Saturday, June 30, 2012

Destroyer @ Vogue Theatre -- 06/29/12

It was an unusually busy night in Vancouver with over half a dozen good shows going on, but ultimately it was an easy choice: the Vogue Theatre for Vancouver's Destroyer, as part of the Jazz Fest. I hadn't seen Dan Bejar and company in a while, and the Vogue seemed like a perfect place for the band to showcase songs from last year's Kaputt.

Opening the night was another local band, Inhabitants, taking the dimly lit stage and, after a moment to set up, launching into a dark and moody instrumental set. With long songs that ebbed and flowed, the four piece created unique and complex sonic soundscapes. There were a few times, though, that it was a bit too cacophonous; where it seemed like the four members were just playing simultaneously and not playing together, and between songs there were awkward pauses and silences before the next. But otherwise it was very interesting and unique, and I am looking forward to seeing them again.

It wasn't long after that the lights dimmed and recorded music started playing to build the suspense before Destroyer hit the stage. Dan Bejar was joined by seven others to round out the band -- including fellow New Pornographers John Collins and Dave Carswell, as well as Black Mountain drummer Josh Wells -- with a wide variety of instruments from the usual guitars, bass, drums, and keys to saxophone, flute, trumpet and space clarinet EWI.
Starting off with an older track, "Your Blues", the set hit songs off the band's last few albums, including the gorgeous "European Oils" from Rubies, but focused mostly on the newest album, Kaputt. They were even joined by Sibel Thrasher, who sang on the album, for a few songs, her strong and soulful voice adding great depth to songs like "Chinatown".
The notoriously introverted Dan Bejar seemed a bit of a reluctant front man; he can be completely captivating when singing, but didn't talk much otherwise -- aside from the usual thanks-you's to the festival, the venue and the opening act -- and he was frequently crouching down when not singing, to let the rest of Destroyer shine. And shine they did, each member of the band on top of their game.
An incredible trumpet solo, run through all sorts of distortion, lead into the hauntingly beautiful intro to "Suicide Demo for Kara Walker" which ended the set. But they were of course back for the usual encore, with "The Temple", and were about to play one more but were having some technical issues, so Bejar proclaimed they would play the "complete opposite song" -- though assured us it was thematically similar -- and ending the night with "Hey Snow White", exploding into swirling guitar and horns.

I've seen Destroyer a few times now, and this was definitely among the best. Bejar has always been an eccentric and enigmatic individual, but when the band comes together and really clicks, they put on an unforgettable show.

Your Blues, Savage Night at the Opera, European Oils, Chinatown, Blue Eyes, Downtown, Self-Portrait with Thing, Song for America, Rubies, Libby's First Sunrise, Suicide Demo for Kara Walker.
(encore) The Temple, Hey Snow White.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Wil @ Electric Owl -- 06/25/12

It's that time of year when the Vancouver International Jazz Festivaltakes over the town. I am planning on a few shows this year, but the first of which is a musician I first saw sever or eight years ago, and was instantly mesmerized by. Wil (full name Wil Mimnaugh) lives up to his website name,, with the habit of breaking strings right off his guitar from the intensity of his strumming. I hadn't had the chance to see live in far too long, so I was more than a little excited for the show.

It was an early show, and first up was Bocephus King, who had an upbeat, bluesy sort of sound. With King on guitar and vocals, joined by Paul Townsend on drums and Robin Layne on percussion, with a variety of shakers and noisemakers, they seemed very natural and fluid, almost as if it was improvised right there, and the way the band meshed was incredible, as they melted genres together flawlessly. 
Part way through the set they were joined by Skye Wallace, with her soft voice helping out with vocals and the set was brought to an end with a song that started soft and built to a great ending, and even featured a bit of flute. 
It was amazing to watch all the songs come together live, and any other night, there is a strong possibility that they would have stolen the show.

Not long after Wil took the stage, just himself, and Kevin Haughton on drums. His fast-hands on the acoustic guitar and rough, soulful voice filled the room and his passion for playing was immediately apparent, as the music seemed to flow out of him effortlessly for the entire set. Clocking in at nearly two hours, Wil played songs spanning the years, from the heart-wrenching "Oak Tree" off his newest album, Heart of Mine, all the way back to the first song he wrote, "Both Hands", switching occasionally from a normal microphone to an old microphone. the "shitty phone call mic" as he called it.
The first broken string of the night came during "Roam", a song written for the Travel Alberta board, and after picking up his backup guitar -- which had a visible arc of wear and tear from how intense he plays -- he broke yet another string a couple songs later. At that point he decided to end the set with one more song, written because of his frequent string breaking that both requires and is titled "4 Strings", an instrumental that was among one of the most impressive displays of guitar playing I have witnessed.
He was set to wrap up the set with that, but was informed he still had more time if he, and the crowd,  wanted; and with an overwhelming response, he got what may have been an actual, legitimate encore -- though only after a short, ten minute break to re-string his guitars.
When he returned he took a few requests, breaking his third and final string of the night with "The Deal", and switching to his backup to end off the set with an older one, "Sweet Rebecca" and finally finishing off the night with the amazing and intense "Honey Pie".

For years, Wil has been one of my favourite guitar players, especially to watch live, and this show did nothing but remind me why. The "breaking strings" thing may seem gimmicky when heard about second hand, but it never feels forces, like he's actively trying to break them, and it only takes watching him perform live once to become a lifelong fan.

And as for the fate of the broken strings, they don't just wind up in the trash. Several years ago Wil's wife Caroline started making jewellery out of the discarded strings, and at the merch booth -- or online -- you can buy bracelets, necklaces and earrings made from broken guitar strings.

Rain On, Gold, Wedding Dress, Oak Tree, Tell You Twice, Both Hands, Roam, If You Want Me Too, Ride, 4 String.
(encore) The Deal, Baby Baby, Sweet Rebecca, Honey Pie. 

Monday, June 25, 2012

Metric @ Commodore -- 06/23/12

I am not too sure the circumstances behind this show, as I think it came about as I was away, but for some reason Rogers Wireless was putting on a free, win-to-get-in Metric show at the Commodore. I was able to snag free tickets by simply being on the internet at the right time -- and being a Rogers customer -- and I am always happy to see Metric, especially in a venue like the Commodore, so I can't complain.
There were also cameras filming the entire thing, so I don't know if it'll be released at some point or not.

As it was a "private" Metric show there was no opener for the night, and as the stage filled with smoke, bathed in blue lights, Emily Haines and James Shaw came out to open with the first song off Synthetica, "Artificial Nocturne", joined by Jules and Josh on drums and bass mid way through the song. The first half dozen tracks of the set were off the new album, and lived up to the albums title with electronic elements blended with Metric's usual dance-pop sound. The frantic "Speed the Collapse" is one of my early favourites and sounded great live, and after the chunk of new songs, "Empty" got everyone jumping, bouncing the Commodore's dance floor, and nearly the entire venue joined in for the chorus of "Dead Disco".

There wasn't too much banter from the band, but they had, as usual, an incredible stage presence; Haines was an electric ball of energy, strutting across of the front of the stage and dancing along, and Jimmy Shaw melted more than a few faces with some amazing guitar work and solos.

They wrapped up with another couple older singles, "Help I'm Alive" and "Stadium Love" before "leaving". But the inevitable encore was obvious, given the stage lights flashing and guitar reverberating, and they were back out with a few more older songs, "Monster Hospital", "Gold Guns Girls" -- which saw Haines pick up a guitar instead of being behind the keys -- and an acoustic "Gimme Sympathy" which ended with all four members of the band standing at the edge of the stage leading the packed Commodore in a sing along.

Metric always puts on high energy and fun shows, and this was no exception. And given that Metric's new tour will have them play in arenas and stadiums, seeing them in a venue like the Commodore was quite a treat.

Artificial Nocturne, Youth Without Youth, Speed The Collapse, Dreams So Real, Lost Kitten, The Void, Empty, Synthetica, Dead Disco, Clone, Breathing Underwater, Nothing But Time, Help I'm Alive, Stadium Love.
(encore) Monster Hospital, Gold Guns Girls, Gimme Sympathy.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

North by North East: Saturday

Saturday was the day I was looking forward to most for NXNE. It was the day packed with seemingly everything I wanted to do, and while I had to sacrifice some things (missing Limblifter was a bit of a blow) it still ended up the best night of the festival.

It started off with the second annual CBC Radio 3 Listener Picnic, with R3 listeners descending upon Trinity Bellwood park to hang out and meet up -- many meeting for the first time outside the internet. Portage & Main, Zach Gray & Adrian Glynn (who prefer to be called "Emperor of the North, aka Murder on the Canadian, aka The Caboose Boys" for branding purposes and who climbed a tree to play above everyone), Jeremy Fisher, Ian Foster, and The Matinee all played short, acoustic sets to the gathering of R3 listeners and hosts Grant Lawrence and Craig Norris.

Later on it was more free shows at Yonge-Dundas Square. One of the bands I was most interested to see was of Montreal, since I had never had the chance to see them live but heard many good things. They took the stage in costumes and a bit of makeup, starting off with "Suffer For Fashion", living up to their reputation of an eclectic live band with an incredible stage show that features not only the band in costumes, but random others as well, and even short "dramatic scenes" being played out on stage. And not only were the theatrics fun to watch, but the music was solid as well. Kevin Barnes' distinct vocals filled the square, and their energetic and psychedelic pop got the rapidly expanding crowd moving. The too-short-set wrapped up with the manic "She's A Rejecter" and a couple costumed people leaping into the crowd and surfing almost the entire way to the back.

Next up was a band I had heard a lot about, but not much from, Portugal. The Man. I don't know if they lived up to some of the buzz I had heard, but they were a solid and enjoyable live band. A little more subdued rock than the bombastic sounds of the bands that preceded and followed them, with a hint of southern rock in their sound. The set started out good, but by the end it got a little repetitive; they were all excellent musicians, but the set seemed to drag a little, the songs a little samey, and there wasn't much banter or talk between songs, just some mumbled thanks and muttering their name. Aside from their own songs, they had not one, but two Beatles covers in their set, with a pretty good cover of "Helter Skelter" and some of "Hey Jude" in their last song, to get the people in the square singing along. Maybe it's because they were sandwiched between two extremely memorable live bands, but nothing in the set really stood out for me.

Yonge-Dundas Square got more and more packed as it came time for The Flaming Lips. They went on almost half an hour late, which had me getting a little anxious, but as the band emerged from the screen and Wayne Coyne got in his giant zorb to crowd surf, the feeling was a little relieved, and as they released the huge balloons and shot loads of confetti into the air, it was like nothing else mattered.
Starting off, after the crowd surfing, with "Worm Mountain" and a massive sing along to "She Don't Use Jelly" and "The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song", the show consisted of the usual amazing sights of a Flaming Lips show. Dancers on either side the the stage, Wayne Coyne shouting/singing through a megaphone, giant hands that shoot lasers and much more.
There was also a very emotional moment mid way through the set, when Wayne paused to speak sombrely about that days stage collapse, which caused the death of a Radiohead crew member and the ultimate cancellation of that show. In sign of respect and solidarity, they covered "Knives Out" and then dedicated a very, very emotional and beautiful "Waiting For A Superman" to the friends and family of the man who lost his life, with Wayne visibly tearing up during the song -- and I'm sure some others in the crowd as well.
There was, however, a bit of a disconnect as the show went on; the square was packed shoulder to shoulder, and the heat was clearly taking its toll on people as there was a span of about twenty minutes where five of six people were being pulled out of the crowd for fainting -- and that was just near me. As amazing as The Flaming Lips are live, you just can't get as into the show when you start to worry about your safety, and the safety of those around you. So while it was still an extremely difficult decision to make, I ended up leaving a couple songs early to make sure I got in to see the next show on my must-see list.

And that act next on my must see list was Matt Mays at Lee's Palace. Having not seen the shaggy Dartmouth rocker in over two years, this was one of the sets I was most excited about for the entire festival; and judging by the size of the crowd, I wasn't the only one. Mays and his band started off with a handful of new songs, which sounded amazing and made me incredibly excited about the new album -- which he didn't go in to detail about. They sounded like you'd expect from Mays, but fresh, not a rehashing of old material, with a couple really standing out. Unfortunately, I didn't get names of any of the new songs, but they got me very excited for the inevitable new album.
After jokingly apologizing about playing only new songs to start, he played a couple songs solo, including "Travellin'", which had a chill-inducing moment -- despite the heat of the venue -- when the rest of the band kicked back in and nearly the entire packed venue sang/yelled along to the chorus.
From there he played a good number of songs from all four of his albums, rocking out to songs like "Tall Trees" and "Rock Ranger Records" and lots more singing along, especially to the ode to his hometown, "City of Lakes", and "Cocaine Cowgirl", which ended the set. But of course, the crowd wasn't having any of it and they were out for the usual encore, first covering The Boss' "Glory Days" and then ending the night with not only one of my favourite Matt Mays songs, but one of my favourite songs period, "Terminal Romance". The raw emotion and heartbreak of the song poured out of Mays, and the emotion in the crowd was palpable. It was pretty much the perfect ending for the night, and as much as I love Matt Mays, I never would have thought on a day where I was seeing both of Montreal and The Flaming Lips as well that his show would be the best of the night.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

North by North East: Friday

North by North East continues in Toronto, and the plan for Friday night was to head to Yonge & Dundas Square, the crux of NXNE, for some free outdoor shows.

First up was Eight and a Half; two parts The Stills, one part Broken Social Scene, with Dave Hamlin, Liam O'Niel and Justin Peroff. I missed the first part of the set, but still managed to catch the last few songs. The trio had a good dynamic on stage, and you could definitely tell they were all completely at home playing live. I wasn't sure how their moody, electronic synth driven pop sound would translate live, but they did an excellent job with songs like "Go Ego" and "Scissors", making it seem like there were much more than just the three of them on stage, and they finished the set with "Oh, My Head", starting soft and build in intensity. What I caught was good, but since I missed some of it, it ended up being just a tease. I hope they're able to make it to Vancouver sometime soon so I can see them again. 

Next up was Montreal's Plants and Animals. Their dense and layered rock always seems like it should come from twice as many members as are on stage, but the four of them built hug sonic soundscapes from the free outdoor stage. Starting off with "Undone Melody", they played a set that seemed too short, with songs off all three of their albums. The erratic "Crisis!", one of my favourites from the new album, was great live, and they broke out the autoharp for the rousing "Bye Bye Bye". They capped it off with "Faerie Dance" that started calm and mellow and then exploded into a swirling mass of guitars, and the band going right up to the barrier with microphones for the crowd to join in on the chorus. The set was maybe a little too "bass-y", with both the bass guitar and drum drowning other things out at times, but not enough to spoil an otherwise great set. 

Going in to NXNE I had a self-imposed rule not to see any Vancouver bands -- especially if they conflicted with something -- since it would be more likely to see them at home. The obvious exception to that rule was Matthew Good. Taking the stage with the familiar chanting of  "K-I-C-K-A-S-S, that's the way we spell success" Good and his backing band launched into "Giant" and played a nearly hour and a half set that hit a lot of the major songs and singles from his career.
There's always a strange dichotomy to Matthew Good shows, since his songs can be so serious and full of raw emotion -- when he spits out lines like "it feels like time to fuck or leave" through grit teeth in "Last Parade" -- but then he's always so jovial between songs, joking about things like the giant billboards across the square from the stage; one with a swimsuit ad that came up every two minutes.
Other highlights from the set included "Shallow's Low", the boisterous "Zero Orchestra", and a string from Beautiful Midnight with nearly the entire square singing along to "Hello Time Bomb" and "Load Me Up".
The eight minute roller coaster "Non Populus" weaved expertly from soft and beautiful to chaotic and cacophonous and he ended with another pair of huge sing alongs with "Apparitions" and, for the encore, "Everything is Automatic".
I have seen Matthew Good many times now, in many different settings, and while this show was a bit more focused on the hits, to cater to the "free, outdoor" aspect the show, that didn't compromise the quality; it was still an amazing set.

That was all for the free shows at Yonge & Dundas Square, but the night was not over. There was one more stop to go: Rah Rah at the Dakota Tavern. I had never seen Rah Rah before, so I was very excited to finally see them, and they did not disappoint. They packed the small stage, and even had their cat mascot with them, for a set bubbling over with a great energy and ridiculous amounts of fun.
"Tentacles" had any people singing along, and they played a good number of new songs, from their new 7", and there was even some personnel changed on the fly, as drummer Erin Passmore swapped out to come to the front to sing and play guitar and keys.
My only complaint that the set seemed far too short. They ended almost abruptly with the lead singer procaiming "This is the part of the set where I put away my guitar" and that was it. Luckily, I found out via a tweet after the show they'll be in Vancouver soon (with Imaginary Cities, no less!) so I won't have to wait long to see them again.

Saturday will be another jam packed day for NXNE, with a CBC Radio 3 listener picnic, and then three of the acts I am most excited to see in the evening, of Montreal, The Flaming Lips and Matt Mays.

Friday, June 15, 2012

North by North East: Thursday

I had dubbed my second day of NXNE my "unplanned" day. I was just going to go with the flow, and see where the day took me. In the evening, this resulted in five shows, all in different venues, and all bands I hadn't seen before.

First, though, was the Audio Blood Rooftop Riot party. They boasted free Steam Whistle and vitamin water --  and later on frozen treats to combat the blazing sun -- with a number of the bands on their roster performing. The bands throughout the day were all pretty good; not too much that really caught my attention, but nothing that I didn't like either. There was a two-piece that was pretty good, but since they never said their name, I still have no idea who they are, and Sandman Viper Command put on an energetic set. But it was Les Breastfeeders that I was impressed by most. The francophone rockers had a good energy and catchy songs, and had their set not been at 3am, I probably would have caught them again later in the night.

Then it was on to the evening shows, the first stop being El Mocambo for Boxer The Horse. The PEI four piece had a straight up alt rock sound that was fun and catchy, with hooks aplenty. There wasn't much by way of stage banter, though, with only the briefest interactions with the crowd. But they let the music speak for them, even breaking a bass string at one point, with songs like the upbeat "Sentimental/Oriental" and a few covers, Edwyn Collins' "A Girl Like You" and "New England" by Billy Bragg. Despite the invading bass from downstairs, they still put on a very solid set and I'll be sure to catch them again in the future.

The next stop was The Velvet Underground for Stella Ella Ola, a project with a few of the members of Hollerado. The four-piece all shares vocal duties, with kind of a sloppy garage-pop sound that
They had a good energy, and were definitely having fun on stage -- especially Jake Boyd, who doffed his shirt at the slightest provocation -- but it almost seemed more like drunken buddies up there to have fun. Which is probably exactly what they were going for. I knew not to take it seriously, I know they're not trying to be anything more than a fun time, but I still just couldn't get into it.

Bishop Morocco was next over at the Rivoli with a dark sound and deep vocals very reminiscent of The Smiths or Joy Division. They had a bit of a muted energy with not much banter, and were not necessarily bad, but the show just seemed kind of flat.

The Great Hall was the next destination, for Daniel Romano, who I am woefully unfamiliar with. He took the stage with what can only be described as a sequined cowboy outfit, guitar in hand and pedal steel player in tow. He serenaded the crowd with his alt-country sound, beautiful lyrics and incredible talent. Part way through the set, he was joined by a drummer and bass player to fill out the sound, and brought the set to a rousing ending.
The show was good, but there was a bit of a disconnect as I was a little too tired to fully appreciate it; but I'll definitely have to see him again the next time he's through town.

The last stop of the night was sure to keep me awake, the Legendary Horseshoe Tavern for a throwback to the 90s, Bran Van 3000. Arriving a couple minutes into their set, their boisterousness was immediately apparent, with a stage packed full of horns and others for their disco-pop-soul sound. It turns out I knew more than just the one song when they played "Astounded" mid way through the set, and after the lead singer "grew" a pair of giant butterfly wings, they ended it off, as everyone expected, with their hit "Drinkin' in LA". With clusters of balloons through the crowd and confetti shot from cannons, the crowd was going wild, singing along with nearly every word.

As for tonight, I do have a plan; there are free shows from Eight and a Half, Plants and Animals and Matthew Good at Younge & Dundas Square, and then the tough decision of Brasstronaut (who I just saw), Rah Rah or Yamantaka//Sonic Titan (neither of which I've seen) all playing at midnight.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

North by North East: Wednesday

My first time ever at North By North East started off last night, and it began with the ending of Tracks on Tracks. For those who haven't been following along, Tracks on Tracks is a project put together by Vancouver's Green Couch, with some help from CBC Radio 3 and VIA Rail. The event took ten bands from Vancouver to Toronto by train, with bands playing every night, some acoustic sets throughout the day, and even a few shows at stops along the way.

All the bands that were on the train -- save the duo of Zach Gray and Adrian Glynn, who were last minute additions, played about a half hour each for a long, but amazing, night of spotlighting BC's finest music.

Chris Ho started off the night, and was a good choice to open, easing the gathering crowd into the night with his upbeat, folk rock. His catchy songs had people stomping and clapping along, and while I wasn't as wowed by his stuff as some other bands on the train, I think he definitely has a great potential as he grows as an artist. (But that isn't to diminish Chris in any way, but rather a note on the sheer talent the Tracks on Tracks train held)

I hadn't heard much of Shred Kelly before the train trip, and they definitely won me over on the train with their self-described "Stoke Folk". And which I got a sense of it from their shows on the train, I didn't get the full scope of how amazing Sage McBride's voice is until seeing them in a proper venue. They've got a great energy, especially Tim Newton, whose fingers are a blur when playing the banjo, and had everyone singing along to the all-too-relatable "I Hate Work" and ended off with "Tornado Alley", which sweeps up into an intense ending.

Portage & Main kept the folk/roots rock going, backed by The Matinee's Peter Lemon and Mike Young on drums & bass. John Sponarski and Harold Donnelly, both on guitar and vocals, mesh together so well, and even though they've only been a band for a year, the fact that they've played together on and off for years is a definite credit. Their train themed, absolute rocking "Sweet Darling" filled the room with energy and they ended, as they usually do, with the giant sing along "Oh Carolina" -- even pulling Grant Lawrence on stage with them to belt out the chorus.

And it would only make sense for the folk rocking The Matinee to be up next. The first time I saw them, I was impressed and an instant fan, and they have somehow managed to get even better; with an unparalleled energy and amazing charisma from the whole band, especially frontman Matt Layzell, and the brilliant guitar work from Matt Rose, I think this show may have been the best I've seen them play. They were on top of their game with new song "Young and Lazy" - and if this song doesn't become a huge hit for them, something is wrong in the world -- and ended off with "The Road", that at one point had each member surrounding Peter Lemon on the drum kit for a great drum breakdown.

That could have already been a stellar show, but we were not even half way done, with Maurice up next. He brought the mood down a little, but not in a bad way, with his alt-pop singer/songwriter vibe. In the spirit of Tracks on Tracks collaboration, Maurice had Marcus from the Belle Game on bass and TLGLTP's drummer filling out his lineup. The set was full of JP Maurice's heartfelt songs, as he oozed raw emotion, with songs like "All I Ever Wanted" and the undeniably catchy "Mistake".

Next we transitioned to the "dancey" part of the night, with the electro-pop of Adaline. The driving beat of "Wasted Time" got everyone moving, as did her amazing and seductive voice. Her set seemed a little short, as she got the five minute warning only three songs in, but managed to fit in a couple more; "Stereo" and ended off with "Rebels of Love"

Then was time for the grand sounds of The Belle Game. Their set also felt a bit short, but they still filled the room with their orchestral pop. The set featured mostly new songs from the band, which sounded amazing, and they also brought up Zach from The Zolas to help out on vocals for a song. They ended with the majestic "Sleep to Grow" building to a huge, climactic ending.

Sidney York almost wasn't going to be able to play the showcase, due to another show that night, but they were able to come back for a quick set. They always put on a fun show, and even with only three songs they packed them with enough energy for a full set. Getting people to sing along to "Roll With Me" and the insanely catchy "Mile High Love" ended off the set.
And it should be noted that Mike Young from The Matinee was filling in for their sick bass player, so in one night he ended up playing fours sets with three bands in two venues.

And then, it was a Topless Gay Love Tekno Party. Dressed up in giant silver shoulderpads and covered head to toe in glitter, the band made their way through the crowd, glittering people as they went by, throwing handfuls in the air. They took the stage and launched into their brand of insanely fun, self-deprecating tongue in cheek dance pop. With songs that had ridiculously catchy and easily sing-along-able songs, the entire crowd was singing along -- even those hiding from the glitter in the back. They had balloons and glitter flying through the air the entire set, as well as a large inflatable... phallus... that was kept up through half the set, and they ended off with the self titled "Top Less Gay Love Tekno Party", again getting the whole crowd to sing along.

And yet again, that would be a great ending, but there was still one more band to go, side project from TLGLTP's bass player Ian Bevis, Bear Mountain. The trio was joined by Luke Cyca on drums, and keep the dance party going with some synth looping and catchy beats. At this point half the crowd was filtering out, as it was around 2am, and half the crowd still dancing, as well as some heartfelt goodbyes from all the people on the train saying goodbye. Since Friday night, it felt like the party would never end, but this was the last hurrah.

And what a hurrah it was.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Tracks on Tracks: The Fourth Day

Sioux Lookout was the site of the beginning of day four, the final full day on the train. Chris Ho performed a "Sunrise" Platform show, which I missed due to sleep.

The day seemed a bit slower as people were, I'm sure, nursing the cinematic aftereffects of alcohol, and the acoustic shows of the day started with Emperor of the North, the combination of Zachary Gray and Adrian Glynn. They traded off songs, playing a couple of Glynn's songs and a couple new Zolas songs before ending on a Leonard Cohen cover, "Show Me The Place" off his new album.

The Belle Game was next up, in the very last car, the Park Car. Their set wasn't quite as acoustic as a couple days before, when they blew a fuse. The played some old and new stuff, brought up Sheryl and Krista from Sidney York to back them up on oboe and bassoon for "Sleep to Grow" and they ended off with their brand new song, "Wasted Light"

Maurice and Top Less Gay Love Tekno Party were both supposed to play acoustic sets as well, but the timing didn't work out, and everyone packed the Green Couch car for one last all night party. Emperor of the North (aka Murder on the Canadian) started it off with a similar set to earlier in the day. "Oh My World" was a great song, with the two of them percussing by hitting their guitars and clapping, and the dynamic and banter between the two was amazing, and I'm a little sad that it looks like their collaborating is going to be a one-off thing for the train.

Adaline was next and, aside from some technical problems throughout the set, rocked a dance party in the car. She seduced everyone with her sexy electro-pop sounds and sultry voice, and enlisting in the help of Mike and Pete from The Matinee (two of the hardest working musicians on the train) for a couple songs too. 

Then after some time for setting up, The Belle Game played their first full on electric show. Joined again Krista and Sheryl from Sidney York to fill out a few of their songs, their grand sound filled the car and kept the dance party going. They played a few new songs, and ended off with the huge "Sleep to Grow"

And finally, the last "official" show on the train was Bear Mountain -- the side project from Ian Bevis from TLGLTP-- wrapped up the night for some more dancing, but people were already starting to be strewn out the cars. There was an acoustic jam session with members of Shred Kelly and Portage and Main in one direction, and in the other The Matinee managed to get Grant Lawrence up for a rendition of The Smugglers' "Rosie" (which I regrettably missed!)

It sounds cheesy and cliché to say, but this train ride really was The Trip Of A Lifetime. There were a few hitches that they hit along the way; staff and other passengers not fully aware of what was going on being a big one, and there was the occasional miscommunication, and scheduling issues. But those are all first year glitches that hardly spoiled the experience, and will be smoothed out now that they know what the whole trip entails. And I sincerely hope that it is something that will happen on a yearly basis. I know I'm already saving up for next year.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Tracks on Tracks: The Third Day

We pull in (and out) of Saskatoon as day three began with more bustle in the morning, until the next stop in the small town of Melville, Saskatchewan where there was to be a platform show. The train was running late, however, so there wasn’t chance of a full show, but they opened one of the doors on a baggage car for newly acquired Shred Kelly to play a whirlwind set for nearly the whole town, including The Mayor!

The afternoon saw more cabin shows with Portage & Main and The Matinee, both stripped down. Portage took advantage of the setting and played some of their slower songs, like “Rocky Mountain Wanderer” (despite being in the middle of the prairies) and The Matinee crammed into the back of the Park Car, at the very end of the train. They had some assistance from Kiana Brasset on violin (and Grant Lawrence on woos) as they serenaded the car in front of the vast prairie landscape disappearing behind them.

The scheduled show at the Forks in Winnipeg didn’t quite go as planed. The train rolled in late making a much more rushed than anticipated; instead of the two-hour show, we were only in town for less than half an hour. Chris Ho played a few songs, followed by an obligatory set from the appropriately named Portage & Main, including their rocking (and train themed) newer song “Sweet Darlin”  It was then a game of hurry up and wait as we rushed back to the station but the train still wasn’t quite ready, so there were a few impromptu songs in the station; first Zach & Adrian, then Maurice and finally Lindsey Bryan.

We pulled out of The Peg and it was right back to the music with Shred Kelly rocking their self proclaimed “stoke folk”. Their great energy and enthusiasm was bolstered by co-vocals from the lovely Sage McBride and the blurry fingers of Tim Newton’s banjo picking, breaking a string in the middle of the set – which was immediately re-strung as the drummer and bassist filled the potential awkward pause. The wrapped up their set with “Tornado Alley”, which built to a huge, amazing ending.

Portage and Main was up next for another full out rock set, backed by Pete and Mike from The Matinee on drums and bass respectively. The banter between John and Harold was their usual self-deprecating joking; playing off each other well and the aforementioned train-themed “Sweet Darling” nearly blew the roof off the train car. They ended with a massive sing along to “Oh Caorlina” with the entire car belting out the chorus.

And The Matinee closed out the night in a way only they could, with another all out rocking set. They shook the train car as everyone stomped along to “L’Absinthe” and  “The Road”, using the walls of the train and random instruments for the usual drum breakdown, but they were urged back for one more, a cover (their third of the night) of Tom Petty’s “Running Down A Dream”

There were a few more scheduling glitches and some miscommunication the third day, and an illness that may have sidelined Sidney York from the rest of the train, but beyond that, it's still been one heck of a trip!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Tracks on Tracks: The Second Day

Day two began somewhere in the middle of BC, with some people decorating the Green Couch car and interviews aplenty as the Green Couch people and Grant Lawrence from CBC Radio 3 talked to a few of the bands.

The first performance of the day was in the afternoon, Chris Ho in one of the train cars as we were pulling in to Jasper. Chris was joined by Kiana Brasset and a couple other bandmates for a stripped down, but upbeat folksy set. After a few catchy songs, he wrapped up with an appropriate cover of a certain Aidan Knight song as the train pulled into the station.

The stop in Jasper featured a couple more platform shows as they got the green couch off the train for The Matinee and Sidney York to play a pair of acoustic songs each in the rain. The Matinee went with “L'Absinthe “ and “Sweet Water”, getting a lot of the passengers in the station stomping, and Sidney York got people bopping along to “Mile High Love” and “Dick & Jane”

Back on the train, car shows started back up with Adaline. Due to some technical problems, she didn't have a keyboard this time, but an acoustic guitar. She was a little nervous to just be playing on guitar, but soldiered on like a pro. Part way through her first song, a voice from the back of the car joined in, a voice belonging to Adrian Glynn, who joined her for the rest of the set. They harmonized on some of the songs they had worked on in the past, some of Adaline's and even one of Glynn's, and for “Whiter/Straighter” they went a capella and got those with rhythm in the car to snap and clap along.
With the intimate space of the last car on the train, and the beautiful scenery disappearing into the distance right behind them, it was a pretty amazing set, and definitely one of my favourites so far.

After some (delicious) dinner, Sidney York and The Belle Game were playing in a different car – they had four cars total set up for live shows; three smaller and more acoustic and one main Green Couch Car.
Sidney York had the full band set up, and a lot of the folks who were on the train not knowing about the project happened by, and it seemed like a good number of them were won over by their enthusiastic and infectious indie pop. Even in a confined space, Brandi was bouncing up and down behind her keyboard and the band was rocking the train.

The Belle Game was next, but as they were literally two notes in they blew the fuse, rendering half their equipment powerless. But they rolled with the punches and played an entirely stripped down set instead. “Sleep To Grow” started the set, and they were joined by the lovely ladies of Sidney York to add bassoon, oboe and french horn to the grandiose ending of the song. They were only able to play a few songs, due to the power issue taking up most of their time, but it was really cool to see them that basic. So far two of the best performances were born from equipment failures.

Later on in the night was a full set from Maurice in the Green Couch car. People packed in, sitting on the floor for more of a rocking set from JP and his band, as opposed to the platform show from the day before. He played for about a half hour and ended with his cover of Fleetwood Mac's "Dreams", slipping in a couple fun top 40 songs; "Teenage Dream" and "Moves Like Jagger", all of which had everyone singing along as the train pulled into Edmonton and picked up the last of the bands, Shred Kelly.

And the day wrapped up, music-wise, in the best way it could have; a Top Less Gay Love Tekno Party. It's nearly impossible to describe the events of the set, but the Green Couch car was absolutely packed with people -- many of which were, in fact, topless by the end of the set -- and everyone jumping and dancing, shaking the car to the bands incredibly fun dancey pop sounds. There was a lot of singing and clapping along to songs, like their self titled "Top Less Gay Love Tekno Party", and they were even called back for one more song, a slower, quieter one to wrap up the night.

Tomorrow is another packed day with shows on the train from Shred Kelly, The Matinee, Portage and Main, a stop in Melville, SK and the big free show tonight at Winnipeg at the Forks; the only actual-venue show of the trip!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Tracks on Tracks: The First Day

After months of build up and hype, Tracks on Tracks is finally upon us. The brain child of Green Couch Sessions, with a lot of help from both VIA Rail and CBC Radio 3, sees eleven musical acts hop aboard The Canadian, with a whole bunch of music fans, heading from Vancouver to Toronto and rolling in to the city just in time for North by North East

The first night was simple enough, starting at the Pacific Central station as bands slowly filtered in, with a couple platform shows. 

Adaline was up first, performing solo but still managed to keep her electro-pop energy. Playing keys, she also had her drum and bass backtracks present, giving her a full sound. Her strong voice filled the platform, and even though she was a bit quiet, she still . And she ended up winning over a lot of the, er, older folks... that had no idea what they were in store for on the train.

Next was Maurice, who was joined by fellow Victoria musician Lindsay Bryan and Kiana Brasset joined him of violin for a couple songs. His more relaxed, acoustic set suffered a little more that Adaline’s from the low volume, especially with the bustle of more and more people showing up. But songs like the insanely catchy “Mistake” and “All I Ever Wanted” still grabbed people's attention.

And then finally, everyone boarded the train and it pulled away from the station, slowly taking us from Vancouver to Toronto. The first night was a little subdued, likely due to the fact that we left at 8:30, and everyone was still settling in for the night. But today we'll see shows from Chris Ho, Adaline, Sidney York, The Matinee, and The Belle Game, as well as a stop in Jasper, AB.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Peak Performance Project: Year Four

The fourth year of the Peak Performance Project is upon us. The competition is a multi-year contest in which The Peak, along with Music BC, picks 20 BC musicians/bands and puts them through a "professional development program to help new and emerging artists create careers in the music industry". They go to a rock n roll bootcamp, play a series of shows, get some money to help them and are given radio time, all to help them further their career.

Previous winners of the project include We Are The City, Kyprios and Current Swell, and each year the competition is full of talented individuals. I have definitely discovered some favourite new bands from following along for the last three years.

So without further rambling, here is this year’s Peak Performance Project Top 20!

Alexandria Maillot

Ali Milner
Dear Rouge
Dominique Fricot
Fields of Green
The Fugitives
The Gay Nineties
Georgia Murray
The Harpoonist & The Axe Murderer
Jordan Klassen
Mike Edel
Portage & Main
Redgy Blackout
The River & The Road
T. Nile
The Tequila Mockingbird Orchestra Tough Lovers

That is definitely one interesting list. There is the most returning acts so far, with Maurice, Fields of Green, and Redgy Blackout from last year, as well as Alexandria Maillot from the first year, and new projects from Dominique Fricot (Painted Birds) and The Fugitives (Adrian Glynn). A couple of the acts already get airplay on the Peak, but I don't there is really a clear breakout band like Said the Whale or Current Swell from the past couple years.

As for my early predictions (or rather, what I'd like to see) I'm hoping this will be the year a female cracks the top three, with Ali Milner, and I've definitely got a few other bands I am rooting for right out of the gate; Portage & Main and beekeeper, as well as Maurice and, let's say Dom Fricot to round out the top five. But there are a few others I like or am interested in, and who knows... last year I hadn't heard The Matinée going in and they ended up being a clear favourite.

I think this year will be the most unpredictable yet and I am definitely interested to see what it has to offer.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Brasstronaut @ Rio Theatre -- 06/02/12

The first time I saw Brasstronaut live, I knew that one day I wanted to see them at a soft seat theatre venue. Something about their dense, orchestral sound just seemed like it would be a perfect fit. Last year I got a tease of that when they opened for Mother Mother at the Vogue, but I was very excited when they announced that their hometown show, in support of their new album Mean Sun, would be at the Rio Theatre.

Opening the show was Útidúr all the way from Iceland. The eight piece band was deeper and more eclectic that the usual orchestral folk-pop sound, with numerous influences, including a hint of gypsy-rock and even a bit of a Spanish flair in a song. But it never seemed like a jumble; it all came together beautifully. Even the vocal styles of the two lead singers, Gunnar Örn and Rakel Mjöll, were quite different, but meshed together very well.
The set had a great "flow" to it, with the band starting with some of their softer, lighter songs and then building in energy, until they reached a cacophonous ending. Highlights included "Words Are Moving Slow" and the lilting "Fisherman's Friend" in which they urged people to get out of their theatre-seats and dance, and got a growing crowd up at the front of the stage to do just that.
The band also had a great presence and infectious energy. With broken, but understandable English, they seemed genuinely excited to be playing, mentioning that it was one of the biggest shows they had played so far, and even pausing to get a picture of the crowd.

Not long after, the the six members of Brasstronaut took the stage, their name emblazoned on the curtain behind them. The stage was dimly lit, with the band often in silhouette as they made good use of the movie screen behind them, projecting imagery throughout the show; sometimes random patterns, sometimes a little more elaborate, like a sunset over an ocean for "Mean Sun" or space imagery for "Moonwalker".
Starting the set off with the upbeat and aptly named "Bounce", they hit on a lot from their new album Mean Sun, with Edo Van Breeman's haunting vocals and the band's intense, layered sound filling the theatre.
They had a bit of a technical snag early on, but it was soon solved and their hour-and-a-half long set went off without a hitch, with highlights including the deceptively heartbreaking "Slow Knots", the punchy "Falkland", and guitarist Tariq Hussain taking over vocals for the soft and eerily-beautiful "Moonwalker".
Rakel from Útidúr was out to help out the vocals for "Mixtape", which built to an intense ending, and was followed by one my my favourite songs, "Hearts Trompet", also starting soft but building to a grand climax, with drummer Brennan Saul showing off his immense talent by the end.
They finished the main set with "The Grove" and were joined by the members of  Útidúr for the first song of the encore, "Opportunity", before Edo asked to bring the lights down for a sleepy time, lullaby song to end the night. The lights dimmed as much as they could as they launched into "Old World Lies", and Sam Davidson quietly leaving the stage part way through, only to reappear in the back of the theatre, softly playing his clarinet and slowly making his way back to the stage for a beautiful ending.

It was a magnificent show, probably the best I have seen from the band, and they were incredibly appreciative of the support of the sold out crowd. I can not wait until the day when Brasstronaut headlines the Vogue, or even the Orpheum -- two venues the band's sound deserves.

Bounce, Mean Sun, Falkland, Moonwalker, Slow Knots, Francisco, Mixtape, Hearts Trompet, Requiem for a Scene, Fossil, The Grove.
(encore) Opportunity, Revelstoke Dam, Old World Lies.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Arkells @ Vogue -- 06/01/12

Since the first time I saw the Arkells, opening for Matt Mays at the Commodore, I knew I was on to something, and they'd be worth keeping an eye on. I've managed to see them several times since then, in variety of different sized venues, and I've never not been impressed. This time it was at the beautiful Vogue Theatre for a co-headlining tour with Arizona's The Maine.

I ended up missing both them and the other opening bands, Lydia, but I did catch the last couple songs from The Maine and based on that, I am not really heartbroken I missed them.

It was not long after The Maine finished that Hamilton, Ontario's Arkells took the stage, exploding right off the bat with "Whistleblower", and not letting the energy down throughout the entire set. With a good mix of songs off their new album, Michigan Left and their debut, Jackson Square, they had the rabid crowd of the Vogue singing, clapping along, and dancing right up until the end. The band is incredibly tight, and has an almost unparalleled stage presence and energy, and lead singer Max Kerman is so effortlessly charming and charismatic on stage.
One of the highlights of the set was definitely "Oh, The Boss is Coming!", with its crazy intensity and a some of Donna Summer's "She Works Hard for the Money" slipped in. It wasn't the last time they would sneak in a verse or two from other songs throughout the night, either, with a little bit of The Black Keys in "Pulling Punches". They also enlisted help for "Agent Zero" from not only the crowd, but some other friends a well; Tyler and Jacelyn from Said The Whale -- with guitar and tambourine, respectively -- on backup vocals.
The "main" set was brought to an end with "Deadlines", and the band bringing out a couple flashlights and urging the crowd to hold up lighters, cell phones, or any other device that lights up for a sing along of a bit of "This Little Light of Mine", but of course they were back for more. Members of The Maine and Lydia joined them in the encore for a couple more covers, The Beatles' "Help From My Friends" which transitioned perfectly into "That Thing You Do", while Max traded off vocals with The Maine's John O'Callaghan. And the whole night was brought to a perfect ending with another giant sing along, to crowd (and my) favourite, "John Lennon"
Arkells have never failed to impress me with their live show, and this was just more evidence that they were more than deserving of their CBC Radio 3 Bucky Award for "Best Live Act" last year.

There was also a moment that for some reason stood out for me; during the encore, when the stage was packed with with people, Max grabbed the camera of a fan that was filming in the front row, panned across the crowd, then across the stage, and handed it back. It was a small thing that probably went unnoticed by most in the venue (except for the owner of the camera), but it just struck me as a genuinely cool and nice thing to do.

Whistleblower, The Ballad of Hugo Chavez, Where U Going, No Champagne Socialist, Coffee, Michigan Left, Oh, The Boss Is Coming (with She Works Hard for the Money [Donna Summer cover]), Kiss Cam, Pulling Punches (with Lonely Boy [The Black Keys cover]), Agent Zero, On Paper, Deadlines (with This Little Light of Mine).
Book Club, With a Little Help from My Friends [The Beatles cover], That Thing You Do ["The Wonders" cover], John Lennon (with The Way We Get By [Spoon cover])