Saturday, July 28, 2012

Steam Whistle Unsigned w/ Acres of Lions, Rococode & Familia @ Biltmore -- 07/26/12

For a while now, the Toronto microbrewery Steam Whistle has been hosting its Unsigned events in various Canadian cities. Each concert in the series features three Canadian artists -- the first Vancouver show back in January featured Treelines, The Ruffled Feathers, and Sidney York -- with all of the ticket sales going back to the arts community; in this case to Solidarity Rock which supports musicians in Cuba.

The first band up was Familia, who recently changed from a four-piece to a trio. The lead singer, Tamara Umlah, has a strong and soulful voice, but musically they have a pretty straightforward soul-pop sound. Even their cover of Cold War Kids' "Hang Me Out to Dry" sounded similar to the rest of their set. They weren't bad by any means, and a perfectly acceptable opening band.

Next up was Rococode who once again displayed their catchy alt-rock/synth pop sounds with great harmonies. There wasn't much banter through the set, instead just focusing on playing songs off of their debut album, Guns, Sex and Glory -- like "Empire" which always gets stuck in my head after seeing them -- as well as a couple new songs sprinkled in -- "Run Run Run Run Run" has a definite catchy edge. As usual, the band had a great energy, and they're always a pleasure to watch play.

And wrapping up the night was Acres of Lions. Unfortunately I only caught about half their set, since it was a bit of a late start, but they were on top of their game. An incredibly fun band to watch live, the four members were all oozing energy and enthusiasm, and had no problem getting the crowd to sing and/or clap along to songs like the nostalgic "Kids" or "Closer" (and, I can only assume, "Reaction" later in the set).
And, as a side note, the band was on tour at this point for over 150 days, and were by no means showing signs of slowing down.  A harder working band would be rare to find.

Despite the late start on a week night -- which isn't unusual for the Biltmore -- it was another great event, and I am definitely looking forward to another trio of bands for the next Steam Whistle Unsigned.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Bend Sinister @ Venue -- 07/19/12

It's been four years since the last full length album from Bend Sinister -- 2008's Stories of Brothers, Tales of Lovers -- and while there has been a couple of EPs to tide us over since then, the wait for their third full length is finally over with the release of Small Fame last week on File Under: Music. And to celebrate, they threw a hometown album release party at Venue.

The first band of the night was Young Pacific, who I unfortunately missed, getting there just as the second band, Fields of Green took the stage.
When I saw them in the Peak Performance Project last year, I thought they had loads of potential, but they were still young and needed some time to grow as a band, to become more cohesive, and in the past year they've made huge strides; not only earning a spot in the PPP again, but they also scoring top three of this year's Fox Seeds competition.
Their sinthy, prog-rock-ish sound comes with great energy from the whole band, especially drummer Johnny who is insanely animated, and their live show has definitely gotten tighter. My favourite of the set was a song which I missed the name, but included a fantastic instrumental section that started slow and soft and then grew to a huge climax of swirling guitars and intense drumming. I am definitely looking forward to see how they fare in this year’s Peak Performance Project.

And then it was time for Bend Sinister who hit the stage and immediately launched in to “She Don’t Give It Up”, as they played the whole new album front to back. The piano driven prog rock evoked sounds from some of the classics from the 70s, but never in a derivative way; they aren’t stuck in the past, but have made the sound their very own.
The band also has an unparalleled energy; Dan Moxon is a monster on the keys, and both guitarist Joseph Blood and bass player Matt Rhode were rocking out in power stances, and coming right up to the front of the stage to get people clapping along.
Highlights included the catchy “Got You On My Mind”, the intense “My Lady” with a great instrumental breakdown, and especially the back to back combo of “Hot Blooded Man” and “Black Magic Woman”; the former being an explosive and insanely high energy rocker, and the latter a slower and more sultry jam.
After wrapping up with the psychedelic “Quest for Love” they were back for an encore of a few older songs, including the anthemic and uplifting “Things Will Get Better”, a fantastic cover of Supertramp’s “The Logical Song” and ending the night with an old favourite, “Time Breaks Down”.

Bend Sinister was one of the first Vancouver bands I really got into when I first started exploring the local music scene, and they remain one of my favourite. Especially with shows, and albums, like this. There are few bands -- local or otherwise -- that can match the energy and intensity from the band, and their live show is hard to top.

She Don't Give It Up, 
Don't You Know, 
Man of Faith and Virtue, 
One Shot, 
Got You on My Mind, 
My Lady, 
We Know Better, 
Give It a Rest, 
Hot Blooded Man, 
Black Magic Woman, 
She Lost Her Rock and Roll, 
Quest for Love.
(encore) The News, Things Will Get Better, The Logical Song [Supertramp cover], Time Breaks Down.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Imaginary Cities w/ Rah Rah @ Waldorf -- 07/12/12

One of my favourite new bands from last year is Imaginary Cities, so when I heard they would be stopping at the Waldorf on their recent tour, it was a no brainer. And then finding out that their Hidden Pony label-mates Rah Rah -- who put on one of my favourite sets at NXNE -- were opening, well that just put the proverbial icing on the already delicious cake.

The night started off with another Manitoba band, Federal Lights. They were a perfectly acceptable opener, with upbeat pop-rock that fit well with the other bands. They wore a lot of influences on their sleeve, and while they were a decent band, they weren't really anything too memorable.

Next up was Rah Rah, whose seven members packed the small stage of the Waldorf. They started off with a new song, "Art and a Wife" and for the next half hour they filled the room with an insane energy, and great harmonies & group vocals. They had the crowd dancing from start to finish, to a few other songs from the upcoming album, The Poet's Dead, and singing along to old favourites like the insanely upbeat "Tentacles".
Throughout the set they were changing instruments, with Erin Passmore coming out from behind the drums to jump on the keys and allow her amazing voice to be showcased, alongside Marshall Burns and her brother Joel, and Kristina Hedlund also sharing vocals and going from violin to keyboard to accordion.
"Beaches" saw a couple members grab drumsticks and add to the percussion, rapping on not only the drum kit and cymbals, but various parts of the stage, and after the beautiful "Duet for Emmylou and the Grievous Angel" they ended the set with a huge bang, the one-two punch of "Breaking Hearts" and "Arrow", throwing three inflatable letters -- an R, an A and an H -- to the crowd, smashing a small pinata full of candy, and ended with a burst of confetti.
Their set was pure fun, and they can't come back to Vancouver soon enough.

That would have been a satisfying show right there, but there was still Imaginary Cities to come. The Winnipeg band may not have matched up in raw energy, but still put on an amazing set. They have a great chemistry, particularly between Marti Sarbit and Rusty Matyas, and especially for a band that is still relatively young. Marti's amazing and enchanting voice was punctuated by her stage presence -- dancing and jumping around with infectious enthusiasm -- and combined with Rusty's amazing musicianship, they put on a truly captivating set.
The band hit a lot of their first album, Temporary Resident, including a couple of my favourites; "Ride This Out", which starts soft and then explodes into a frantic ending, and the soft and heartbreaking "Where'd All The Living Go". They also did their cover of Cake's "Mexico" before a couple new songs, teasing recording their second album soon, and "ending" the set with the infinitely catchy "Hummingbird".
They came back out for the usual encore, visibly overwhelmed by the support they had from the packed Waldorf, with a sweet song called "True Love", written by Rusty for his new wife, before capping off the night with the perfect closer, "That's Where It's At, Sam".

It would be tough not to be overshadowed by Rah Rah, but Imaginary Cities more than pulled it off with an amazing set, for what may be the best double bill of the year.

Chasing the Sunset; Temporary Resident; Say You; Marry the Sea; Ride This Out; Cherry Blossom Tree; Calm Before the Storm; Where's All The Living Go; Mexico [Cake cover]; Bells of Cologne; Water Under the Bridge; Hummingbird.
(encore) True Love; That's Where It's At, Sam.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Canada Day with Sam Roberts Band, Hannah Georgas and the Peak Performance Project Top 20 -- 07/01/12

For the second year in a row, the Peak Performance Project kicked off in Surrey on Canada Day, with each one of the top twenty playing back to back (to back to back...) shows. At the Cloverdale Millennium Amphitheatre, The Peak set up side by side stages for each band to play 20 minute alternating sets.
And if that wasn't good enough, the main stage was running music all day, including a Bon Jovi tribute band, and culminating with Hannah Georgas and Sam Roberts Band. And all of this for free.

Since there was so much to see, I'll try to keep all the PeakPP bands brief.

beekeeper. The trio started off the whole day, a little nervous to start, but eased into it. As usual, they had a great energy, and did an excellent job of showing off all their talents -- including Brandi's opera voice. I would love to see them in the top five, but I worry their complex sound may be too "weird" or inaccessible for people. I'm definitely looking forward to seeing how boot camp shapes them.

Redgy Blackout. One of the returning artists, they're back for their second year in a row. I was impressed by their upbeat, folk-pop sound last year, and they still have a great energy with catchy songs. I'm looking forward to see how they shape up after a second year of boot camp.

T. Nile. I had heard a lot about Tamara Nile before her inclusion in the project, but not a lot of songs from her. She was also a little nervous (as were many throughout the day) with a false start to one of her songs, but has a nice voice and is a solid musician; though I am not sure that I really find anything overly compelling about her, nothing that made her stand out from all the other folk-y singer/songwriters. I hope to be proven wrong during their showcase concert series in September, though.

The River & The Road. A folk band with a bit of a blues-rock streak (they even introduced one of their songs as a "folk gangster ballad") they put on a solid set and were all strong musicians, but again, I was not too sure what made them stand out. I liked them, but they were overshadowed even by some of the other acts later in the day. They also had a couple songs with the ever-increasing "singer playing a floor tom", which seems to be used more and more these days.

Ali Milner. One of my favourites going in, Ali is no stranger to music competitions, coming in third on CBC's Cover Me Canada last year. But her own songs are strong as well, both catchy and touching, and her amazing voice carries them so well. Ali had a bubbly, nervous energy between songs, but while playing was completely composed, and wrapped up with a Neil Young cover. I am hoping this will be the first year a female cracks the top three, and I am hoping it's Ali.

Mike Edel. A folky singer/songwriter, Edel is a good musician with strong songwriting, songs that start soft and then built to an intense ending. Surrounding himself with some good musicians, including Kiana Brasset on violin, he was another act that I liked, but maybe needs a bit more of an edge to pull away from the rest of the top twenty bands.

Dominique Fricot. Another returning artist (he was in the first year with his band The Painted Birds), the tallest man in Vancouver music is back this year as a solo act. With a backing band of Katie Schaan (Ciseaux) and Mike Young & Peter Lemon (The Matinee) his songs are earnest and heartfelt, with a bit of a 90s vibe to them. He also had a good stage presence, and Fricot is another one I wouldn't be surprised to see make the top five.

Jordan Klassen. Along with Fricot, Klassen has the slight advantage of a song already in rotation on The Peak, but that won't necessarily give either of them any edge. Klassen -- joined by a large band including keys, strings, and more -- filled the area with the rises and falls of his big, sweeping songs. He and his friends had a great stage presence and energy, with their obvious enthusiasm infectious. I would not be surprised at all to see him make the top three.

Maurice. Another returning act, and another one I ended up being very impressed by last year, JP has a knack of not only crafting heartfelt songs, but pouring out raw emotion while playing. And beyond that, the songs are ridiculously catchy. He's good a strong stage presence, too; even the technical difficulties of an "exploding" microphone mid-song didn't phase him. Maurice is another artist that I would like to see make the top five.

Headwater. I hadn't heard too much from the band before their set, but they ended up being one of my favourites of the day with their badass-roots-rock sound. The four-piece was joined Pat Steward (Odds) on drums and they had a great energy throughout the set, with their guitar player jumping all over, even off the amps a few times (he and Devon of beekeeper should have a rock-star-leap-off). I am definitely looking forward to seeing more from them in the competition.

The Fugitives. Another sort-of return, as Adrian Glynn was in the first year as a solo artist. On the surface they were a folk band, but they are harder to classify than that; with elements of Brendan McLeod's spoken word poetry included, they may be best described as "folk hop", and were an interesting sound I am interested to hear more from. They also had a bet running on their facebook page leading up to the event, resulting in Adrian covering Nelly's "Ride Wit Me" on the balalaika. Which was as hilarious as it sounds.

Alexandria Maillot. She was another returning artist, having been in the first year but ineligible to compete until now after they put an age requirement in place. She had a strong voice, and an upbeat, poppy sound, and while I always like a band with a keytar, I wasn't as engaged by her set as I was with the rest of the bands that day.

Portage & Main. It shouldn't be a surprise that they were another one of my favourites going in, and their short set just cemented that opinion. With Matt Kelly on keys, they pulled out all the stops for their set, transitioning seamlessly from one song to the next and getting the crowd to sing along. I am positive they won over a lot of people with their short set, and I would be very surprised if they don't make the top three.

Tough Lovers. They were a last minute replacement to one of the bands that had to drop out. With a bit more of a straight ahead rock sound, the band had a good energy, but were another one that I didn't really think stood out. Given the level of talent in this year's Project, it'll take more than just being "a good band" to win over some ear holes. Like the others, I am interested to see how bootcamp will shape them, and what their Showcase in September will sound like.

It was at this point where a hard decision had to be made; finish the rest of the top 20 bands, or saunter over to the main stage. As much as I wanted to see the last few bands, few can resist the allure of gorgeous Hannah Georgas. She was joined by some familiar faces, her backing band consisted of Andrew Braun, Robbie Driscoll, Rob Tornroos, and Tim Proznick.
Hannah teased her upcoming album with a handful of new songs, which sounded great, and definitely made the wait until October harder. There were a few familiar songs as well, including the older, and emotional "The National", and "Dancefloor", which got the crowd moving in the mud. She ended with "The Deep End" which -- for reasons only known to the sound guy -- was extremely heavy on bass, almost drowning out the ukulele and vocals.

And, as a random aside, the camera men on stage filming them for the big screen were very intrusive and distracting, at some points standing right behind Andrew, or next to Hannah, practically holding the camera in her face.

And finally, I can't think of many better ways to celebrate Canada Day than with Sam Roberts Band. Adorned in a Canadian Tuxedo (denim on denim), Sam took the stage with his band and launched into "I Feel You", and played for over an hour. From the high energy "Detroit '67" to the calmer "Without a Map", the set spanned Roberts' four albums, with lots of familiar songs; getting people singing along to "Hard Road" and asking "Where Have All The Good People Gone?"
Ended with the insane energy of "Them Kids", but was out for a couple more before the fireworks, including "Don't Walk Away Eileen"

Not only were Sam Roberts Band and Hannah Georgas as great as to be expected, but the day was a great start to the Peak Performance Project. I am sad I wasn't able to catch all the bands -- I hope to familiarise myself with those I missed soon -- and there were more than a few that I am interested in seeing after they go through music-bootcamp.