Sunday, January 27, 2013

Whitehorse w/ Daniel Romano @ Commodore -- 1/26/13

About five or six years ago, I first saw Melissa McClelland as an opening act, and part way through her set she invited her husband up on stage to play a song with her. Turns out the husband was Luke Doucet, and it wouldn't be the last time the couple shared the stage. Sadly, I hadn't had the chance to see either of them live since then, either in their own solo shows or as Whitehorse, so I was very excited to hear they were starting their latest tour in Vancouver.
Add to that the opener of the night -- a gentleman I saw in Toronto at the NXNE festival, but was too tired to fully appreciate the set -- and it was sure to be a good show.

Leigh Eldridge Photography
And that gentleman was Daniel Romano. The former Attack in Black frontman has gone a much more country route in his solo material, which was evident before Romano played a single note. He took the stage dressed in a full on Cowboy Suit, covered head to toe in rhinestones, topped off with a cowboy hat.
With his only backup being Aaron Goldstein on pedal steel, the duo was at the edge of the stage, in front of the certain, and started off the set with "Time forgot (to change my heart)", with a very old school, traditional country sound. A lot of the set consisted of slow tempo, sad songs, but there were a couple upbeat numbers, like the upbeat "Chicken Bill"

As Romano brought the set to an end, he decided to have a little bit of fun with the last couple songs, first a cover of a Roger Miller song, and then their version of the oft-covered "When I Stop Dreaming" originally by The Louvin Brothers. Romano said the duo had only practiced it a couple times in their four-day van drive from Ontario to BC, and Goldstein stepped off the pedal steel to take over vocals.

While it was, overall, a little too Country for my personal tastes, I could still appreciate their talent. Both Romano and Goldstein were excellent performers, and it was apparent that a good portion of the crowd was there as much to see Romano as they were for Whitehorse.

Leigh Eldridge Photography
It wasn't too long after that the curtains parted and we caught a glimpse of the set, a few banners with a painted version of what I assume was Whitehorse (the city), before Whitehorse (the band) took the stage. Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland first roused the crowd into singing the beginning of "Killing Time is Murder" before grabbing their instruments and kicking off the set.

It was only the two of them -- no backing band of anything -- and while they mostly stuck to guitar, or sometimes bass, there was also a keyboard, a kick drum & a floor tom, and an array of percussive instruments from a steel drum to maracas and even some pans to bang on. The couple used these to their full advantage, creating rich loops to continue on as they played, more often than not coming right to the front of the stage to share a microphone (when not using the telephone receivers on their individual mics for vocal effects).

The chemistry between the two was as amazing as you would hope, with the couple playing off each other perfectly-- both musically and with their banter. They went for over an hour, covering nearly their entire catalogue, which consists of songs written as a duo as well as some of their individual, older songs reworked. Highlights included Doucet's "Broken", about an ex-girlfriend (which brought on some joking and teasing) and McClelland's "Passenger 24", which started soft and slow before exploding with energy; as well as the dirty and badass "Achilles' Desire" and the beautiful "Mismatched Eyes" with the back-and-forth vocals, both off the latest album The Fate of the World Depends on This Kiss.
Wrapping up the main set with "Jane", they came back with the soft and sweet "Night Owls" and capped off the night with their cover of Springsteen's "I'm On Fire", getting a large chunk of the crowd to sing along, and even continue the chorus after they had put down their instruments, taken a bow and left the stage.

Going into the show, I already knew that Melissa has a gorgeous voice and Luke is a fantastic guitar player, but I figured they would also have a backing band playing with them. I was not expecting it to be just the two of them, effortlessly building each song before the crowds eyes, with the help of their looping pedals. It was a fantastic show, and I wouldn't hesitate to see them next time they're in town.

Killing Time is Murder, No Glamour in the Hammer, Radiator Blues, Wisconsin, Emerald Isle, Mismatched Eyes (Boat Song), Broken, Devil's Got a Gun, Annie Lu, Out Like A Lion, Achilles' Desre, Passenger 24, Jane.
(encore) Night Owls, I'm on Fire [Bruce Springsteen cover].

Photos courtesy of Leigh Eldridge Photography

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Portage & Main @ Biltmore -- 1/25/13

It's hard to believe that it was just shy of two years ago when Portage & Main played their very first live show. John Sponarski and Harold Donnelly had been friends for many years, and in other bands, before coming together to form this band, and they kind of hit the ground running, releasing their first album before even playing a live show. But after near-constant touring since the first album came out -- including the cross country train trip Tracks on Tracks and their involvement in the latest Peak Performance Project -- they've released their second album, Never Had The Time, and celebrated the release with a show at the Biltmore Cabaret.

There was a definite folk-country theme to the night, and starting off the night was Vancouver's Rob Butterfield. His band included some familiar faces, Colin Cowan and Chris Kelly on bass and keys respectively, and there was a definite countrified twang.
The songs were pretty catchy, but the tempo of a lot of them were the same, and he was perhaps a little too much on the "country" side for my tastes. But it picked up a little at the end, with the last couple songs; one was a much more energetic boot-stomper, and the last song of the set had a bit of a blues tinge to it. He wasn't bad in the slightest, but it was wasn't quite my speed.

Next up was another Vancouver-based alt-country band, White Ash Falls. Fronted by Andy Bishop -- formerly a member Yukon Blonde -- the ensemble also included prolific pedal steel player and former Treelines member Matt Kelly. They also straddled the line of being a bit "too country" for my tastes, with a melodic, folky, Americana (Canadiana?) sound. But Bishop was a strong frontman, his voice lending perfectly to the well written, intimate and heartfelt nature of his songs.
Near the end of the set, he brought out Brandon Scott of Yukon Blonde to help out on the rare song-named-after-the-band "White Ash Falls" off their most recent album, By The River Bend, which was my favourite of the set.

And finally, the band of the night Portage & Main took the stage, kicking off the set in high gear with the raucous "Sweet Darlin'" before the title track to the album they were celebrating the release of, "Never Had The Time".
I've seen the band numerous times in the last couple years, and they just keep getting better; their set was incredibly tight, the chemistry between John & Harold apparent as they played off each other, not to mention with the rest of the band -- Georges Couling on the keys, Ben Appenheimer on bass and Dave Gens on drums. This was definitely the best I've seen them yet.
They had a few guests out to help them, Matt Kelly once again pedal steel and Redbird's Savannah Wellman joining on vocals for a few songs, her voice meshing with John and Harold's beautifully. There wasn't much banter, mostly a lot of thanking everyone for coming -- John was visibly moved by the sold out crowd -- but their stage presence more than made up for it, the entire band bursting with energy. Highlights of the night included the deceptively upbeat "Better Man" and "What Have I Done" off their first, self-titled album.

They ended the main set with "Good Morning Sunshine" from the new album, which featured a bit of audience participation, with the crowd singing over the last couple verses. And as the band said their thank-you's and left the stage, the packed Biltmore kept their part, the "da 'n da dada dadadada", going until the band came back out for their encore. It's hard to explain in text, but it made for one of those great "concert experience" moments, the whole crowd in sync with each other, and John's first words when he got back on stage summed it up: "Well that was pretty cool."
For the encore, they did a strong cover of The Band's "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" and they continued the singing along by ending the night as they traditionally do, pulling friends and fans alike on stage for "Carolina", everyone shouting along with the two-word chorus, capping off one hell of a set.

Sweet Darlin', Never Had The Time, Lied To Me, As a Child, Rocky Mountain Wanderer, Better Man, Oona Jean, What Have I Done, Good Morning Sunshine.
(encore) The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down [The Band cover], Carolina.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Sing It Forward @ Vogue -- 01/10/13

A year (and change) ago, David Vertesi & Ambrosia Humphrey brought together nearly a dozen of the finest musicians from the local scene for the first Sing It Forward, an evening benefiting the kids of the St James Music Academy. It was such a huge success that they decided to do it again this year, with a lineup no less impressive.

Trimmed to eight from last year's eleven -- which made the pacing of the show much nicer -- each act played a short acoustic or stripped down set, with quick turnovers. There were also a few videos playing between sets, usually showing the bands either interacting or playing songs with the kids from the academy, showing their effort to support the kids went deeper than just playing at the show.

Starting off the night was Andy Huculiak and Cayne McKenzie, two thirds of We Are The City. They played a couple new songs, teasing their upcoming album, which were amazing. Dark and moody, but quite catchy; definitely had me excited to hear the full thing. They ended with "That's All" from their most recent EP, High School.

Victoria's Aidan Knight was up next with part of his band, Julia Wakal & Olivier Clements (jokingly dubbing themselves "The Aidan Knight Chamber Trio Orchestra"). They played mostly newer songs, from last year's Small Reveal, starting with "A Mirror" and then the contemplative "Master's Call", and then getting everyone to hum along to the end of "Magic Cupboards".

Next up was the combined forces of Hannah Georgas and Mother Mother's Ryan Guldemond. Starting with Hannah's "Enemies" and then Ryan's "I Go Hungry", they traded off songs, backing each other up. They also brought out some help, first Hannah bringing out Shad to sing backup on "Waiting Game" and they wrapped up their portion with all the kids from the St James Music Academy coming out to join in on (a slightly cleaned up version of) Mother Mother's "Bit By Bit"

The first half of the night ended with a secret surprise guest, none other than Dan Mangan. He played a couple songs, first flanked by Vertesi and Knight for a cover of David Bazan's "Strange Negotiations" and then the SJMA kids joining him for "Oh Fortune", the line "nice to have the kids around" being especially poignant and heartwarming.

After an intermission, the SJMA kids came back for a song of their own, and then slam poet  C.R. Avery took the stage. First showing off his unique harmonica beat boxing, then taking a seat at the keyboard for a song. For his last song, he was joined by Hey Ocean's Andrew Rasmussen on the keys for more of a spoken word number.

Shad was up next with one of the best moments of the night; he was joined by Vertesi and Andy & Cayne as his backing band for a great remix of We Are The City's "Happy New Year". They stayed to back him up for his own song, "Exile", and then he ended his set alone, with the spoken word soliloquy from the end of "Live Forever"

An acoustic Yukon Blonde was up next, joined by Matt Kelly on keys. Their usually high energy set was calmed down, but no less impressive, especially their stellar harmonies. They played some of their mellower songs, "Loyal Man" and one they said they don't get to play too often, "Guns".

And finally, wrapping up the night was Hey Ocean! After starting with "Big Blue Wave", they kept the collaborative spirit of the night going, with Shad and Avery joining them for "Vagabond", then as they went into a cover of Arcade Fire's "Sprawl II", The Aidan Knight Chamber Trio Orchestra jumped on stage to join them joined them. Finally, they invited not only the kids, but all the musicians of the night back on stage for a cover of Annie Lennox's "Walking On Broken Glass" for a huge, heartwarming ending.

I said on my blog post for the last one "It would be cliché to call it a magical night, but there is hardly any better description", and that rings true to this year as well. It was an amazing night, with everyone from the musicians to the venue donating their time and effort, so all the proceeds could go towards the SJMA, and I can only imagine what it must have been like for the kids themselves who were involved.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The First Annual Doomy Awards!

This is the time of year where everyone usually comes out with their lists. Best songs, best albums, best shows, best whatevers. And in the past, I have as well. But you know what? Everyone does lists. And no one cares. Lists are no longer cool. They are the opposite of bowties. (Bowties are cool.)
So, in lieu of a list, I give you the moment you didn't realise you've all been waiting for:

The First Annual Doomy Awards
Awarded for Outstanding Musical Musicianship in the field of Music.

I have taken this year's music and have decided to give my favourite songs, albums, artists, or musical moments the "props" they deserve. In the form of randomly named award categories. And I want to stress, even though the categories may be silly or tongue in cheek, these are legitimately some of my favourite songs, albums and artists of the year.

And now, without further ado... on with the show, this is it!

Best Homonym in a Song Title:
"Not Knot in my Heart" by The Zolas
from the album Ancient Mars

Most Brain-Meltingly Insane Collaboration That Absolutely Works:
"You Man? Human???" by The Flaming Lips featuring Nick Cave
from the album The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends

Song Most Likely to Convince You to Commit a Felony:
"I Wanna Rob A Bank" by Jason Collett
from the album Reckon

Song Most Likely to Make You Endlessly Sob:
"Margaret Downe" by Aidan Knight
from the album Small Reveal

Best Petition Song:
"" by John K Samson
from the album Provincial (petition link)

Longest and Therefor Best Song:
"We Drift Like Worried Fire" by Godspeed You! Black Emperor
from the album 'Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!

Longest and Therefor Best Song Title:
"Hold On When You Get Love and Let Go When You Give It" by Stars
from the album The North

Song That I Most Want to Direct a Music Video For That Ends with Everyone Waltzing:
"Springtime" by Wintermitts
from the album Oceans

Best Interlude Song (less than two minutes) I Wish was Fleshed Out into a Full One:
"Safe Harbour" by Said the Whale
from the album Little Mountain

Best Summer Song (to be released in the fall):
"Young & Lazy" by The Matinée
first single from the forthcoming album We Swore We’d See the Sunrise

Blurriest hands while playing the banjo AND loveliest voice:
"The Bear" by Shred Kelly
from the album In The Hills

Best Song That is not, in fact, a Sonny & Cher Cover:
"I Got You Babe" by Bahamas
from the album Barchords

Best Song for a Girl to Yell "This is My Jam!!!" to in the Club:
"Shortie" by Hannah Georgas
from the album Hannah Georgas

Best Genre Fake-Out:
The beginning of "The Beat" by Elisapie
the lead song from the album Travelling Love

Best Song Pairing:
"Hot Blooded Man" and "Black Magic Woman" by Bend Sinister
from the album Small Fame

Most Beautiful Album That is Really Kind of Depressing Once You Find Out What it's About:
Spectral Dusk by Evening Hymns

Best Album Made in Ten Weeks, at a rate of One Song per Week:
Scrappy Happiness by Joel Plaskett Emergency

Best Use of a Space Clarinet on an album:
Mean Sun by Brasstronaut

Best Album To Listen to While Slowly Descending into Madness:
Toward the Low Sun by Dirty Three

Album Most Likely to LITERALLY Blow Your Mind:
Valtari by Sigur Rós

Album That Most Needs to be Listened to Front-to-Back:
Coyote by Matt Mays

Song Lyric That Will Likely Hit a Little TOO Close to Home in a Few Years:
‘I spent my 20’s on rock and roll, I’ll spend my 30’s feeling old."
- "20's" by Rah Rah
from the album The Poet's Dead

Best Song to Misinterpret as about Batman:
"Rise, rise, rise from your bed..." 
"Lungs" by The Tom Fun Orchestra
from the album Earthworm Heart

Best Use of a Curse Word Interjected into a Real Word:
"yeah the kind who fights the good fight / not the kind you find / fisti-fucking-cuffing in the dirt"
- "Dread in my Heart" by Mother Mother
from the album The Sticks

Worst Advice in a Song Lyric:
"You get these urges to just drive when you're drunk / I have these urges to just ride along" 
"My Girl" by Yukon Blonde
from the album Tiger Talk

Best Shout Out to a CBC Radio 3 Host AND Best Use of Hair in a Band:
"Laaaanaaaa Gaaayyyyy"
- "Take Me Back (To The Place)" by beekeeper
from the Take Me Back (To The Place) 7"

Most Strangely Arousing Lyric:
"Wait / Don't go / You turn me on so / With your bee-sting lips / And your pepper-grinder hips" 
- "The End of That" by Plants & Animals
from the album The End of That

Best Video Featuring an Author of This Blog:
"Gorbechev" by 41st and Home, video by Amazing Factory

Best Reason to Be Alive:
Rich Aucoin's live shows

And there you have it. Once again, these really do represent some of my favourite things in music this year, and I encourage you to click to your hearts content, until all the blue links above have turned purple (or whatever your colour scheme may be).
Congratulations to all the winners, and here's hoping for another year with just as many excellent albums, songs, musicians, and fake award fodder.