Sunday, March 31, 2013

Matt Mays @ Commodore -- 03/28/13

To say it was an emotional show would be a massive understatement. Only a couple days before Matt Mays was set to return to the Commodore Ballroom in Vancouver, his longtime friend and guitarist Jay Smith was found dead in a hotel room in Edmonton.
With what I can only imagine to be a heavy heart, Mays announced that they would finish up the last couple dates of the tour, with all proceeds going into a trust fund set up for Smith's family.
There is also a paypal link on the front page of Mays' website, which you can also donate to, if you missed the show.

I got to the Commodore part way through the first band of the night, Vancouver's We Hunt Buffalo. They were in the top three of the 2102 Fox Seeds competition, and they were pretty much exactly what you would expect from a "Fox Rocks" band. Loud, heavy guitars, hard drumming, and gruff vocals, they were very much a grungy, garage rawk band. And while they certainly were not bad at what they did, it was just not my thing.

Next up was July Talk. I had heard one song from them in rotation on CBC Radio 3, but didn't know what to expect, but they impressed me almost right away. Peter Dreimanis and Leah Fay share vocals, with a huge contrast between his whiskey and cigarette fuelled rasp and her soft yet powerful voice; the two voices shouldn't mix, and yet they do so very well. The pair also had a great energy and playfulness on stage, constantly moving around and interacting with other members of the band, a few times Peter getting in Leah's face, and her teasingly shoving him away. And the playfulness didn't end on stage, Leah at one point borrowed the sunglasses of a fan up front for a song, and tossed her scarf to someone else mid-way through the set.
Their obvious passion for playing was infectious, and their blues-twinged rock, from the incendiary stomper, "The Garden" to the final song of the night, the catchy "Paper Girl". The band definitely gained a fan that night (me), and I would love to see them again next time they're in town.

And finally, it was time for Matt Mays. The band came out carrying a single lit candle, and immediately launched into "Indio", the first song from his most recent album Coyote. Mays has always been raw and passionate when performing, but his emotion really came through tonight. Songs like "Loveless" just oozed raw emotion, and lyrics became much more poignant. In "Dull Knife" Mays crooned "In this vicious life we lead / give us grace / give us speed" and later in the set, during "City of Lakes", he took special care with the suddenly heartbreaking line "I lost a friend in this past year / I miss his guitar playing in my ear"
But the most emotional moment was part way through the set when the band took a brief break and Mays introduced the sombre "Chase the Light" as a song for anyone feeling lost. By the end, the entire crowd was singing along, followed by at least a full minute of the most heartfelt applause imaginable. Mays was visibly moved, taking a moment to compose himself before moving on to "Travellin'", the band slowly joining him before it burst into another big sing-along.
He ended the main set with "Cocaine Cowgirl", building into a massive ending, but was back out for the usual encore with one of my all time favourite songs, the heartwrenching and epic "Terminal Romance", and brought the night -- and the tour -- to an end with July Talk joining the band on stage for "On The Hood".

And as the band was leaving the stage, Matt Mays and his band stopped in the middle of the stage, picked up the still burning candle and huddled around it for a moment, before going.

Indio, Stoned, Take it on Faith, Loveless, 13 Days [JJ Cale cover], Tall Trees, Dull Knife, Chase the Light, Travellin', Move Your Mind, City of Lakes, Cocaine Cowgirl.
(encore) Terminal Romance, On The Hood.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Royal Canoe @ Biltmore -- 03/25/13

I don't think it's any exaggeration to say Royal Canoe is among my favourite live bands right now. They are constantly touring and seem to come through Vancouver every few months, which mean I've had the fortune of seeing them a few times in the last year and a half, and every time I do they continue to impress me.
(Also, how cool is that gig poster?)

Opening the night was Vancouver's Christopher Smith. I had seen him once before, but sandwiched between two great bands, and he kind of got lost in the shuffle, so I was interested in seeing him again. His dark and moody, yet lush alt-pop sound was pretty captivating, though a lot of the songs were kind of the same tempo.
There also wasn't much banter from Smith, but I later found out he was suffering from food poisoning, so even though that wasn't noticeable, it could have been the reason.
He did a cover of Fever Ray's "If I Had A Heart", and highlights of the set were the haunting "Pillars and Pyre" and the final song, I believe called "No Light Could Pass Though Me so I Have a Shadow", which built up to an intense ending; definitely the strongest song.
I have a feeling that Smith's music is the kind you appreciate more and more as you continue to listen to it, so I am looking forward to seeing him again after getting better acquainted with his most recent album, Earning Keep.

Soon after that, the six members of Royal Canoe took the stage with their assortment of instruments. With dual drummers -- one on a full kit and on on a drum pad and floor tom -- and as many keyboards and synth as they had members, it was actually the first time I had seem them where everything fit properly on stage.
They started the set with the insanely infectious "Show Me Your Eyes" off their most recent 7" Purple and Gold building dense and intricate wall-of-sound electro-pop that manages to be both complex and catchy. 
They sprinkled the set with a few new songs, building anticipation for the new album that they teased would be out late spring/early summer. The new songs sounded like a great progression of their sound, and I can't wait to hear how the new album sounds.

There were a few older songs in the set, too, including one song I never thought I would hear. It was the song that introduced me to to the band and hooked me, and one that I always lament (sometimes loudly) they never play live. But after the pestering of a certain blogger or two, they played it for the first (and likely last) time in a few years, "Kasparov", a ridiculously catchy love song between Garry Kasparov & Deep Blue with plenty of clever wordplay & chess puns.

They followed that up with "Bathtubs", a bombastic song with as many musical twists than some bands have in full albums, and another new tune, before finishing off with "Nightcrawlin'", a dark and lush song with the vocal processors on Matt Peters' voice giving it a deep and electronic, almost demonic, quality. And then they were of course back for an encore, with "Dear June" starting soft before bursting into a frantic ending, a great way to end the night.

Royal Canoe is one of the most interesting, most unique, and just flat out best live bands right now. They are incredibly tight and just full of energy, and never fail to impress. The last few times I've seen them, I've been with people who had not, and the reaction has been the same: "Wow!" 

Monday, March 18, 2013

41st & Home @ St James Hall -- 03/15/13

It's been about a full year since the last 41st & Home, with their regular five members, but with all the members back in town they were ready to get back into the swing of things. And the first stop? St James Hall. That was where I saw them the very first time, three years ago when they were just "some band playing with We Are The City and Aidan Knight", but they've grown a fair amount in the that time.

Starting off the night was Skye Wallace with an eclectic backing band: bass flute, timpani drum, violin, and even a saw for a couple songs. Her lovely voice drove the folky sound, which filled the church venue beautifully. There was maybe a lack of variety in songs early on in the set, but as she went on the songs gradually picked up the pace, and by the end she had added a couple more members to the band, including 41st & Home's Garth Covernton on drums (who was drumming for every band that night). The last few songs definitely stood out the most, with the set as a whole building wonderfully; I would be interested in catching her live again at some point.

Next up was the spacey synth-pop of Facts. When I saw them last year as part of the Peak Performance Project, their set was plagued with some audio problems, but this time was a better.
With a swirling cacophony of new wave-y synth, the vocals bounced between three members of the band, which lead to an interesting mix of lead vocals, sometimes muddled, sometimes crisp, depending on who sang. Their set included a cover of Sarah McLachlan's "Ice Cream" and their single, the catchy "Retro Ocean". Each member of the band very upbeat with an almost frantic energy and they put on a pretty fun live show, and I'm glad they sounded a lot better than last time.

Not long after, it was time for the main event. And right off the bat, you could tell 41st and Home was glad to be back, the giant grins on all of their faces giving away their joy as they took the stage.
With projections of ambient shapes and patterns behind them (only visible after a couple songs when they got the stage lights turned off) they started off with a new song, playing a set that was about split between old material and brand new. Familiar favourites included "Eva", which build to an grandiose ending -- a trait shared by many of their songs -- and the haunting "Wilderness Eyes".
The new material sounded really good; it was unmistakably "41st & Home", but also showed some growth. Two that caught my ear were "Gold", another song that built up to a huge ending and featured great harmonizing between Thom Kolb and Patrick Fiore. The other was a slow jam that featured a little more of Sejal Narsey on vocals called "Breathe"
They brought the set to an "end" with "Gorbechev" drawing up to a completely chaotic ending, but were back for one more -- after Thom nearly thought he broke his guitar -- "Hummingbird", which wasn't quite as tight as the rest of the night. Perhaps they still had a bit of stage rust, perhaps Garth was reaching his end after being behind the drum kit all night (which would be perfectly understandable). But with that aside, they put on a good show, and I am looking forward to seeing what comes next. 

Monday, March 11, 2013

Jess Hill EP Release @ Princess Haus -- 03/09/13

From the very first time I heard Jess Hill on the radio, while she was a part of the second Peak Performance Project, my ears were instantly in love. For a long time, I've had a soft spot for female artists with strong voices and a bit of a country edge -- for which I blame Neko Case -- and Jess Hill definitely fits. 
It's been a couple years since she's released an album, and far too long since I've seen her play live, so I was excited to celebrate the release of her new EP Pieces. Jess invited people into her home for an intimate house show in her East Vancouver abode, dubbed Princess Haus, mixing friends and family and fans alike. 

I got there just as Scott Bell was wrapping up his opening set. From what I caught, he seemed like a pretty decent, but standard singer/songwriter. 

It wasn't long then before Jess Hill began her set, starting off alone with the title track to the new EP, "Pieces" before being joined by members of Maria In The Shower as her backing band. The folk-y, alt-country sound was driven by her gorgeous voice, which went from soft and heartbreaking in songs like "Capsized", to eerie and haunting in "Give Me Your Ghost", to strong and powerful in "Orchard", that very first song that hooked me instantly. 

She was joined by Scott Bell for "It Don't Matter", also off the new EP, and included a few songs that were even newer, not yet recorded. One of which I didn't catch the name of, but was one of my favourites of the set, a beautiful but a somewhat dark song which had a sing along portion, and another which I believe was called "Pollinating", which had the lyrics to the chorus posted up on the wall, and they ended with the band walked off stage as they, along with the entire room, repeated the chorus. It was a really cool and memorable moment, the audience singing long after they were gone. And of course, due to overwhelming demand, she was back for one more song.

The show was very intimate, and Jess' demeanour on "stage" reflected that. It probably helped that it was a house show, but she has stage presence that draws you in, and her intimate lyrics makes you feel like you need to be drinking whiskey in a dimly lit cabaret. 

After Jess there was a brief interlude with one of the members of Maria in the Shower and the drummer from The Nautical Miles improvising some jazz while two people did some improvised interpretive dance, and then The Nautical Miles finished the night with some fun, upbeat folk-roots. Frontman Corbin Murdoch was bursting with energy, and the whole band seemed almost too "big" for the living room space (proven when a light fixture paid the price) with songs like the effortlessly catchy "Mythmaker", and the anthemic "Something New For America", which had a few people singing and stomping along. 
I enjoyed their set, and am looking forward to seeing them again soon, in a "proper" venue. 

Saturday, March 9, 2013

The Ruffled Feathers w/ Julia McDougall @ Biltmore -- 03/07/13

It seems like it's been quite some time since I've seen either The Ruffled Feathers or Julia McDougall perform live, so it was nice that they 

Unfortunately I missed the first band of the night, Oldfolks Home, arriving shortly before Regina's Julia McDougall hit the stage. Julia formerly performed under the name Julia & Her Piano, so it was appropriate that it was just her & a piano on stage, with her smooth voice and folk-pop songs drawing the crowd up to sit on the floor at the front of the stage.

Aside from a collection of catchy songs, what really made her stand out was her sense of humour. She chatted with the crowd between songs, telling stories behind songs or just random non-sequiturs, with her banter being little goofy and awkward, but at the same time very charming and hilarious.

Highlights from the set included a couple tracks from her latest EP, I Don't Really Care; the beautiful title track, and "Married", which had Ruffled Feather Andrew Lee on stage to join her for backup vocals. Andrew and Julia have a history of performing together, which mostly consists of Julia doing her best to embarrass Andrew on stage. (She succeeded)

Julia is a fun performer to watch live, and I hope she's back again soon.

There was a fairly quick turnaround and it wasn't long before The Ruffled Feathers was up, easing into their set with "Your Embrace", starting soft and quiet before ramping up into a lush ending, a trait that is shared in many of their songs. 

Their rich, chamber-pop sound is driven by the sweet voice of guitarist Gina Loes on vocals, with trumpetite Andrew Lee and Charley Wu -- on mandolin and keyboard -- also contributing, with songs that aren't afraid to weave into other genres. "Lead Me To Destruction", which featured Charley on vocals, starting with a bit of a 50's do-wop vibe before erupting with energy, and one of the new songs they teased, called "Tough Love", had a bit of a jazzy edgy to it.

The main set came to an end with "Home", though as the guys walked off stage, Gina stayed, a little coy about the whole encore concept, and the rest of the band came back for the jubilant "Blueprints For Our Failed Revolution". They ended the night with not only the crowd to sing along, but shakers being passed out and the band marching into the crowd -- drummer Sam MacKinnon with a marching drum, Charley on accordion, and Gina with a megaphone -- for a short dance party before finishing off on stage. 

The whole band is bubbling over with energy, and that definitely comes through in their live show and infects the crowd. They played a couple and hinted at a new EP in the works, so hopefully we'll hear more from them soon. 

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Toque Sessions: beekeeper hearts Sidney York @ CBC Vancouver -- 02/28/13

Now in their fourth year, the CBC Toque Sessions is a series of free shows at the CBC Vancouver building, featuring some great local talent, and recorded for later broadcast on CBC Radio and CBC Music.

Hosted by CBC Radio 3's Grant Lawrence, this was a unique session, titled "beekeeper hearts Sidney York", with the "sibling bands" sharing the bill. Aside from being often tour-mates, the two bands also share members; Brandi Sidoryk is the voice of Sidney York and the bass of beekeeper; Luke Cyca keeps the rhythm on drums for both bands; and beekeepers's Devon Lougheed not only plays guitar with Sid occasionally, but also produced their upcoming album. 

Sidney York started the night with their unique indie-pop, with three classically trained musicians and including an oboe & bassoon, two instruments you rarely see outside an orchestra. They kicked off with the upbeat and poppy "Mile High Love" and got the crowd clapping along to the infinitely catchy "Dick & Jane".
As always, so much energy from the three ladies -- Brandi Sidoryk, Sheryl Reinhardt, and Krista Wodelet -- especially Brandi who, when not behind the keyboard, bounces around the stage.
The set also included a few new songs off their upcoming album, Hearts, which saw Devon out to join them on guitar.
Since they joined Brandi to make the group a trio, Krista and Sheryl have gotten much more comfortable on stage, and are fully integrated into the new songs, as opposed to just playing on the songs Brandi had written for the last album. A love song to technology -- as it was introduced -- "Electrolove" saw all three of them played the same keyboard, and Krista had more prominent vocals on the newer songs. After the synthy title track "Hearts", they wrapped up their half of the show with another new one, "Want You Back", a rich and lush song that had me hooked, and definitely looking forward to the new album.

Mile High Love; Dick & Jane; Doctor Doctor; Math and Fractions; Electrolove; Hearts; Want You Back.

After a brief break, the pre-recorded "Bad Advice Hotline" sounded through the studio (giving apt advice like "if you get confused, just nod") and beekeeper took the stage, launching into "Table & Bed". Their frantic, poppy math-rock can be hard to pin down, with songs routinely changing tempo, key or even time signature, but they're also ridiculously fun and unique. The songs have boundless energy, which comes from all three members, especially from Devon, who hardly stood still all night; even performing a high flying leap off an amp during "I Don't Need Hope, I Need Whiskey" -- which he admitted proved dangerous at a recent show.
They did bring it down for one calm song in the set, the low key "Drownings" saw just Devon on guitar with Luke and Brandi coming to the front of the stage for backup vocals. But they swung the energy right back as the remaining members of Sidney York came on stage for the kazoo solo (yes, kazoo solo) in the catchy-yet-out-of-left-field country swerve that "Oh Hi!" takes, and Krista & Sheryl stayed on to add their bassoon and oboe to the next couple songs.
They wrapped up the night memorably as every members from both bands took the stage for a gorgeous cover of "Your Ex-Lover is Dead", originally by Stars.

The show was a great addition to the pretty stellar lineup of CBC Toque Sessions this season. And as they draw to a close, I am hoping that next winter will see another round of great bands as the Toque Sessions continue.

Table & Bed; Sudden Cuckoo; It's the Blood; I Don't Need Hope, I Need Whisky; Drownings; Oh Hi!; Good News; Spider Webs/Insect Eyes; Your Ex-Lover is Dead [Stars cover].