Sunday, December 23, 2012

Mother Mother with Hannah Georgas @ Orpheum -- 12/19/12

Vancouver's Mother Mother had a pretty triumphant return home, ending their current tour with a sold out show at the beautiful Orpheum Theatre. I wasn't as enamoured with their new album, The Sticks, as I was with last year's Eureka, but they've always put on one hell of a live show -- as evidenced with their recent win at the CBC Radio 3 Bucky Awards for "Best Reason to Buy a Concert Ticket" (Best Live Act) -- and after I had somehow missed every other Vancouver show this year, there was no chance I was going to pass this up. Especially since another favourite, and another hometown hero, the gorgeous Hannah Georgas was their opening act. 

Hannah Georgas -- also a recent Bucky Award winner, for "Hottest Pipes" (best vocals) -- was joined by a backing band of some familiar faces; Luke Renshaw (Jets Overhead), Rob Tornroos (Elias & In Medias Res), and Andrew Rasmussen (Hey Ocean). She focused mostly on her new, self-titled album, starting off the set with the lead track, "Elephant", the offering a little more electro-pop than her debut. Her fantastic voice still drove the songs, though, as witnessed on "Robotic" and her sharp (and sometimes acerbic) songwriting is still intact, with "Somebody", a unrequited love song.
My favourite of the set was also my favourite from the new album, "Millions" an upbeat and rocking song, and after the beautiful "Ode to Mom", she wrapped up her set with "Waiting Game" 
It's always great seeing Hannah -- even for a short opening spot -- but it seems like forever since I've seen her do a proper show of her own, so hopefully she'll be back sometime soon for a full show. 

Elephant, Enemies, Robotic, Chit Chat, Lovers Breakdown, Fantasize, Millions, Somebody, Ode to Mom, Waiting Game. 

The stage filled with smoke as 
Mother Mother took the stage, back lit to show only silhouettes against the smoke. Most of the set, actually, was deep in the fog with lights blazing through from the back of the stage, making the band occasionally hard to see (from my seats, anyway), but that didn't slow them down any. 
The five-piece is so incredibly tight and full of energy, with their off-beat indie-pop-rock full of quirky, occasionally tongue-in-cheek and usually dark songs, relying on the great harmonies between Jasmin Parkins and Ryan & Molly Guldemond, each with their own unique voice, somehow managing to blend together so well. Started off the set with the title track from the new album The Sticks, the band bounced from songs like the soft and haunting "Ghosting" to the almost hip-hop-sounding "Verbatim" from their debut album, to more bouncy songs like "My Baby Don't Dance", to their chaotic single "The Stand" that had everyone singing along, yelling "Everybody's fucked and they don't even know". 
Other highlights included my favourite song of theirs, the frantic and infectious "Hayloft", and "Little Pistol", where Ryan got serious for a moment, dedicating the song to the Amanda Todds of the world; everyone whose flame had been snuffed out too soon, a genuinely touching moment.
After a little over an hour, they brought the set to an end with "Let's Fall In Love" before coming back for the encore with Hannah to help on vocals for "Love It Dissipates", and finally ending the night with Ryan strapping on the banjo for the destructive "Wrecking Ball".

As you would expect from a venue like the Orpheum, the sound was excellent the whole night, and the sold out crowd was more than excited for the show. It was quite the homecoming for the band, wrapping up their tour with a bang, and proved why they are worthy for being the "Best Reason to Buy a Concert Ticket".

The Sticks, Body of Years, The Stand, Business Man, Verbatim, The Cry Forum, Infinitesimal, Ghosting, Hayloft, Simply Simple, Bit by Bit, Little Pistol, Dread in My Heart, My Baby Don't Dance, O My Heart, Let's Fall in Love. 
[encore] Love It Dissipates, Wrecking Ball. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Said the Whale @ Rio Theatre -- 12/16/12

It was a Christmas extravaganza at the Rio Theatre this weekend for a pair of sold out Said the Whale shows. I was at the second night, Sunday, where the stage was set to Maximum Christmas, with a yule log burning on the Rio's big screen before the show and light snowfall during; the bands were flanked by giant inflatable Santa & Frosty; strings of lights cross-crossing the stage; and a wreath hung on the kick drum. All it was missing was stockings hung with care.

Opening the night was Rococode with their dark yet catchy alt-pop. It was the first time I've seen them since their minor personnel change (a new drummer), but they were as good as ever, with songs like the soaring "Empire", which always gets stuck in my head, and "Ejay", that breaks down into an chaotic and cacophonous ending. After the haunting "Ghost I & II" (a song in dire need of a theremin) they wrapped up their opening spot with a new song, the holiday themed "Winter Revival".
They always put on an enjoyable show, with a high energy and the great harmonies with the vocals of Andrew & Laura intertwining, and this was no different.

Weapon, Run Run Run Run, Empire, Dreams, Blood, Ejay, The Riot, Ghost I & II, Winter Revival. 

Not long after that, the lights dimmed for Said the Whale and Ben came out and took a seat at the stand up piano on stage, first breaking out the recorder for some Little Drummer Boy, then starting the show with the Christmasy "The Bones of Winter". The rest of the band joined him -- all clad in Christmas sweaters -- for "Wanting Like Veruca" and getting the sold out theatre to clap along to "This City's A Mess".
They played a good mix of old and new, with some of their Christmas songs sprinkled in. For the past few years, they would put out a Christmas EP, and this year they released them as a collection. And while I've never been a big fan of Christmas music, there are a few songs -- like "Puddleglum", a depressing look at last minute shopping -- that I can get behind. There was also a new song thrown in, a Ben-fronted bass driven slow jam called "Okay Okay Okay", that was quite an interesting departure for the band.
Other highlights included "Love is Art/Sleep Through Fire", one of my favourites of theirs that is puzzlingly relegated to an EP, "Black Day in December" (the weekend marked the 6th anniversary of the Stanley Park windstorm that the song is about) and of course, the insanely infectious "Camilo (The Magician)". They wrapped up the main set with "Goodnight Moon", starting with Tyler sweetly strumming his ukulele then exploding into sheer joy.
And of course they were back for an encore, first Ben and Spencer came out for "Weight of the Season" before the exuberant "Emerald Lake, AB", and they wrapped up the whole night by puling Rococode on stage, and with Jacelyn at the piano, leading a sing along to "Christmas Time is Here", the lyrics up on the screen for people to sing loud, for all to hear.

Said the Whale is always a fun band to watch live; the interaction between the band -- especially Ben and Tyler -- shows just how much the band enjoys playing, and how appreciative they are to their Vancouver fans. And that energy pours out of them

The Bones of Winter, Wanting Like Veruca, This City's a Mess, Love is Art/Sleep Through Fire, Black Day in December, [mystery song]*, The Light is You, The Reason, Out on the Shield, Puddleglum, Big Sky MT, Lines, Okay Okay Okay, Howe Sounds, Loveless, 24 Days of Xmas, Camilo (The Magician), The Gift of a Black Heart, Goodnight Moon.
[encore] The Weight of the Season, Emerald Lake AB, Christmas Time is Here. 

*possibly another Christmas song I didn't catch the name of. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

Pink Mountaintops @ Waldorf -- 12/15/12

Most people know Steve McBean as the frontman of  Black Mountain, but he's also got a solo project that's been a little quiet for the past few years, Pink Mountaintops. The first -- and only -- time I saw them was a few years ago at my least favourite local venue, whose terrible sound put a damper on the show. So I was a little more than excited to see them again, especially at a much better venue, the Waldorf.

I missed the first band, Ford Pier Vengeance Trio due to a holiday party, arriving between sets and just in time to see Sex Church. Which I didn't actually realise until after, thanks to them only mumbling their name noncommittally once (maybe twice). They were a good fit for an opening band, a psychedelic rock sound with fuzzy guitars, which I was really liking, up until the lead singer joined in. The vocals wasn't very coherent, mumbled into the microphone, and I swear at one point he was just muttering random syllables. The band was full of really good musicians, and I really wanted to like them, but the vocals just didn't land for me.

Not too long after, Steve McBean took the stage alone and Pink Mountaintops began. The first song, "Comas" was just McBean and his guitar, but then a drum machine kicked in for "I (Fuck) Mountains" and the rest of the set to flesh out the sound. It was a contrast to the last time I saw them, a half dozen members large, this time more focusing mostly on McBean and his psychedelic guitar work, which was mind boggling at times. I also wasn't sure how McBean would fare on his own, as he's never really been one to interact with the crowd -- and for the most part he was silent -- but his presence while playing more than made up for it, especially evident in songs like "The Gayest of Sunbeams" with its upbeat, driving guitar.
Mid-way through the set he enlisted in the help of a couple friends, one on a floor tom and percussion and Ashley Webber on backup vocals, who were on and off stage for the rest of the night. (There was also a third guy who joined them for a song who was not playing any instruments, but rather handing out slices of cake to the crowd)
Other highlights from the night included "While We Were Dreaming" with the graphic but strangely moving line "
And if I could find your heart / 
I would pull it from your chest / 
And smash you with my fist / 
Til it was beating" 
and the heartbreaking "Tourist In Your Town" which ended the main set. McBean was, of course, back out for an encore of a couple more, the haunting "Vampire" and "Can You Do That Dance?" ending off the night with another high energy song.

When he first came out alone, I was a bit trepidation, but I should have known better to question Steve McBean. It ended up being a strong show, and I can only hope that this means more Pink Mountaintops is on its way soon.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Wil @ Media Club -- 12/14/12

It was eight years ago that I went to see Wide Mouth Mason at the Commodore Ballroom, and was transfixed by the opening act, an acoustic roots-rocker who simply went by the name of Wil. I've seen him at least a dozen times since, and I am continually impressed, each time I see him play.

Unfortunately I missed the opening act Ryan McMahon. There were conflicting reports on show times before the night, and I got there thinking I was just in time to see him, but it turns out he had just finished his set. 

It wasn't long after I arrived that Wil took the stage, joined only by Kevin Haughton on drums, at the sold out Media Club, visibly appreciative of the support. You can always tell when an artist is going through the motions thanking the crowd and when they are genuinely touched, and Wil was definitely the latter. His roots-rock sound and rough, soulful voice filled the room, the raw emotion pouring out and his passion for playing immediately apparent, as he candidly hoped for the opportunity to continue playing for many years to come. 

Wil opened the first set of the night with "Rain On" and after a few songs, he went off the setlist and started soliciting requests from the crowd, playing a few older songs, "Mama" and "Dance With The Devil". He also lived up to his "I Break Strings" moniker snapping a string during "Tell You Twice". And as many strings as I've seen him break, he never seems to be trying to do it to live up to a gimmick, but rather just from the sheer intensity of his playing -- his hands are often a blur flying across the body of the guitar. 
And the strings aren't wasted; his wife takes the discarded strings and makes jewelry from them, selling them online and at shows.

After about an hour, Wil ended the first half of the night with a crowd favourite (and mine) "Honey Pie", an incredibly catchy and fast paced, slide guitar driven song. He was back out soon after for the second half of the night, kicking off with the building energy of "Cooder Mountain" and playing a few more songs, including the darker "The Deal" and wrapping up the night with another amazing showcase of his quick hands on the guitar with a song I didn't catch the name of. 

As if it isn't already apparent, Wil is one of my favourite performers to watch live, and as long as he keeps playing shows, I will always be there. 

Rain On, Gold, Hold Me On, Both Hands, Wedding Dress, Roam, Mama, Dance With The Devil, Tell You Twice, Honey Pie.
Cooder Mountain, Always With Love, Hey Now, The Deal, [mystery song].

Saturday, December 15, 2012

String Fling w/ Four on the Floor String Quartet @ Rio Theatre -- 12/13/12

Even if you don't know them by name, there's a good chance you've seen some members of the Four on the Floor String Quartet playing live. As a group or individually, they've been a part of the Vancouver music scene for a while, playing with local artists like Adaline, The Belle Game, Kyprios, The Matinee, and many others, as well as having members of the quartet taking place in every Peak Performance Project as a part of various backing bands.
But they've decided to step into the spotlight and put on the first (of what I hope is many) String Fling, which saw members Hannah Epperson, Michelle Faehrmann, Tony Kastelic and Dougal McLean inviting some local acts to the Rio Theatre to play some of their own songs, with string accompaniment. And as someone who has always had a soft spot for strings in music, I was definitely interested to see how they came together with some of Vancouver's finest.

The show was broken into two halves, with each the performers playing a few songs and a steady flow of music with Four on the Floor performing between acts, with songs from their members or spoken word poetry over top of some strings arrangements. They opened the show with a songs before being joined by the first performer of the night, Ali Milner. With her gorgeous voice and jazzy piano, the strings blended really well with upbeat songs like the catchy "Waiting" and the dynamic "Fly".

After a spoken word interlude, they showcased a couple of their own solo projects, first Dougal Bain McLean with a could laid back, singer-songwriter-type songs, followed by the looping violin and lovely voice of Hannah Epperson, joined by Ajay Bhattacharyya on a drum machine for the aptly named "We Will Host A Party".

Ajay stayed on stage, joined by his bandmate Amy Kirkpatrick as Data Romance was up next. There was a bit of technical difficulties before they started, but Hannah covered fairly smoothly and they soon launched into their dark and moody, synth-infused electronic vibes. They played a couple new songs, teasing a new album in February, but I think they meshed with the string quartet least well -- which isn't to say it was bad in the slightest, just a clash of styles. That is, until their last song which was a bit more low key with Amy's ethereal voice soaring with the strings to close out the first half of the show.

After a short break, the second half opened with a spoken word piece from the quartet before Dominique Fricot took the stage. He is definitely no stranger to playing with Four on the Floor -- they helped him land third place in this year's Peak Performance Project -- and so he meshed the best with the quartet of all the performers. The acerbically charming Fricot talked and joked with the crowd, taking advantage of their relaxed atmosphere to play a couple slower, quieter songs from his repertoire, including the title track to his recent EP If Baby Could Walk. 

The next interlude, featured another spoken word piece, this time it segueing into the quartet playing the epic Game of Thrones theme, which was as fantastic as it sounds.

Of all the acts of the night, I was most interested to see how Shaun Verreault's bluesy sound mixed with the strings, and he introduced his first song as one least likely to be backed by a string quartet; Wide Mouth Mason's "Love Not Loving You". Originally a raw, distorted blues-rock song, it was turned into an absolutely gorgeous and heartbreaking number that ended up being my favourite of the night. His next couple songs were from his own solo albums, both a little more suited for the strings accompaniment, giving his amazing guitar playing and powerful voice an extra kick.

After one last Four on the Floor interlude, The Gay Nineties hit the stage to close out the night with their energetic and infectious rock. The first song had guest vocals from the powerful Colleen Rennison of No Sinner, and their raw energy was enough to get people up and dancing at the front of the stage. They sounded pretty much exactly like themselves, but with the addition of strings, which wasn't a bad thing at all, and they were definitely a good choice in closing out the night.

The pacing of the show was fantastic, with it never dragging on or seeming long, and for the most part everything ran like clockwork. It was a great night of music with a fantastic premise, and at the end of the show, they hinted at already planning a second one, and I already can't wait to see who Four on the Floor will be collaborating with for another.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Tom Fun Orchestra w/ The Strumbellas @ Electric Owl -- 11/23/12

The first time I ever saw The Tom Fun Orcheastra live was back in '09; it was their first Vancouver show, at a crappy pub with mediocre opening bands, and they didn't even go on stage until 1am, thanks to a lengthy turnaround due to the venue not letting the eight piece band set up beforehand. In short, it was a bit of a gong show.
But as soon as they played, they turned the whole night around. They took what could have been a terrible night, and with the power of their live show, wowed everyone in the room.
I've seen them every time they've been back since (which is not often enough), so I wasn't going to miss them at the Electric Owl. Especially since they were touring with a band that I had been meaning to see for a while, so that worked out well.

That opening band was Lindsey, Ontario's The Strumbellas. The six members took the stage and from the opening song, I was struck by their stellar harmonies and upbeat, alt-country "folk-popgrass" sound. The insanely catchy "Lakes" was a great example of said harmonies, and their whole set was bubbling over with energy. Other highlights included "I Just Had A Baby" with the lyrics "I have cried to bigger men than you, I have lied to better friends than you." and yet another song to get stuck in your head long after the show, "Sheriff".
Each member had a great enthusiasm and stage presence, with a lot of funny banter -- most of which was off the cuff ribbing of other band members; especially from lead singer Simon Ward. You could tell they were all having an absolute blast on stage, and that excitement was definitely infectious. I have no doubt that I'll make sure to see them next time they're through town.

It wasn't long after that Cape Breton's The Tom Fun Orchestra hit the stage, now down to seven members with instruments ranging from accordion and banjo and horns, for a rich and lush eclectic mish-mash folk, roots, blues, rock and punk. The sound is driven by the distinct and unique rough gravel of Ian Macdougall's voice, which contrasts beautifully with the lovely voice of Breagh Potter; their different styles could easily clash, but they blend together so perfectly.
Most of the set focused on the new album, Earthworm Heart, starting off with the lead track, "Merry Christmas, Jim" -- not a very festive song, despite the name. Some highlights includes the cacophonous "Watchmaker" from their previous album, You Will Land With A Thud, and "Lungs", which rises to a grand ending.  They played right up until the curfew, not bothering with the faux-encore, ending the night by first inviting members of The Strumbellas back on stage for a big group party for the explosive "Animal Mask", and then inviting everyone on stage for their last song of the night, "Sympathetic Wolf" culminating in a giant sing along, the stage packed with musicians, friends and fans.

As amazing an energy as The Strumbellas has, Tom Fun managed to not only match it, but top it as well. The term "force of nature" may be a cliché when describing music and bands, but it definitely applies to The Tom Fun Orchestra, and with the strength of both bands, this may be a late contender for one of the best shows of the year.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Zolas w/ The Belle Game @ Rio Theatre -- 11/16/12

It's been quite a while since The Zolas played their last "proper" show in Vancouver. There have been a few free shows scattered throughout the summer, but they were all missing half of the main duo, Tom Dobrzanski, as he was busy building his new recording studio Monarch Studios. But the band was back together at a sold out Rio Theatre for what was both their homecoming show and their CD release party, celebrating their latest album, Ancient Mars.

Opening up for them was another Vancouver favourite, The Belle Game. They were also supposed to be celebrating the release of their latest album, but it got delayed until next year. That didn't stop them from focusing most of the set on newer material, however, starting with the haunting "Ritual". Their rich, lush sound that was perfect for a theatre venue with the awesome and powerful voice of Andrea Lo filing the room; especially evident on "River", which was an amazing example of that power.
The six-piece was also joined by occasional-member Andrew Lee on trumpet (and tambourine) who got to show off on the explosive climax of "Sleep To Grow", and they ended their set with "Wait Up For You", which also built to a huge ending, and guitarist Alex Andrew solo-ing front and centre.

From the first time I saw The Belle Game -- on a small stage of a mediocre sounding venue -- I knew I wanted to see them in a setting like this, a soft seat theatre venue, and I have no doubt they'll only move on to bigger and better venues.

Ritual, Wasted Light, Keeps Me Up At Night, Blame Fiction, River, Salt + Water, Sleep to Grow, Wait Up For You.

It wasn't long before Zach Gray and Tom Dobrzanski took the stage with the rest of The Zolas, now a five piece with bassist Henry Alcock-White now on guitar. The set was heavy with the new album, opening with the lead off track "In Heaven", easing the crowd in with its soft beginning before rising in intensity.
The whole band had a great energy, but especially Zach, who has a strong stage presence; always full of energy, jumping around, and very personable, talking between songs as if just chatting with a friend and not a sold out theatre. Songs about lost love and heartbreak filled the set, and highlights include the extremely catchy and danceable "Strange Girl", as well as the big sing along to "You're Too Cool" -- which was either in the appropriate falsetto, or highlighted the gender ratio in the crowd -- and the dark yet bouncy "Knot In My Heart".
Near the end of the set, Zach climbed into the crowd and over the first few rows of seats to stand in the middle of a sea of people for "Escape Artist", and they closed out the main set with "Marlaina Kamikaze", the controlled chaos of the song bubbling over to a frantic ending. But then of course, there was the encore, first with Zach and Tom out alone for "Cold Moon", then getting the rest of the band back for the mid-to-post apocalyptic "The Great Collapse" to end off the night.

At a few points through the night, Zach expressed extreme gratitude (and a little disbelief) at the crowd, thanking everyone profusely for coming. But while it may have been a shock to Zach, it wasn't to anyone else, since The Zolas are more than deserving of the adoration.

In Heaven, Euphrates and Tigris, Strange Girl, Ancient Mars, Observatory, Local Swan, You're Too Cool, Knot In My Heart, Escape Artist, Marlaina Kamikaze.
(encore) Cold Moon, The Great Collapse.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Sidney York @ Media Club -- 11/15/12

About a year and a half ago, I developed a bit of a musical crush on the band Sidney York (and maybe a few of the members too) and since then I almost haven't been able to shut up about them -- they were definitely one of my favourite musical discoveries of last year.
I was also recently lucky enough to travel across Canada with them, and a few other bands, by train as part of Tracks on Tracks, and I was excited to see them play for the first time since that experience.

Starting off the night was We Need Surgery, a five-piece from Vancouver -- who actually formed in South Korea of all places. They all came across as talented musicians, lead singer Miso Stefanac had a versatile voice and bass player Paul Johnson stood out, but the problem was their lack of originality. They were definitely influenced by the mid-00's indie rock scene, with many songs sounded like a Killers or Bravery b-side rather than something unique.
They also gave off a bit of an "arrogant" vibe (for want of a better term) like they didn't really want to be there -- I'm not sure if it's something they were going for to build a mystique, or if it was an accident (or they really didn't want to be there), but they didn't have much of a stage presence.
If they worked more towards a sound of their own, I think they could definitely be a strong band, but while the set wasn't bad by any means, it just wasn't that interesting.

Next up was one of the top three bands in this year's Peak Performance Project, Dear Rouge. When I saw their Peak showcase at the Red Room, the sound wasn't all that great so I was looking forward to seeing them again in a better venue. Though they were plagued with a few technical problems -- namely issues with the kick drum -- but they recovered fairly well, changing the setlist on the fly and not succumbing to an awkward silence while they tried to fix it. 
The duo of Danielle and Drew McTaggart lead the band to create a very dancey, electro-pop vibe with lots of energy from the two of them, especially Danielle who hardly stood still all set. There was definitely more focus on her throughout the show, despite the fact they're hyped as a duo. 
As I thought last time, I think they have an amazing potential, but because they are still so new, they just need  some time to grow into themselves as a band. Near the end of the set there was shades of that, as they pulled out a cover of Tommy Sparks' "She's Got Me Dancing", during which they seemed to really click and kick into full gear, which carried through into the last song, their current Peak single "Thinking About You". 
They're playing the Commodore for the big Peak finale show next week, and I am definitely interested to hear how that goes, and see how they progress after that.

And wrapping up the night was Sidney York. You wouldn't expect to find a classically trained opera singer & two concert musicians -- playing the oboe and bassoon no less -- in an indie-pop band, but that's the background of the three ladies behind Sidney York, Brandi Sidoryk, Sheryl Reinhardt and Krista Wodelet.
The three were joined by a few familiar faces backing them up; Jeremy Breaks (Redgy Blackout) on guitar, Mike Young (The Matinée) on bass and Luke Cyca (beekeeper) on drums.
On the surface, a many of their songs come across as just fun, upbeat and poppy music -- albeit with a unique instrumentation -- but most of them are much darker or sexier (or both) than they initially appear, which is a quality I always love.
Most of the set focused on songs from last year's Apocalyptic Radio Cynic album, but they played a couple new songs, both of which a bit of a departure, but nothing too drastic, and were much more collaborative. You could tell they were written by the three of them together, as opposed to the older songs written by Brandi before the other two joined the band. Especially "Electrolove", a song about having a love affair with technology, which featured the three of them all playing the same keyboard at once. Judging by the pair of new songs, I'm really looking forward to the next album, which Brandi mentioned is starting production next month.
The three of them have a fantastic energy, but especially Brandi, who bubbles over with liveliness and a contagious enthusiasm that got people stomping and clapping along for the ridiculously infectious "Dick & Jane", and singing along for "Roll With Me". They wrapped up the set after about an hour with the explosive "Mile High Love", capping off a great and fun set.

Tea As It Should Be, Cold In Here, Dick & Jane, Doctor Doctor, Math & Fractions, Roll With Me, Lion Tiger Bear, Electrolove, Apocalyptic Radio Cynic, Mile High Love.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Paper Lions @ Media Club -- 11/15/12

You know when you see a band, and it boggles your mind why they aren't as big as they deserve to be? That was the feeling after seeing PEI's Paper Lions. They're on the tail end of a cross-Canada tour and they hit Vancouver on a Wednesday night to a modest crowd at the Media Club (they were also competing against the double bill of Elliott BROOD & Wintersleep at the Commodore).

Evidently I completely (and obliviously) missed Pigeon Park -- which was unfortunate -- and got there just before Winnipeg's Les Jupes went on. Part of the Head in the Sand label, the four-piece had a dark and moody, yet catchy, rock strengthened by the driving guitars and deep vocals of Mike Petkau, occasionally contrasting with the backup vocals of keyboardist Kelly Beaton.
They had a good stage presence, and mid-way through the set, during some technical troubles with their keyboard, Petkau covered smoothly, replacing the potential awkward silence with a couple purposefully corny jokes.
It was a solid and enjoyable set, and I wouldn't mind seeing more of them in the future.

It wasn't long before the PEI quarter Paper Lions took the stage, launching into "Don't Touch That Dial", the high-energy and fun song setting the stage for a night of incredibly infectious pop-rock with tight harmonies from the band. All four members are excellent musicians who blend together perfectly, all with a great stage presence; especially lead singer John McPhee, who was switching between guitar and keys with an effortless charm, chatting with the crowd between songs and encouraging everyone to dance along with songs like "Sweat It Out", which proclaims "I'll sweat it out from 9-5 to sweat it out on Friday night". 
Other highlights included "Ghostwriters" from their most recent release, the stripped down acoustic EP At Long Creek, "Strawberry Man" going back to their days as the Chucky Danger Band, and "Travelling", which got the crowd singing along. They also sprinkled in a few new songs from their upcoming album -- recorded here in Vancouver -- teasing a release date of early next year.
They "ended" with my favourite of theirs, the raucous "Lost the War", before coming back out for a couple more, a song written after an unfortunate meeting between their tour van and a moose, and yet another new song called "Philadelphia".

The show was just over an hour full of energetic and fun indie-pop-rock, and if it was any indication of their new album, it is going to be fantastic.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Dan Mangan @ Queen Elizabeth Theatre -- 11/09/12

"What Happens Next?" was the question asked in a recent CBC documentary on Dan Mangan that followed him on the days leading up to his show at the Orpheum Theatre last year. It was the biggest show that Dan had played in his career at that point, and exactly one year to the day after the show, we got the answer as Dan played a nearly-sold-out show at the gorgeous Queen Elizabeth Theatre.

As excited I was to see Dan play, I was equally excited about the opening band, The Rural Alberta Advantage. The Toronto trio seemed very small on the large stage, but they more than made up for it in talent; the distinct voice of lead singer and guitarist Nils Edenloff, Paul Banwatt's frantic and incredible drumming, and Amy Cole, who at times was simultaneously playing both the keys and bass pedals, the latter with her feet. And the talent exploded off the stage with their great stage presence and energy, translating into a strong set of catchy songs, some old and familiar, some new they were trying out and road testing.

They were definitely wining over the crowd, getting everyone to clap along a few times, with highlights of the set including the aptly named "Tornado '87" which starts soft then builds to a frantic pace worthy of the storm it's named after, the dark and moody "Under the Knife", and my favourite of theirs, the incredibly infectious and explosive "Stamp".

The room may have been a bit big for their sound, but they still put on a strong and enjoyable set; and judging by the standing ovation they got at the end, I wasn't the only one to think so.

It wasn't long after until Dan Mangan took the stage, flanked by his usual backing band of Gord Grdina on guitar, Kenton Loewen on drums and John Walsh on bass. They were joined by a couple other musicians on keys, strings and horns to fill out the sound, and Dan also made sure to point out that everyone playing with him was also in other bands, which included The Crackling, Haram, Brasstronaut, Fond of Tigers, and even mentioned you could pick up their CDs at the merch table, which I thought was a nice touch.

Before the show, I was a little afraid that Dan's charm and intimacy would lose something in the massive room, but those fears were squashed almost instantly, as the band took the stage and they started with Dan's most recent single, a b-side called "We Want To Be Pleasantly Surprised, Not Expectedly Let Down" and "About As Helpful As You Can Be Without Being Any Help At All", a pair of grandiose songs. Dan's voice resonating through the entire room. It was especially notable during "Basket", when the band taking a break and Dan sang the incredibly heartbreaking song alone with his guitar -- no doubt resulting in more than a few tears shed.

The nearly-sold-out audience was rapt the whole night, with lots of 'recognition applause' (when the crowd cheers the song just from recognising the beginning of it) throughout the show. There was also the usual massive sing along for "Robots" -- which did not end the set, as it used to, but rather came about two thirds through -- and drew many people from their seats to fill the area right in front of the stage. Other highlights were the incendiary "Post War Blues" that builds to a manic ending  and "Rows of Houses", which segued with an beautiful extended instrumental extro right into "Regarding Death and Dying".

The set ended with the all-question song "Jeopardy", but Dan was back out a few minutes later, saying they could sneak in a couple more before the curfew and went into  "The Indie Queens Are Waiting" solo, with most of the crowd filling in for Veda Hille on the backup vocals. There was also an amusing moment when the phone of someone at the very front went off and Dan paused the song, asking to answer the phone -- but sadly it was too late and they missed the call.

After a couple older ones, including the beautiful "Fair Verona" from his first album, Dan ended the night by getting right down into the crowd for "So Much For Everyone", leading the crowd in the backup "ooh-ooh's" and calling out The RAA and anyone else backstage to fill the stage with friendly faces.

The first time I saw Dan it was in a room with about a tenth of the amount of people as this night, and I marvelled at Dan's ability to make a show intimate and close. And it's a talent that Dan has retained whether he's playing to three hundred or three thousand people; to make it feel like you're just sitting in someone's living room, watching a guy pour his heart out with his guitar. 

We Want To Be Pleasantly Surprised, Not Expectedly Let Down; About As Helpful As You Can Be Without Being Any Help At All; Oh Fortune; Sold; Leaves, Trees, Forest; If I Am Dead; Post War Blues; Basket; Starts With Them, Ends With Us; Road Regrets; How Darwinian; Robots; Rows of Houses; Regarding Death and Dying; Jeopardy.
(encore) The Indie Queens Are Waiting; Fair Verona; Tina's Glorious Comeback; So Much For Everyone. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

AC Newman @ Biltmore -- 11/08/12

Arguably one of Canada's best songwriters, Carl Newman is probably best known as from The New Pornographers. But he's also juggled a solo career under the moniker A.C. Newman, and hot off the heels of his third album, Shut Down The Streets, Newman returns to his hometown of Vancouver for a show as part of the Exclaim! 20th Anniversary Concert Series

First up was Omaha's The Mynabirds, lead by the strong voice of singer-songwriter Laura Burhenn. She was joined by Rebecca Marie Miller on backup vocals, and a few others to round out the band.
When they started, the floor in front of the stage was empty, but they soon drew people in with a catchy rock sound, with hints of both country and blues influences, and near the end of their set they even got some audience participation in the form of a call-and-response with the song "Generals".
They put on a really good set, and I will definitely be interested in hearing more from them in the future.

The Mynabirds were just ending their stint as Newman's opening act, and they figuratively passed the baton on to the next band of the night, Harriet, who were supporting the next leg of the tour. They had a synth driven rock sound, and they weren't bad, but nothing really stuck out. The songs were all pretty straightforward and decent, but there wasn't much that demanded attention.

And finally, AC Newman took the stage, joined by a full band that included a couple familiar faces, Megan Bradfield (Limblifter) and Paul Rigby (Neko Case), and a variety of instruments -- clarinet, saxophone, banjo, flute, among others -- to flesh out the sound. The keyboard player (whose name I didn't catchy) was also incredibly animated, and quite possibly the most fun member of the band to watch.
Starting with "I'm Not Talking", the lead track of the new album, the set was full of Newman's catchy and clever songs, going from the soft and mellow "Drink To Me, Babe, Then" to the sharp and incredibly infectious "Like A Hitman, Like A Dancer", and weaving through Newman's three albums.
There was a bit of joking between songs, but not too much banter from Newman, as he just let the music speak for itself. Other highlights included the bouncing "Encyclopedia of Classic Takedowns" and the punchy and upbeat "Miracle Drug", which ended the main set. Newman, of course, came back for three more, ending the night with another older track, the grooving "The Town Halo".

AC Newman, unsurprisingly, put on a strong show, and hopefully it isn't his last solo tour, as rumours seem to be implying.

I'm Not Talking; The Palace at 4am; On the Table; Encyclopedia of Classic Takedowns; Prophets; Strings; Get Guilty; You Could Get Lost Out There; Drink To Me, Babe, Then; Do Your Own Time; They Should Have Shut Down the Streets; Like A Hitman, Like A Dancer; Come Crash; The Heartbreak Rides; Hostages; Miracle drug. 
(encore) There's Money in New Wave; Secretarial; Town Halo. 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Plants & Animals and The Deep Dark Woods @ Commodore -- 11/01/12

There have been some solid all-around-shows this year, but this one might take the cake. Not only was the co-headlining bill of Plants & Animals and The Deep Dark Woods enticing enough, but adding Rah Rah as the opener was just perfection.

The last time I saw Rah Rah, their seven members were cramped on stage, so they had a bit more room at the Commodore, even if they only utilized half of the stage. They opened with "Art & A Wife", the first single and opening track from their latest album The Poet's Dead, and the older "Tentacles"; the undeniable catchyness and and near-perfect boy/girl vocals of both songs set the stage for their too-short-set. "Prairie Girl" saw Erin Passmore come out from behind the drums taking over on keys, and showing off her incredibly strong vocals and "Beaches" featured a bit of a percussion breakdown, with half the band grabbed drumsticks to knock on random objects, then gather 'round the drum kit for the explosive ending. After about half an hour, they tossed their set decorations -- their inflatable R, A and H -- into the crowd to pass around as they ended with my favourite song of theirs, "Duet for Emmylou and the Grievous Angel", a gorgeous song full of raw emotion and heartache. 
They put on an incredibly fun set, and even though it's the third time I've seen them since the spring, each time has felt too short and has left me wanting more.

Next up was co-headliner, The Deep Dark Woods. I had heard a lot of good things about the band, but I had just never got a chance to get into them, so I was very interested to see them live. And they definitely lived up to the hype. With some excellent, moody back-lighting the folky, rootsy four piece -- with an almost country twang -- was driven by some amazing guitar work from Burke Barlow and the low and rich vocals of Ryan Boldt.
Part way through the set, Kendel Carson come out to accompany them on violin for a few songs, adding a nice layer to the already deep and lush songs, and they sprinkled the set with the occasional guitar solo, or extended jamming; at times it felt like they were just completely improvising -- likely the case when they had a technical malfunction with the keys and the rest of the band covered and kept going. But it never crossed the line into boring or self-indulgent, the skilled musicians always keeping the interest of the crowd.
The set lasted for a little over an hour, and the Saskatoon band definitely gained a fan in me that night, and no doubt more than a few others in the crowd as well.

And rounding out the night was Montreal's Plants & Animals. The last time I saw them, earlier this year, it was in a venue that I am... not very fond of... so I was especially excited to see them at the Commodore once more. Kicking off the set with one of the few songs to rock with an autoharp, "Bye Bye Bye", the trio -- who are joined by a bass player while on tour -- brought an incredible energy right out of the gate, and had people singing along to the chorus.
The band creates a sound so rich that you would swear there's twice as many of them on stage, and the tunes manage to stride that line between complex and catchy, usually managing to be both. One of the highlights was one such example, the quirky "Crisis", one of my favourites off their new album The End Of That. They also took a page out of Van Morrison's songbook and covered "Into The Mystic", during which one concert-goer decided it would be the perfect time to pop the question, proposing to his girlfriend in the front row. She said yes, and they caught the attention of the band, who cheered them on.
After the high speed "The Mama Papa", they ended it off with "Lightshow", only to come back for a couple more; one of my favourite songs, "Mercy" which starts out energetic enough then explodes into a frenzy of guitars, a chanted chorus, and general revelry. That would have been a perfect ending, but they had one more for the crowd, another cover, "Foggy Notion" from The Velvet Underground.

Any of these three bands I would be more than willing to see on their own, and even though their styles differ, and it seems like it might have been an odd fit on paper, they ended up coming together quite well, making it one of the best "all around" shows I've seen this year.

Bye Bye Bye, Song for Love, Kon Tiki, 2010, Good Friend, Crisis, Into the Mystic [Van Morrison cover], Lola Who?, The Mama Papa, Lightshow.
(encore) Mercy, Foggy Nation [Velver Underground cover]

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Aidan Knight @ Rio Theatre -- 10/27/12

It only took one listen for Aidan Knight's new album Small Reveal to slide itself into my theoretical list of favourite albums of the year. So I was, of course, excited to see him live for the first time since the album came out, and especially in a venue like the Rio Theatre. The soft seat movie theatre seemed like a perfect place to experience Aidan Knight -- whose name now represents the full band -- and he had brought along a couple artists that I had been meaning to hear more of.

Andy Shauf was the first of those artists. He started the night off, taking the stage alone and sitting only with his guitar and a collection of soft and sad, melancholic yet beautiful songs, with the highlights being "Hometown Hero" and "Jesus, She's A Good Girl", both from his upcoming album, The Bearer of Bad News.
He also had some awkward-yet-charming banter worthy of opening for Aidan Knight, as he chatted between songs, even taking questions from some fans up at the front. Shauf was certainly engaging, but the tone of his songs was kind of the same throughout his short set, and I think he definitely would have benefited from a backing band to fill out his sound.
Though full band or no, I'll be sure to catch him next time he comes through town.

Leif Vollebekk was up next, also taking the stage alone, starting off with his guitar and harmonica and a bit more of a bluesy vibe. After a few songs, he went over to the upright piano for a few songs, including a cover of Tom Waits' "Picture In A Frame", and then it was back to the guitar for an impromptu poll over who to cover next. Sigur Rós won out, and with a little bit of looping, he did a really nice cover of "Heysátan", bow and all.
He played a few more of his own songs, including one specifically dedicated to those who had recently suffered heartbreak, before capping off the set off with yet another cover, "Just For A Thrill" from Ray Charles.

It wasn't long then before the curtains parted, and with the swelling of some strings, the Small Reveal trailer came on the big screen and Aidan Knight and his Friendly Friends took the stage. They immediately launched in to the soaring "Dream Team" which build to a huge ending, setting the tone for the rest of the night. Most of the set focused on the new album, and along with his endearingly awkward stage banter, Aidan charmed the crowd with song that were rich & lush, many of which built to grand endings of swirling guitars and keyboards and horns.
Part way through the set the rest of the band took leave of the stage and Aidan turned down his guitar, stepped off mic, to the very front of the stage, to play "Margaret Downe". His unamplified voice filled the theatre for an absolutely heartbreaking and beautiful performance that left very few dry eyes in the house.
The mood was soon brought back up as the band came back, and a couple songs later they had nearly the entire sold out theatre singing along to the unabashedly joyous "Jasper", and after a bad great pun about naming their genre "Grand Folk" thanks to songs named "Magic Cupboards" and "Knitting Something Nice", Aidan ended with another sing along, "Creatures Great & Small".
But of course that wasn't the end as they came back for another pair of songs that climb to grandiose endings, "Friendly Fires" and "North South East West", to somehow top everything else that night and bring the whole show to a gorgeous ending.

It was an amazing show all around, and Aidan specifically seemed much more confident than I had ever seen him on stage. He's always been great live, but he and the band were more cohesive than ever, and weren't afraid to try new things with old songs.

Dream Team, A Mirror, Singer Songwriter, You Will See The Good In Everyone, Altar Boys, Margaret Downe, Lambics, Sorrows, Jasper, Magic Cupboards, Knitting Something Nice, Creatures Great & Small.
(encore) Friendly Fires, North East South West.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Matt Mays @ Commodore -- 10/24/12

I was lucky enough to catch Matt Mays during NXNE -- his set being a highlight of the festival -- but it's been a while since the shaggy Dartmouth rocker has visited Vancouver. But fresh off the release of his first album in four years, Mays embarked on a cross country tour that finally brought him  back to the west coast.

Opening the night was PEI's The Meds. Their self-titled debut EP was produced by Matt Mays, and his influence was pretty evident on their east coast rock sound. The band had a rocking sound and a good energy on stage, getting the slowly building crowd to clap along, and lead singer Kyle Drake came right up to the edge of the stage a few times. One song that stood out was the catchy "Dial Tones of the Earth", but while they were a solid band, there wasn't much to set them apart.

Up next was a late addition to the show, Vancouver's own The Matinée. The five piece roots rock band started, as they usually do, with "L'Absinthe" and it wasn't long before they got the crowd stomping along to "Sweet Water". Another highlight was their brand new single, the anthemic "Young & Lazy" and they managed to top the energy from the rest of the set as they ended with "The Road", with its giant percussion breakdown.
I been able to see them a ridiculous amount of times in the last year, but I never get tired of seeing them play live. All five members always have a great energy on stage, especially Layzell, who is a great frontman; not only does he have a fantastic stage presence, and charisma to spare, but he knows when to fade into the background and let the focus shift to someone else -- usually Matt Rose shredding on the guitar -- which is sometimes a rare skill for lead singers.

And finally, it was back to the east coast for Nova Scotia's Matt Mays. The band took the stage and exploded with the first track off of the new album Coyote, "Indio", going into a few more from the album. As always, Mays had an amazing energy. Hardly standing still for a moment through the whole set, he did a great job at getting the crowd into it right off the bat. A couple other highlights from the new album were the twangy "Loveless" and the more rockin' "Ain't That The Truth".
Part way through the set, the band took a brief break as Matt pulled out the Grestch White Falcon for a few solo songs, including "Queen of Portland Street" and "Travellin'" where the band to slowly join him and build to a huge ending with a giant sing along. He ramped the energy right back up with raucous "Rock Ranger Records", the funky "Madre Padre", and a pair of old songs that once again got everyone singing, "City of Lakes" and one of my favourites, "On The Hood" to end the set.
But of course, they were back for a couple more. Matt came out alone first, getting behind the keys for the soft and beautiful "Your Heart" before the band to rejoin him for one of my absolute favourite songs, the incredibly powerful "Terminal Romance", with Mays dripping raw emotion and heartache as he spat out the words. And as if that wasn't enough, they wrapped up nearly two hours after the start of the set with "Cocaine Cowgirl", and one last big sing along.

Mays always puts on a fantastic show, so full of raw energy, and tonight was no different. Hopefully it won't be another couple years before he makes his way back.

Indio, Stoned, Take It On Faith, Loveless, Tall Trees, Dull Knife, Rochambo, Never Saw it Comin', Spoonful of Sugar, Queen of Portland Street, Chase the Light, Travellin', Ain't That The Truth, Rock Ranger Records, Madre Padre, City of Lakes, On The Hood.
(encore) Your Heart, Terminal Romance, Cocaine Cowgirl.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Royal Wood @ Rio Theatre -- 10/20/12

It seemed that every time Royal Wood has come through Vancouver for the last couple years, I've somehow missed the show. But this time, everything aligned as he came to the Rio Theatre, a nice soft seat venue which seemed like it would fit Royal Wood's sound perfectly.

Opening the night was the Inuit-raised Montreal singer Elisapie. She was out with a pair of multi-instrumentalists, who were mostly on guitar, but also drums or kick pedals to create a light and beautiful pop sound. Elisapie had a lovely voice and some very catchy songs, including the breathy "It's All Your Fault", an ode to Leonard Cohen and the gorgeous "The Earth Moved". She also had a very warm stage presence, telling stories between songs and winning over the crowd. I wouldn't be surprised if half the crowd left with a bit of a crush on her or her music.

Not long after, Royal Wood was out with a full band in tow. He kicked off with "The Thick Of It", the lead off track to his latest album We Were Born To Glory, and wove his way through songs old and new, including his hits ("and by 'hits' I mean songs they play on the CBC" he joked).
Jumping between his guitar and a grand piano, he went from the slow and beautiful "I'm So Glad I Found You" to the rollicking "The Fire Did Go" and everywhere in between, with other highlights being "I Want Your Love" and the heartbreaking "Lady In White"
Royal was very smooth on stage, flawlessly killing time between songs to fix a drum pedal that broke mid-song, and a lot of his banter showed a bit of a dry, sarcastic sense of humour. He playfully teased people shouting requests and even slightly mocked the whole "encore tradition", calling attention to the "encore" that was written on his setlist before playing the "last song", then feigning surprise when he came back out. But he knew exactly what to play, as he capped off the night with "Do You Recall", getting some 'recognition applause' for a nice way to end off the night.
It was a really strong performance, and I'm glad I finally got to see him play live.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Big Sugar w/ Wide Mouth Mason @ Commodore -- 10/19/12

It was almost exactly a year ago that Big Sugar made their return to Vancouver, to kick off their "Big & Wide" tour with Wide Mouth Mason for an incredible show. Now both bands descend upon the Commodore Ballroom once again, for a pair of shows as Big Sugar heads out on tour while Mason caps theirs off. And opening the night was WMM's tourmates, Ontario's The Balconies, who I've been meaning to see for a while.

I got to the Commodore a shade late (of course, the one time I'm late is the one time the show on time), but only missed the first couple songs from The Balconies. The rock & roll three-piece -- comprised of siblings Jacquie and Stephen Neville on guitar and bass, respectively, and Liam Jaeger on drums -- were on right at 8, which is usually when doors open, but by the end of the set their gritty pop-rock sound and Jacquie's strong voice had drawn in a nice sized crowd.
They played a really tight set, all three members helping out on vocals, and some looping tricks, with a great energy. Especially from Jacquie, who had the presence and aura of a rock star, hardly standing still for a moment, dancing and swirling her hair while rocking out with an obvious passion.
The only downside was the mix seemed a little off, with Jacquie's voice being a little buried, but despite that it was still a good set, and I will definitely catch them again next time they come through town.

Next up was Wide Mouth Mason, with Shaun Verreault on guitar, drummer Safwan Javed and Gordie Johnson, pulling double duty for the night, on bass. They kicked off with the rocking and catchy "More Of It" from their most recent album, 2011's No Bad Days, and went into a collection of a few new songs and a good chunk of fondly remembered hits, like "Smile" and "This Mourning". Though the set was a majority of older songs, a lot of them had fresh touches, like a verse of "Who's There?" in the middle of "Why" and some of ZZ Top's "Just Got Paid" in "My Old Self". There were also solos thrown in, or just jamming; a few times it looked like Shaun and Gordie were improvising off each other on the spot.
Midway through the set Shaun also invited up someone he introduced as one of his favourite singers, Colleen Rennison of No Sinner for "Waterfall", her powerful voice blending excellently with Verreault's, and they ended with a tease of "Rained Out Parade" segueing into "Midnight Rain", a lot of the crowd joining in on the chorus.
Through the years, I've probably seen Wide Mouth Mason over a dozen times, and I never tire of watching them live. All three are superb musicians, who put on with an incredibly tight, and Shaun Verreault is one of the most incredible guitarists to watch.

And finally, it was time for Big Sugar to hit the stage, with a band larger than the two opening acts combined. The six members joining Gordie Johnson included original members Mr. Chill and Garry Lowe, new members Friendlyness and Stephane Beaudin, Wide Mouth's Safwan (also pulling double duty that night) on percussion and Reggae legend Willi Williams. They kicked it off in high gear, starting the blues rocking set with "Digging A Hole" and one of my favourite songs, the incendiary "Dear Mr. Fantasy".
The nearly two-hour set consisted of songs old and new, from their most recent, a cover of Al Tuck's "Eliminate Ya!" to "If I Had My Way" from 96's Hemi-Vision, and everything in between. The band, especially Johnson, had a fantastic energy, and the night was filled with showcases of just how incredible musicians they are; there was lots of jamming and extended versions of songs, some with reggae interludes with Williams or Friendlyness coming to the front of the stage.
They capped off the set with a few more older hits; "Turn The Lights On" had a switcheroo midway through the song as Gordie jumped on the drums and bass player Gary Lowe took front and centre on guitar. Shaun Verreault and Jacquie Neville also made their way on stage to help out with backup vocals for "All Hell For A Basement", staying for the rest of the set. And even from across the room, the look of pure joy and enthusiasm on Jacquie's face for joining them on stage was apparent.
They ended the main set with the raucous and explosive "The Scene", that transformed into an instrumental "Oh Canada", the crowd patriotically chanting along and Gordie proudly displaying the flag painted on the back of his guitar (as he played behind his head).
Of course, they were back out for an encore with just a couple more, including the title track to their comeback album Revolutions Per Minute and ended with a breathtaking performance of "Wild Ox Moan", Johnson giving it an almost gospel feel, accompanied only by the reverb of his own voice. It was an unbelievable performance to cap off a great night of music.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Peak Performance Project Showcase #5 @ Red Room -- 10/18/12

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. Past winners are We Are The CityKyprios, and Current Swell with a ton of great bands and artists included as well.

Part one of the project was a rock & roll boot camp where they went on a week long retreat to get lectures and advice from industry pros to help 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. The bands are rated by a panel of judges, which will go toward their final score in the project, and they've also been tasked to learn a "Classic Canadian Cover" to play during their set. I always love hearing bands play cover songs, and I am definitely looking forward to see who each act chooses (and, as in the past, I am going to keep a running tally on how many Arcade Fire, Neil Young or Leonard Cohen songs we get).

The final showcase of this year's Peak Performance Project, it was a bit of a bittersweet night. The Red Room was packed with fans and other musicians alike, all soaking in as much as they could, like the last days of summer camp. It was also a showcase I was looking forward to, with three acts I haven't heard as much as I'd like from, and one of my favourites from this year's crop of bands. 

Mike EdelI missed the first couple songs from Mike Edel (the Red Room is notoriously slow letting the large lines in), but luckily caught the majority of the set. He had a few familiar faces in his band, Colin McTaggart on guitar and Kiana Brasset on violin & helping out on vocals. With a bit of a low key, folk driven sound, his set was good, and he has well written and heartfelt songs, but I didn't think there was much to set him apart; either from the rest of the top twenty, or from his genre.
He chose "Heart of Gold" from Neil Young for his cover, which was a fine interpretation, and just when I was thinking he needed a bit more of an edge, he wrapped up with the two most dynamic songs, "The Country Where I Came From" and "More Than The Summer". The former starting soft and slow and burst into an energetic ending, and the latter keeping that energy up; a good pair to end off on.
(Disclaimer: I have considered that, since I missed the beginning, I started in a bit of a mid-set-lull, which was the basis my opinion)

T. Nile: With a banjo in hand, a sharply dressed band, and a large parasol at the back of the stage with images and videos projected onto it, Tamara Nile took the stage for her set. She had a darker folk sound, with a bit of an electronic tinge, and a strong voice to drive the songs. She is definitely a good musician, but I didn't think anything really stood out from the set; it could have been that the Red Room can be merciless to the acts that sway on the folk or quieter side, but I didn't find myself drawn in. 
She brought out Graham Madden from Tough Lovers to help out with her Canadian cover, Byran Adams' "Cuts Like A Knife" (which has shown up in previous years) and ended the set with her current Peak-single, "Running", which was a good example of her electro-folk sound, and my favourite of the set. 

Dominique Fricot: No stranger to the Peak Performance Project, Dominique Fricot was in the first year as part of The Painted Birds. But now Dom has struck out on his own and is in this year as a solo act, backed by a band with some notable Vancouver musicians. The main members included Rob Tornroos on guitar & Niko Friesen on drums, and he also had Hilary Grist helping out on backup vocals and members of Four on the Floor on strings for a few songs. 
There are a few bands or musicians this year that I thought have been talented, but just need that extra edge, or just a little something to set them apart, and Dom is one of them. He has a great stage presence and charisma, and you can tell he pours his emotions into his songs, but they just need a bit of a kick to set them apart. 
His sound has a strong 90's alt rock influence, and there were a few songs, such as "Burn and Start Over", that were quite catchy. He didn't stray too far from that 90's influences with his cover of "You Don't Love Me" from Philosopher Kings, which featured Adaline out on backup vocals. The duo's voices mixed very well together, and Dom was at his most outgoing and energetic on stage during the cover. 
That being said, Fricot does have a certain appeal, with huge supportive fan base (which is well deserved) and I would not be surprised (or disappointed) to see him in the top five. 

Portage & Main: I've made it no secret that I have clear favourites in this year's competition, and Portage & Main was one from the get-go. They've been my pick to win it from the start, and their set just strengthened that opinion. The folk-roots-rock band kicked off in high gear with the rocking "Sweet Darling" and hardly looked back.  Even with some of the slower songs, they managed to keep up a high energy, especially both John Sponarski and Harold Donnelly, who play off each other so well.
Their cover was another Bryan Adams tune, "Summer of '69", which was not really a bold choice, but a good interpretation, slowed down and rootsy, more geared towards their style; and they had a good chunk of people singing along with the chorus. 
They brought the set to a big ending, inviting nearly everyone involved in the PPP on stage to belt out the chorus of "Oh Carolina" -- as well as the crowd -- for a huge singalong, and a great showing of camaraderie for all the bands. Some of the musicians even didn't want the experience to end, staying on stage chanting "Oh Carolina" after the band was done. 

And with that, the showcase series is over. Now is when the the business side of the competition kicks in, with the bands each having to write a business report -- showing it's not just about how well the musicians play, but how industry savvy they are as well, There is also the voting process, which counts towards their "final grade". So head over to the Peak Performance Project website to vote for who you think should take the top stop, and cross your fingers. The top five will be announced on November 1st, and the top three will play the grand finale on November 22nd at the Commodore, to find out who wins $102,700.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Peak Performance Project Showcase #4 @ Red Room -- 10/11/12

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. Past winners are We Are The CityKyprios, and Current Swell with a ton of great bands and artists included as well.

Part one of the project was a rock & roll boot camp where they went on a week long retreat to get lectures and advice from industry pros to help 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. The bands are rated by a panel of judges, which will go toward their final score in the project, and they've also been tasked to learn a "Classic Canadian Cover" to play during their set. I always love hearing bands play cover songs, and I am definitely looking forward to see who each act chooses (and, as in the past, I am going to keep a running tally on how many Arcade Fire, Neil Young or Leonard Cohen songs we get).

The penultimate showcase was another with mostly bands I was unfamiliar with, so I was looking forward to what the unknown-to-me bands had to offer. Every year of the project I've discovered at least one or two new bands that, while they had varying success through the project, ended up being a personal favourite of mine. 

Georgia Murray: After a bit of a long instrumental intro, Georgia Murray took the stage with a band comprised of a few familiar faces and PPP-vets; Tim Proznick (Kyprios) was on drums and Ashleigh Eymann on backup vocals. Murray had a bit of a soul and R&B tinged rock, with a warm stage presence and a strong voice, but a lot of the songs blended together and sounded a bit the same. Though one did stand out, "Never Die", which sounded like it would have made a perfect James Bond theme.
Alanis Morissette made her second appearance in the showcase series as Georgia covered "You Oughta Know", which was a good, but pretty straightforward cover, and she ended the night with a bit of a slower and sultry number, "SRH".

Tough Lovers: A last minute replacement this year, after another band dropped out, the four-piece from Ladner had a bit of that mid-00's indie rock sound with a retro twist. With a great energy on stage, Tough Lovers have some pretty catchy songs, but they didn't really stand out from each other. Even their cover,
a very fitting and fun version of Paul Anka's "Put Your Head On My Shoulders" (which actually wasn't the first time that song was covered in the PPP) blended in with the rest of their set. That didn't make it bad, though; it was definitely an entertaining set, and were quite fun to watch live. But they're still only a couple years old, as a band, and they just need to keep at it, to "find their sound" so to speak. And I, for one, will be interested to see how they grow.

Fields of Green: When I saw Fields of Green in last year's competition, I thought they'd have a good shot at winning... if they entered the next year. And here we are, one year later, with the Kelowna quartet back for another go. Their synthy prog-rock sound has indeed matured, and they've grown as a band, with a wildly energetic show; especially Johnny Jansen, who is the most fun drummer to watch, seemingly flailing erratically, pounding the skins with wild abandon -- but without being sloppy in the least.
With songs that swirled to psychedelic crescendos, burst into explosive endings, and feature some nice harmonies, they created an intricate yet catchy sound.
For their Canadian cover they did a pretty good job with April Wine's "Say Hello" and wrapped up with their current Peak single, "The Do Nothings", another highly energetic and rocking song.
I think they definitely have a well deserved shot at it this year, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if they end up in the top five.

The Gay Nineties: I had heard a lot of buzz and good things about The Gay Nineties before the show, so I was equal parts in interested to see them and apprehensive that they wouldn't live up to the hype. They started the set with a sheet up across the stage and an old movie playing on the screens with a musical number about "the gay 90's" before the curtain dropped and they launched into "In and Out of Style". I was immediately struck by their amazing energy and presence on stage; they were a well oiled machine with hints of psych-rock and grunge in their incredibly infectious rock. And both guitarist Parker Bossley and bassist Daniel Knowlton -- who share vocals -- had a great charisma, with a great back & forth, playing off each other really well. They broke out "Hot Child in the City" from Nick Glider for their Canadian cover, matching the energy of the rest of their set, and ended the night with a bang, with a song called "Handle It All"
The band definitely lived up to the buzz and ended up as one of my new favourites of the competition. Yet another act I am hoping makes the top three, and if this was any indication, they've got a strong chance of it.

And with that, the series is almost over. The final showcase happens on the 18th, and will wrap up with Dominique Fricot, Mike Edel, T. Nile, and Portage & Main (one of the bands I am rooting for most).

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Peak Performance Project Showcase #3 @ Red Room -- 10/04/12

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. Past winners are We Are The CityKyprios, and Current Swell with a ton of great bands and artists included as well.

Part one of the project was a rock & roll boot camp where they went on a week long retreat to get lectures and advice from industry pros to help 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. The bands are rated by a panel of judges, which will go toward their final score in the project, and they've also been tasked to learn a "Classic Canadian Cover" to play during their set. I always love hearing bands play cover songs, and I am definitely looking forward to see who each act chooses (and, as in the past, I am going to keep a running tally on how many Arcade Fire, Neil Young or Leonard Cohen songs we get).

For both the first and second showcases, the sound at the Red Room hadn't been the greatest, but for this night it was very OFF. It was through no fault of the bands; as I understand it, the mixing board fried before the show, so there was a scramble to get things up and running. But it still took a little away from the whole night. For one thing, a lot of the banter or talking between songs was either too loud or muffled (or somehow both), and there were feedback problems the whole night. 

Alexandria Maillot: One of this year's returning artists, Alexandria was in the first year of the Project, but wasn't eligible to return until now due to age restrictions (which were not in place the first year). She has an amazingly strong and soulful voice with a sound that bounced from poppy to soulful with a hint of folk at times. Her cover was "The Weight" from The Band, which was not a bold choice, but she covered it well.
She ended with what was my favourite of the set, the song featured on The Peak "Take Me Home", a jaunty and upbeat piano driven tune.
She has a great talent, but is still young, and I think she just needs to "finds her sound" so to speak.

Dear Rouge: With canned music and red lights bathing the stage, the duo of Danielle and Drew McTaggart came out with their band and launched into an electronic-tinged pop-rock set. It was very dancey and high energy, with Danielle hardly staying still, dancing up a storm while singing.
Their cover was another familiar choice with The Guess Who's "No Sugar Tonight/New Mother Nature", a perfectly good cover, even though the harmonies didn't really come across. Part way through the set, most of the band left except for Danielle who was then joined by Indiana Avent on violin for a slower, acoustic song, which was good but felt wildly out of place in the set.
The band is still pretty new, and I think they have the most untapped potential out of everyone I've seen so far. With a bit more experience I have no doubt that they could win the competition... if they reapply next year.
(And, on a purely superficial note, I think they could have picked a better name. "Dear Rouge" looks nice on paper, but just sounds awkward when said aloud. It doesn't roll off the tongue, coming out more like "Deer Ooge")

Facts: Next up was the groovy synthy pop of Facts. They took the stage wearing matching white and the lights went down for a crazy light show, lasers beaming out into the crowd. They were also joined by PPP veteran Garth Covernton (41st & Home) on drums. Right off the bat, I found the vocals were a bit overprocessed and muddy. Not sure if that was their sound, or due to the aforementioned audio problems, but that, combined with the similarity of the set, made it seem to drag a little towards the end; they were definitely not bad, but it got a bit repetitive.
For their cover they chose "Ice Cream" from Sarah McLachlan, though to be honest, I didn't even realise until after the set. I am not overly familiar with the song, and with the low VOCALS between songs I didn't hear its introduction. They also threw in a cover of Joanna Newsom's "Peach, Plum, Pear", and were joined at one point by Evan Konrad (aka Bed of Stars).
It wasn't a bad set by any means, but I got the impression that they could have done a lot better.

Maurice: Yet another returning act to the project, JP Maurice and company wrapped up the night. While the other three this night I didn't know too well, I was already a fan of Maurice's alt-pop sound, so I was looking forward to his set.
Starting with "Get Mad", JP wasted no time playing to the crowd, going right up to the edge of the stage. For the undeniably infectious "Mistake" he was joined by Stephanie Chatman on violin and his cover was "Woodstock" from yet another renowned Canadian, Joni Mitchell.
After his version of TLGLTP's "Robin" -- the catchiest song about a threesome you'll hear -- he brought out a few members of Tough Lovers and Evan Konrad was back out for their Bootcamp Co-Write song, "Night Eyes".
I don't know if it was the best set I've seen Maurice play -- the sound issues were probably a factor -- but JP is a fantastic songwriter, his songs, and live performances, always exuding raw emotion. And are damn catchy. I really hope he makes the top five, and won't be surprised if he does.