy. The highlight of the set was the closing song, which was a perfect example of that, exploding into an all out a frantic ending.
Their songs were all pretty catchy, but more than a couple of them seemed a little familiar -- not like they were ripping anyone off, but you could clearly tell a few influences. Like Olak, they were enjoyable to watch, but nothing really spectacular. 

Hitting the stage third was The Sumner Brothers. I've seen them a couple times now, and the one thing that always strikes me is their intensity. There were songs where Brian Sumner was singing through grit teeth, and the whole band just oozes energy on stage. In fact, this time they seemed to be even more energetic and intense than previously. They had a bit of what can only be described as death country (I could see them opening up for Elliott BROOD no problem), with the two brothers, Bob and Brian trading off vocals for some insanely catchy and toe-tapping songs.
As well as their own, they threw in their usual cover of Neil Young's “Hey Hey My My (Into the Black)”, and while the set almost ended on a bit of a sadder song, they spontaneously decided to add one more, their own high energy version of the traditional “Pay Me My Money Down”. Probably the best set I've seen from the band, and a great kickoff to their tour.

It was almost 1am by the time they hit the stage, but there was still a decent size crowd for Portage & Main, capping off the night. They had just returned home from a short western tour, and within the first two songs, I could tell how much they improved over that time. Tight and energetic, with more confidence than the last couple times I'd seen them live; more comfortable on stage and with each other. And with the crowd, too, as they seemed to have a bit more banter and joking around. Even when the “Curse of the Capo”, as they called it, hit during “Rocky Mountain Wanderer” -- the capo popped off John's guitar -- they didn't let it slow them down.
They hit most of the songs off their self-titled debut, from barnburners like “What Have I Done” and Tonight pt 2” to the more slower, softer “Song For My Mom”, and even a cover of Rolling Stones' “Dead Flowers”. They capped off the night with one of my favourites from the album, the building energy of “ I'd Never Climbed a Mountain” and then “Carolina”, which is destined to be a great bar room sing-a-long song.

It was a really good show, overall, with all the bands complimenting each other quite well. Especially Portage & Main and The Sumner Brothers (who I had seen play together once before).

Nothing (Take What You Need), What Have I Done, Rocky Mountain Wanderer, Song For My Mom, Dead Flowers [Rolling Stones cover], Tonight pt. 2, Follow Me My Love, I'd Never Climbed a Mountain, Carolina.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Polaris Prize 2011 long list

The Polaris Music Prize announced their "long list" today! This list of 40 albums nominated be media-types will be culled down to a short list of ten albums on July 6th, then a winner announced at a gala on Sept 19th, where they will get a $30,000 prize, up from the previous years 20 grand. And also new this year is $2,000 for each of the nine non-winning Short Listers.
The award is annually given to the "best full-length Canadian album based on artistic merit, regardless of genre, sales, or record label" and any album (more than 30 minutes/8 tracks long) out from June 1st 2010 to May 31 2011 is eligible.

And so here is the 2011 Polaris Prize long list.
And as for my opinions: albums that I liked are italicized. Ones that I especially want to make the short list, are boldified. Ones I especially want to win, are boldified and italicized.

Arcade Fire - The Suburbs.
Austra - Feel It Break.
Braids - Native Speaker.
Black Mountain - Wilderness Heart.
Buck 65 - 20 Odd Years.
Louise Burns - Mellow Drama.
D-Sisive - Jonestown 2: Jimmy Go Bye Bye.
The Dears - Degeneration Street.
Destroyer - Kaputt.
Diamond Rings - Special Affections.
Dirty Beaches – Badlands.
Luke Doucet and The White Falcon - Steel City Trawler.
Eternia & MoSS - At Last.
Galaxie - Tigre Et Diesel.
Jenn Grant - Honeymoon Punch.
Tim Hecker – Ravedeath, 1972.
Hey Rosetta - Seeds.
Hooded Fang - Album.
Imaginary Cities - Temporary Resident.
Land Of Talk - Cloak and Cipher.
Little Scream - The Golden Record.
The Luyas - Too Beautiful to Work.
Malajube - La Caverne.
Miracle Fortress – Was I The Wave?.
One Hundred Dollars - Songs Of Man.
Doug Paisley - Constant Companion.
PS I Love You - Meet Me At The Muster Station.
Daniel Romano - Sleep Beneath the Willow.
The Rural Alberta Advantage - Departing.
Ron Sexsmith - Long Player Late Bloomer.
Shotgun Jimmie - Transistor Sister.
Sloan - The Double Cross.
Frederick Squire - March 12.
Stars - The Five Ghosts.
Colin Stetson - New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges.
Timber Timbre - Creep On Creepin' On.
The Weeknd - House Of Balloons.
Women - Public Strain.
Neil Young - Le Noise.
Young Galaxy – Shapeshifting.

And now some albums that I feel should be on the list, but were overlooked:
Kathryn Calder - Are You My Mother?
Matthew Good - Lights of Endangered Species.
The Liptonians - Let's All Mach Back Into The Sea.
Rah Rah - Breaking Hearts.
Chad VanGaalen - Diaper Island.
David Vertesi - Cardiography.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Matthew Barber & Oh Susanna @ Biltmore -- 06/11/11

While it may have been a stretch to call myself a Matthew Barber fan, I had always liked his songs when they've popped up on the radio. But after picking up his latest album, and having heard too many good things about the Toronto singer-songwriter's live shows, I knew I couldn't let this slip by. It was also the first time I had been to a seated show at the Biltmore, and while it was a little strange at first, it definitely fit the mood of the night.

A night which started off with Vancouver's Nat Jay, who I had never actually had the chance of seeing live. For the first couple songs, it was just her and her acoustic guitar, but she was soon joined by Robbie Driscoll (of damn near every Vancouver band there is) for most of the rest of the set. While a few of the songs were a bit similar-ish, they were all quite catchy and well written, especially lyrically, and she had a really nice voice that perfectly fit the mood of her songs.
As the set went on, she seemed to get more comfortable, chatting with the crowd a bit more, telling the stories behind songs -- a few of which personal -- including one which she said wasn't played live too often, which built to a strong climax. I didn't catch the name, but it was probably my favourite of the set.

Oh Susanna was up next, joined by a slide guitar, and wearing a Canucks jersey (she is originally from Vancouver). She had a very alt-country twang to her set, and an incredibly rich voice. Most of her songs had the same tempo to them, but the set was the perfect length with her powerful voice definitely the focus the songs. And her voice meshed really well with Matt Barber's, when he came out for vocals on "Lucky Ones". She also had good stage banter, keeping the crowd engaged and laughing a few times between songs, and a really good stage presence, seeming completely natural performing.
It was a really good set, and I would definitely be interested in seeing her live again.

In keeping with the openers, Matt Barber took the stage just him & his guitars, and harmonica, for most of the set. Staring off with "(I'm Gonna) Settle My Accounts With You", his hour long set was full of heartfelt, and heartbreaking, songs. A great, and emotional, batch of songs, well written both musically and lyrically. Barber is a great storyteller, both in his songs and in the banter between them, and was very captivating, with the crowd quiet and attentive -- which they were for the whole night, in fact (another rarity for the Biltmore). Throughout the set he brought up a couple of guests to help out on vocals; his sister, the lovely Jill Barber on "While Away" and Oh Susanna on "Let Me Go Home". And as well as switching off between acoustic & electric guitars, Barber also jumped on the piano for "Where The River Bends".
He "ended" the set with "Cinnamon Hearts", but was back before the curfew for one last song, "You and Me" again with Jill on backup vocals, and leading the crowd in the call-and-response to close out the night.

I have to say, after a show like that, I would definitely consider myself Matthew Barber fan now. And I wouldn't be surprised if more than a few people flat out fell in love with him over the course of the night.

Thursday, June 9, 2011


That's right, they're back, by popular demand!! My goal is to review every album I bought (or otherwise listened to) this year. However there are just so darn many albums, and sometimes I just don't feel like writing a full reviews. So to combat this, I have decided that I shall give a few really quick reviews all at once... in haiku form. Here we go!

Honeymoon Punch by Jenn Grant
At times beautiful
Not afraid to kick some ass
As strong as her voice

Download Parliament of Owls

Waitin' and Seein' by Carmen Townsend
Thunderous blues rock
Outdone by intense vocals
Passionate lyrics

Download Without My Love

20 Odd Years by Buck 65
Career summation
As eclectic as ever
With guest stars galore

Download Stop (f. Hannah Georgas)
I also highly enjoy "Zombie Delight", especially the video, which you can should watch here.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

3 Minute Revelations: Let's All March Back Into The Sea by The Liptonians

Combining my joy of production with my false sense of smug superiority in telling you what you should like* -- and since I've clearly failed at keeping up at full album write ups (the last one being over six months ago... yipes) -- here is another instalment of 3 Minute Revelations**

Slowly but surely, catching up on on 2011 albums. At this rate I'll be done... by this time next year! It took a few listens, but this one has grown into one of my favourite albums of the year, so far.

Here is the Let's All March Back Into The Sea by The Liptonians


*please note blatant sarcasm.
** subtitle: Kirk Takes Three Minutes of Your Life and Awesomes It Up.