Monday, May 28, 2012

Zeus @ Biltmore -- 05/26/12

The silver lining of the not-going-to-Sasquatch! cloud for those in Vancouver was being able to catch Toronto's Zeus at the Biltmore Cabaret. The former backing band of Jason Collett was touring in support of their latest album, Busting Visions, and having seen them live a few times before, I knew they never fail to deliver and are not a band to be missed.

First up was Vancouver's Wake! Owl, who recently opened for frequent Zeus collaborator Bahamas. That time, they were a three-piece, but they were up to their usual five members, which added a great depth to their big, sweeping folk-pop sound. The set was a mix of new songs, including one called "Innocence" which really stood out, and some off their recent Wild Country EP, "Seaside" being another highlight, with a lot of the songs starting off soft and then build into a grand ending.
There wasn't much talk or banter between songs -- a little bit form the keyboard player -- but they had a good energy and string-breaking intensity while playing. They were definitely impressive, and I'm predicting big things from them in the future.

Not long after, the four members of Zeus took the stage, with Carlin Nicholson proclaiming "I have three drinks in front of me, none of which are water" as they immediate launched into "How Does It Feel?".
With Rob Drake behind the kit, Carlin, Mike O'Brien, and Neil Quin swapped guitar, bass and keys throughout the set, as well as trading off on lead vocals, with everyone joining in on some of the best harmonies around. All four members have amazing talents and stage presence -- especially Carlin, who at one point put more spectacle into a single bass note than I've seen from some musicians in a whole show.
They promised a surprise or two, and delivered when they were joined by a couple local musicians, Colin Cowan on bass and Dan Mangan on keys & harmonizing perfectly on "Fever of the Time". 
Other highlights included "The Renegade", which built to an amazing ending, with each member of the band going nuts. It easily could have been the set closer, but they still had a few more to go;  the do-wop influenced "Love in a Game" that got people moving and the main-set-ending "Are You Gonna Waste My Time?" But of course were back out for a couple more, including the final sing of the night, their amazing cover of Genesis' "That's All"

As they left, they promised they'll come back twice a year until they die, and if they keep their end of the bargain, I will be at every one of those shows.

How Does It Feel?, Strong Mind, Greater Times on the Wayside, The River By The Garden, Love/Pain, Kindergarten, I Know, With Eyes Closed, Fever or the Time, Hello Tender Love, Marching Through Your Head, The Renegade, Big Brown Opus, Love in a Game, Heavy On Me, Are You Gonna Waste My Time?
(encore) The Darkness, At The Risk of Repeating, That's All [Genesis cover].

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Royal Canoe @ Waldorf -- 05/22/12

It's only been a couple months since the last time Royal Canoe was through town, but I was blown away both times I had seen them previously, and despite some other shows going on that night, it was a pretty easy decision. Plus, I still hadn't been to see a show at Vancouver's Waldorf Hotel, strangely enough, so it seemed like a good show to break in the venue.

Opening the night was the lovely looping violin of Hannah Epperson. She immediately grabbed the crowds attention with her amazing layered soundscapes and a soft but captivating voice. Her set included a Beirut cover, "My Night With the Prostitute from Marseille", as well as her own material, the intricate "Murder of Crows" and "We Will Host A Party", which she closed with, and was probably my favourite of the set.

Not long after, Royal Canoe packed the stage with six members and their assortment of instruments; two drummers, several keyboard and a ton of synth and pedals to create their unique and layered synth-pop wall-of-sound. The band has managed to hit that sweet spot with songs that are dense and complex, yet undeniably catchy and accessible, and their live show is incredibly refined and tight.
They started off the set with "Today I'm A Believer" and the infectious "Hold on to the Metal" off their most recent EP, simply titled Extended Play. Highlights throughout the set included "Dumb Waiter", off their debut album Co-Op Mode, and the dark "Nightcrawlin'", which ended the set with Matt Peters' vocals filtered to give himself deep, almost demonic tone. After tremendous applause, they were back out for one more, "Dear June", which starting soft then exploding into a frantic and explosive ending; a perfect way to end off the night.

Every time I see Royal Canoe live, I am more and more impressed by them, and they are definitely one of the most unique -- and best -- live acts touring Canada right now. It was a great night of music and even the noise bleed from whatever event was happening upstairs couldn't detract from it.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Sit Down, Servant!! with Shaun Verreault @ Cellar -- 05/19/12

It shouldn't come as a surprise to say I am a big fan of blues- and roots-rock, and two big factors in that are Big Sugar and Wide Mouth Mason. I've been a fan of both bands since the 90s; through Big Sugar's breakup, Grady and their recent reunion and WMM's recent loss of their bass player (whom they replaced with Gordie Johnson). So when the two were brought together -- in a way -- there was no way I was going to miss it.

First up was Shaun Verreault, of Wide Mouth Mason, taking the stage alone for a solo set consisting of a few of his own songs as well as some WMM tunes, some in "different clothes" as Shaun put it, with different variations or interpretations of the songs, like giving "Why" more of a blues vibe.
Shaun showcased his amazing talent with a liberal sprinkling of solos throughout the set, but never crossing that line into guitar-wankery; the extended solo in "Catch My Death" was especially hypnotizing. It's always amazing to watch him play, as he just makes it look so easy, coaxing the music from the guitar, rather than playing it, and he's got a great stage presence. I probably could have watched him play for another hour.

Soon after Gordie Johnson and current Big Sugar drummer, Stephane Beaudin took the stage as Sit Down, Servant!!, with Johnson not only on guitar, but also playing synth pedals with his feet. They had a definite blues-rock sound, emphasis on the bluesy vibe with some soul and even a bit of gospel thrown in. As well as their own songs there were some blues and spiritual standards and a few covers, including Skip James' "Devil Got My Woman" -- which Big Sugar covered on their first album.
Throughout the hour and a half set, Gordie broke out the slide guitar for a few songs, showing off his own phenomenal guitar skills, and pulled up a some friends on stage; Shaun Verreault for a few songs to play guitar or sing, and Rich Hope up to sing on a song he co-wrote, and they both returned for the last couple songs in the encore. Other highlights included the country-twanged "Don't You Miss Me When I'm Gone", which ended off the "main" set and the upbeat "If You Think Your God is Dead".

Both Gordie and Shaun are incredible musicians, and are absolutely amazing to watch live. And since the Cellar isn't that big of a venue, it lead to a great, intimate night of music.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Mocking Bird @ The Media Club -- 05/18/12

One of the first shows I saw this year was the CD release show from The Mocking Bird, the new project from Vancouver's Bob Kemmis, and turned out to be an excellent show. So given the opportunity to not only see them again, but also a redhead with an amazing voice as one of the opening acts, I had to take it.

The lovely Ali Milner was started off the night, with just herself behind the keys for "According to the New York Times", before the rest of the band kicked in half way through the song. Her upbeat, jazzy sound was driven by her incredible & soulful voice, and Ali was a natural performing, with an effortless charm and great stage presence.
Highlights included "Don't Forget To Call Me" and "I Want To Be Loved By You", as well as a few brand new songs, one of which, the high energy "Waiting", was my favourite of the set, and a couple covers; Shania Twain's "Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under" and the final song, a fantastic version of the Rolling Stones' "Gimmer Shelter", which ending with each member leaving the stage one by one until only drummer Richard Brown was left.

Next up was The Never Surprise,  the duo of David Gaudet and Nick Eakins joined by a few familiar faces; Niko Friesen on drums, Robbie Driscoll on bass and Andrew Braun on keys. Starting off with the catchy "Sun Goes Down", the set was full of their smooth, indie-folk sound. I have seen them a few times before, but this was the first time where they added keys to the mix, and it helped flesh out their sound exponentially. The band also had a great presence, though there wasn't much between songs -- though David did joke at one point they were working on their banter.

And finally, The Mocking Bird hit the stage, a little after midnight. Joining Bob Kemmis -- all in matching shirts -- was a great assembly of talent, including Erik P.H. Nielsen on bass (who also played with Ali earlier), Pat Steward on drums and Shaun Verreault on guitar. There was also a small horn section on a few songs, packing the small stage at the Media Club with nearly a dozen musicians.
The set started off with "Grace", the first song off of No Good Deed Goes Unpunished, which immediately set the tone for the ridiculously catchy, roots-rock, with great and clever lyrics. Other highlights were the insanely catchy "Where's Your Get Up?" and the dark "Love You Hated Him" which built to a huge ending.
Once again, Kemmis was a great stage presence, with a charm and sense of humour that was evident in both the songs and banter, and the combined talent and experience on stage came together for a fantastic band.

Unfortunately, due to the set starting after midnight and transit cutting off at 1, I had to run and miss the tail end of the set, which I hate, but aside from my pet peeve of shows where the headliner ends up going on at almost 12:30, it was a pretty great show; a night full of excellent local musicians.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Tracks on Tracks Launch Party @ Electric Owl -- 05/09/12

Vancouver's Green Couch Productions have been hard at work lately, partnering with VIA Rail and CBC Radio 3 for Tracks on Tracks, taking music fans across the country on the rails. Starting from Vancouver, the music train will be heading east, picking people up along the way, and pulling in to Toronto just in time for NXNE.

Not only will the train be packed with music fans, but bands as well, playing acoustic sets on the train and a few electric platform shows in select towns. Green Couch hand picked a few bands to make the trip; Adaline, The MatinĂ©e, Portage & Main, Maurice, Top Less Gay Love Tekno Party, and The Belle Game, and listeners of CBC Radio 3 took part is a giant online poll to select the final three; Chris Ho, Shred Kelly and Sidney York. And if that wasn't enough, CBC Radio 3's own Grant Lawrence will be making the trip, broadcasting his show from the rails.
And to start things chugging along, they threw a fund raising launch party at the Electric Owl.

Kicking off the night was an acoustic set from The MatinĂ©e. Matt Layzell, Matt Rose, and Geoff Petrie atop stools started off with their usual opener, "L'Absinthe" and Layzell monologuing in the middle of the song about the story behind it, and their excitement for the train. The short set also included a few new songs, including "Young & Lazy", which had the band channelling some heartland-rock for an amazingly catchy song. After a couple more, including a cover of Ryan Adams' "Let It Ride", they brought their set to an end with the rollicking "Sweetwater", which is going to be a fantastic sing-along song for the train.

Next up was Good for Grapes, filling the stage with people, and instruments like horns and keys and an accordion. Despite being from Vancouver, they have a very Maritime-folk sound, with that clear Celtic influence. They began with an instrumental, an intense sonic assault, and they didn't let up for the rest of the set. Even though there wasn't much banter or talking, the young band had a fantastic energy on stage  -- especially the accordion player, who couldn't stand still for a minute and was hollering the lyrics without a microphone. While the set felt like it may have gone on a little long, it was still highly enjoyable and their enthusiasm was very infectious.

And wrapping up the night, Portage & Main, another band will be making the trip on the train, and were visibly excited for it. They kicked off the high energy set with the opening two songs from their self titled debut, "Nothing" and "What Have I Done?", and were firing on all cylinders from the beginning. It's hard to imagine they've only been a band for a year, as John Sponarski and Harold Donnelly have such a great chemistry together, playing off each other (both musically and personality-wise) perfectly.
One of the highlights of the set was definitely "Sweet Darling", a fantastically intense and raw dirty blues-rocker, and they wrapped up the night with their usual set-enders; first "I'd Never Climbed a Mountain", which starts soft and builds to a great intense ending, followed by the bar-room sing-along "Carolina".
If this night was any indication, the train trip is going to be a hell of a ride.

If you want to help support Green Couch, you can do so at their IndieGoGo page; donations will grant you everything from a simple "thanks" to t-shirt to postcards from the road to associate producer credits for the film.
And, most exciting of all, if you're not on the train you'll be able to live vicariously through this blog. Because I will be. And I'm sure I'll be bringing updates from the rails, whenever possible.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

beekeeper @ Media Club -- 05/05/12

A couple months removed from the release of their latest 7", beekeeper returned home and gathered some friends to swarm the Media Club for their official release party.

Starting off the night was Fine Times, with a strong synthy-pop sound (one member even had a tower of keyboards almost as tall as he was). While the set started off a bit slow, they picked up momentum as they went, songs getting more and more catchy. Despite the awkward pauses and silence between songs -- and general lack of stage presence -- they put together a pretty entertaining set and I wouldn't mind catching them again sometime.

Next up was the first -- and likely last -- show from Brother Act, a band consisting of a few familiar faces. Led by David Vertesi and Shad, and backed by Devon Lougheed, Peter Carruthers, and Johnny Andrews, their set was brief, with only four song set of sloppy garage rock and purposefully rough vocals from Vertesi; a real contrast to his usually smooth baritone. With fun titles like "Men In Love Are Like Old People Trying To Use Computers" and smiles plastered over all the musicians faces, you could tell they were having a blast on stage, and that enthusiasm was definitely picked up by the crowd.

Next up was The Belle Game, the six members -- seven, when joined by Andrew Lee on trumpet -- crammed onto the Media Club stage for a set of mostly new material. The new songs definitely had their usual grandiose sound, but also showed growth from the band. Highlights included an amazing showcase of Andrea Lo's powerful voice, "River", and "Sabbath" which had a little bit of Justin Timberlake's "Cry Me A River" snuck in. Another new one was spontaneously renamed "Denim and Leather" and the band ended with a couple familiar songs, "Left This Place" and "Sleep to Grow", which built to an explosive ending.

And finally, wrapping up the night was the sometimes incomprehensible, often catchy, and always fun beekeeper. The trio of Devon Lougheed, Luke Cyca, and Brandi Sidoryk have a great, high energy (with Devon jumping around so much he had to enlist the audience to borrow a belt) and their songs are rarely straightforward; not going just from point A to point B, but rather following Devon's manic energy all over the map. Songs like "Table and Bed" and "Pinwheel Revolution" both have halting, alternating or even overlapping vocals and "Pets Eat Their Masters" showcases the band's 90s influence.
Other highlights from the set include the title track for the new 7", "Take Me Back (To The Place)" which name drops some Vancouver landmarks, and the finale to the set, where they asked for as many people as possible to jump on stage for a giant "family photo", something Devon mentioned they had been doing on their previous tour, and couldn't wait to try it out at home.

And the "family" theme was pretty fitting for the night. With a lot of familiar faces both on stage and in the crowd supporting their friends, there was a lot of love and friendship buzzing through the room, and that made for a fun night of music.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Steph Macpherson @ Media Club -- 05/04/12

Celebrating both the release of her debut full length, Bells & Whistles, and the kick off of her spring tour, Steph Macpherson's hit The Media Club last night for a night of fine folk-pop tunes.

First up was songstress Jody Glenham for a stripped down set, with her acoustic guitar and backed just by an electric guitar. Her set had almost a coffee-house vibe, with a collection of low-key, but heartfelt songs. The focus of which was definitely Glenham's strong voice that was simultaneously soft and beautiful, yet powerful. Highlights were the haunting "Gypsy Babe" and the last song of the set, which I didn't catch the name of, but was a bit more upbeat and higher energy than the rest -- an energy that was not necessarily missing from the rest of the set, but would have been a welcome addition.

Prairie Dance Club took the stage next, with a pretty straight ahead country/roots-rock sound. There wasn't much banter or interaction, just a set of solid and boot-stomping songs, including a cover of Tom Petty's "Honey Bee". It was a rockin' set, and while there was really nothing to fault from the band, there wasn't much that really stuck out either; perfectly acceptable music that kept the night rolling.

And finally, rounding out the night was Steph Macpherson, with a backing band that included Mike Edel and Jason Cook on bass and drums, respectively. She started off with the first two songs off her album Bells & Whistles, the title track and "Bent & Unkind", both good examples of her heartfelt and vulnerable lyrics.
Part way through the set the guys took a rest while Steph performed a couple songs acoustic, "The Distance" from the new album and "Letters" from her prior EP; both heartbreaking and beautiful songs, showing off Steph's rich voice. The rest of the band was back out to join her and ramp up the energy for the end of the set, the powerful "The Verdict" and the insanely infectious "Summer Salute", getting the crowd clapping along before the one-song encore, a pretty strong cover of CCR's "Have You Ever Seen the Rain?"

When I first saw Steph in the Peak Performance Project a couple years ago, I liked her, but thought she was just missing that "edge" to set her apart from all the other female-folk-songer-songwriters. Since then -- and with the new album -- she has definitely gone a long way to refining that edge, and if she keeps on the path she's on, she could be on her way to being the next Kathleen Edwards or Sarah Harmer.

Bells & Whistles, Bent & Unkind, Silver Platter, Keeping Time, The Distance, Letters, Best of Us, The Verdict, East, Summer Salute.
(encore) Have You Ever Seen The Rain? [CCR cover]

Friday, May 4, 2012

Said The Whale @ Vogue -- 05/03/12

Friday night was the big homecoming for Vancouver's Said the Whale. Not only were they on the last leg of their eight week tour in support of their new album, Little Mountain, but they were coming home to an all ages show was just that: a range of young teens to older fans, and everyone in between at the sold out Vogue Theatre.

I missed the first band, Oh No Yoko, getting there just as Chains of Love hit the stage. The female-fronted band had a catchy 60s surf-rock and girl-pop sound, but few of their songs were distinguishable from each other. They were by no means bad, and were fairly energetic, but just seemed to be missing that one special quality that would push them over the edge. As much as I wanted to like them, they just fell a little flat; perhaps their sound would have been better suited for a more intimate venue.

Not long after, it was time for Said the Whale. Drummer Spencer Schoening coming out first, setting the mood and building anticipation before the rest of the members filed out on stage, immediately launching into "Heavy Ceiling". Their set ranged in songs from all over their career; from the huge hits, "This City's A Mess" that had the sold out venue singing and clapping along, to some deeper cuts, "Live Off Lamb" for the long-time fans. The driving power pop of Tyler Bancroft's songs like "Camilo" and "Lines" pairing perfectly with Ben Worcester's softer and more melancholic numbers like "A Cold Night Close to the End" and "The Reason".
Other highlights from the set included the infectious "Loveless" that saw keyboardist Jacelyn Brown step up for some vocals, and "Hurricane Ada", which is structured exactly like its namesake; a soft start, building in intensity before a calm "eye", and then bursting into a cacophonous ending.
They "wrapped up" the set with "Emerald Lake, AB", proudly and earnestly proclaiming "what a fine life we are living" before coming back for the obvious encore. It started with just Jacelyn on keys and Spencer taking over vocals for "Seasons" (before a quick stage dive) and then another old one -- and one of my favourites of theirs -- "My Government Heart". The song has a dark and, for lack of a better term, badass energy, with Tyler angrily spitting out the vocals, and I wish they had more songs like this in their later repertoire.
And finally, they brought the whole night to an end with the perfect closer, "Goodnight Moon", the crowd assisting the ragged-voiced Tyler on vocals and a dozen other musicians, from the opening acts and friends from other Vancouver bands, filling the stage for the joyous ending.

Clocking in at nearly two hours, it may have been a little too long, but that isn't to say I didn't enjoy every minute of it, and in the end the band gave it their all; from Ben breaking some strings to Tyler breaking his vocal chords, they had so much love for the hometown crowd, which was more than reciprocated right back at them.

Heavy Ceiling; This City's A Mess; Black Day In December; Lines; Out On The Shield; The Reason; O Alexandra; We Are 1980; Big Sky, MT; False Creek Change; The Light is You; Big Wave Goodbye; Jessie, AR; Live Off Lamb; Better For You; BC Orienteering; A Cold Night Close to the End; New Brighton; Lucky; Guilty Hypocrites; 2010; Hurricane Ada; Camillo (The Magician); The Gift of a Black Heart; Loveless; Emerald Lake, AB.
(encore) Seasons; My Government Heart; Goodnight Moon.