Wednesday, October 31, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Matt Mays @ Commodore -- 10/24/12

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 20, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 19, 2012

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

The Peak Performance Project is a multi-year contest in which The Peak, along with Music BC, picks 20 BC musicians/bands a year and makes them stars. Past winners are We Are The CityKyprios, and Current Swell with a ton of great bands and artists included as well.

Part one of the project was a rock & roll boot camp where they went on a week long retreat to get lectures and advice from industry pros to help them refine their craft. Phase two is a series of shows at The Red Room, four artists a night for five weeks, each playing a 45 minute set. The bands are rated by a panel of judges, which will go toward their final score in the project, and they've also been tasked to learn a "Classic Canadian Cover" to play during their set. I always love hearing bands play cover songs, and I am definitely looking forward to see who each act chooses (and, as in the past, I am going to keep a running tally on how many Arcade Fire, Neil Young or Leonard Cohen songs we get).

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

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

The Peak Performance Project is a multi-year contest in which The Peak, along with Music BC, picks 20 BC musicians/bands a year and makes them stars. Past winners are We Are The CityKyprios, and Current Swell with a ton of great bands and artists included as well.

Part one of the project was a rock & roll boot camp where they went on a week long retreat to get lectures and advice from industry pros to help them refine their craft. Phase two is a series of shows at The Red Room, four artists a night for five weeks, each playing a 45 minute set. The bands are rated by a panel of judges, which will go toward their final score in the project, and they've also been tasked to learn a "Classic Canadian Cover" to play during their set. I always love hearing bands play cover songs, and I am definitely looking forward to see who each act chooses (and, as in the past, I am going to keep a running tally on how many Arcade Fire, Neil Young or Leonard Cohen songs we get).

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

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

The Peak Performance Project is a multi-year contest in which The Peak, along with Music BC, picks 20 BC musicians/bands a year and makes them stars. Past winners are We Are The CityKyprios, and Current Swell with a ton of great bands and artists included as well.

Part one of the project was a rock & roll boot camp where they went on a week long retreat to get lectures and advice from industry pros to help them refine their craft. Phase two is a series of shows at The Red Room, four artists a night for five weeks, each playing a 45 minute set. The bands are rated by a panel of judges, which will go toward their final score in the project, and they've also been tasked to learn a "Classic Canadian Cover" to play during their set. I always love hearing bands play cover songs, and I am definitely looking forward to see who each act chooses (and, as in the past, I am going to keep a running tally on how many Arcade Fire, Neil Young or Leonard Cohen songs we get).

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Dirty Three @ Biltmore -- 10/01/12

You may know the Austrailian instrumental band Dirty Three from their work with Nick Cave -- they've been his backing band and Warren Ellis, in particular, is also a Bad Seed and a member of Grinderman -- but the trio has returned for their first album in seven years, Toward the Low Sun, and their accompanying tour has brought them back to Vancouver. 

The night started off with Fond of Tigers, a seven piece instrumental band from Vancouver. With a pair of drummers, violin and trumpet accompanying the usual guitar, bass, and keys, they created a deep, cinematic sound. For the first half of their set, they barely paused between songs, giving it a symphonic feel; that you were listening to movements strung together to create a larger piece. The songs ebbed and flowed, transitioning into the next before launching anew. It was half an hour before guitarist Stephen Lyons introduced themselves, and the next song, with a bit of dry humour, and he stepped up on vocals for the final song of the night, the only non-instrumental. 
They had a really great sound, and I am definitely looking forward to seeing more from them in the future. 

And then it was not long before the curtain was pulled back to reveal Dirty Three. Warren Ellis grabbed the mic to thank us for coming, and launched into an explanation of what the first song was about, which ended up being an insane and convoluted, but downright funny, story about Bono, Chris Martin, hemorrhoids, and reincarnation. And he did it several more times throughout the night, with each introductory story getting more and more outrageous. I can't do any of them justice, but they involved things like making a Facebook event leading to the end of the world, and Paul Hewson (Bono), Paul Gadd (Gary Glitter), Paul McCartney, and Paul Newman living together in the Valley of the Pauls. It was like Abe Simpson fuelled by whiskey, but less senile and meandering and more raw and hilarious. 
But as bizarre as Warren Ellis' storytelling was, it was almost directly contradicted the music itself -- in tone at least -- which was dense and layered, complex and chaotic, dark and challenging. The trio of Ellis on violin (and sometimes keys), Mick Turner on guitars and Jim White on drums created soundscapes much larger and more grand than you'd think possible from just three people. Songs started soft and lulled you in before exploding into a cacophonous ending with Turner's guitars swirling, White's drums pounding, and Ellis' violin shrieking -- and sometimes even shrieks and howls from Ellis himself. Highlights included the beautiful but intense "Ashen Snow" and the haunting "Rising Below". 
They played for a solid two hours, right up until the 1am curfew, with Ellis dancing and thrashing around like a madman, high kicking, and even at one point on his back playing the violin, right up until the end. He had twice as much energy as many musicians I've seen half his age, and even when he had his back to the audience, while sawing away on his violin, he was still captivating to watch. 

Sometimes it's tough for an instrumental band live. Without vocals, it can be difficult to connect with the crowd and draw people in; I've certainly seen it happen. But both bands this night -- especially Dirty Three -- had more than enough going on that demanded your attention. And you will be hard pressed to find another frontman more manic, yet thrilling to watch, than Warren Ellis.
I have little doubt that this is going to go down as one of the best, and my favourite, shows of the year.