Wednesday, November 28, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 16, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 15, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

AC Newman @ Biltmore -- 11/08/12

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 8, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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