Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Trews @ Commodore -- 11/29/14

Hot off the heels of their latest album, Nova Scotia's The Trews embarked on a cross-country tour. Some lucky stops got acoustic and electric performances, which unfortunately we did not as they hit Vancouver at the legendary Commodore Ballroom. Which, interestingly enough, was the very first place I saw them play ten years & a month ago, opening for Big Sugar.

I got to the venue just to catch the last couple songs from The Glorious Sons. The Kingston five-piece had a pretty straight-forward hard rock sound -- maybe a little too "rawk" for my tastes -- but had a great energy. And the crowd was definitely reciprocating, as a clearly strong fanbase for the band sang along with "Mama", the charismatic lead singer Brett Emmons thrashing and headbanging about the stage.
I definitely wouldn't be surprised if, in a few years, they're headlining the Commodore on their own.

Not long after that, the screens lit up and The Trews took the stage to a canned intro, before John-Angus MacDonald picked up the guitar for the intro of the first song off their new self-titled album -- and namesake of the tour -- "Rise in the Wake".
The Antigonish rockers has always had a great raw energy live, and this show was no different. Lead singer Colin MacDonald had the crowd in his palm from the get go, leading the packed venue to sing their hearts out as the set spanned their five albums (and more). From drinking songs like the aptly named "The Power of Positive Drinking" to songs for the troops (but not the war) "Highway of Heroes"; from all-out rockers like "Age of Miracles" to softer songs, like the sweet "In The Morning" (which was sadly lacking Serena Ryder, as Colin performed her verse as well).
They cheekily dedicated "Paranoid Freak" to Russel Brand and wished him "good luck with his revolution", I assuming a result of his new webseries called The Trews. And as they usually do, the band slipped little bits of others songs into theirs, normally just a few lines of a chorus. Rolling Stones' "She's So Cold" got the nod in "So She's Leaving", and they showed some Nova Scotian love to Joel Plaskett by adding a little of "Nowhere With You" during their self-proclaimed east coast drinking song, "Can't Stop Laughing".

The set came to an end with not one, but two showstoppers. After a phenomenal drum intro from Sean Dalton, "Poor Ol' Broken Hearted Me" burst into a huge singalong, with the band inviting Glorious Sons back on stage to play with them -- and even letting Brett Emmons do a little bit of their song "Mama" in the middle. And after that they wrapped up the main set with another fiery old favourite, "Hold Me In Your Arms" during which the band slipped offstage to leave John-Angus shredding front and centre before he too disappeared from stage, only to come out the side door, walk to the back of the venue, into the sound booth, then back to the stage through the other side... all while maintaining the solo. THEN getting back on stage and accompanying himself on kick drum, before the rest of the band came back to finish.

If they hadn't come back, it would have been a great ending to the show, but they returned for the obligatory encore; an acoustic singalong to another drinking song -- and one of my favourites -- "Ishmael and Maggie" before a cover of Roger Miller's "King of the Road", and finally ending the night night off on one last rocking note, a one-two punch of their first hit "Not Ready to Go" and "New King" from the new album.

Having seen them a number of times now in the last ten years, I am never disappointed by a Trews live show. Their talent and passion, and raw energy, culminate to make them one of the finest live performers this country has to offer.

Rise in the Wake, Fair is Fair, The Power of Positive Drinking, So She's Leaving (w/ She's So Cold [Rolling Stones]), Age of Miracles, Paranoid Freak, Sing Your Heart Out, Hope & Ruin, Oblivion, Where There's Love, Tired of Waiting, In The Morning, Can't Stop Laughing (w/ Nowhere With You [Joel Plaskett]), Permanent Love, Highway of Heroes, Poor Ol' Broken Hearted Me (w/ Mama [Glorious Sons]), Hold Me in Your Arms. 
(encore) Ishmael & Maggie, King of the Road [Roger Miller cover], Not Ready To Go, New King.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Matthew Good @ Rio Theatre -- 11/27/14

When the ticket website StubHub announced that their "Next Stage" concert series would include an acoustic Matthew Good at the Rio Theatre, I knew there was no way I could miss it. Good has long been a favourite of mine, and his solo acoustic shows are among the best shows I have seen, especially when in a relatively intimate venue.

Toronto's Dani Jean (also of Mickey Loves Mallory) started things off for the night, behind the keys with a stripped down, soulful pop sound. Her breathy vocals drove haunting songs, many of which seemed to be about various stages of love.
Mid-way through her short set she swapped to an acoustic guitar for a song called "Broken Angels"
and a cover of "Habits" by Tove Lo (which I had never actually heard before, but from the lyrics could tell it was more of a pop song than her gentle interpretation) before going back to hey keyboard for one last one, a song called "Hurts Like Hell".
She put on an enjoyable set, and I would be interested to hear what she's like with a full band, or as part of the Mickey Loves Mallory project.

Matthew Good took the stage armed with his guitar, launching right into "Strange Days" from one of my favourite albums of all time, Beautiful Midnight for a two-hour set that spanned nearly his entire career. He reached as far back as the hidden track on his debut Last of the Ghetto Astronauts -- and what may have been the first popular use of the phrase "first world problems" -- "Omissions of the Omen" where he broke a string on his guitar; had the entire crowd singing along in a hushed choir for "Symbolistic White Walls"; played a few older favourites like "So Long Ms Smith" and a re-worked "Truffle Pigs" all from the Matt Good Band days.

The set also included a few personal favourites, like "Prime Time Deliverance" a powerful song that never fails to give me chills; the intense "A Boy And His Machine Gun", which I don't think I had ever heard live before; and the usually-symphonic "While We Were Hunting Rabbits" simplified to a cool acoustic version while Good's voice soared and filled the theatre.

There were a few songs that were completely re-worked to fit the acoustic format. The frantic and thumping "Load Me Up" was turned into a slower, almost alt-country flavoured song. "Alert Status Red" into a classic protest song. He even mentioned that more songs would probably be given acoustic versions, as he will be embarking on an acoustic tour next April, following his new album in March.

As is the case with most of his acoustic shows, the atmosphere was very relaxed and candid. There were a few small flubs during songs, but when he admitted to screwing something up, or not remembering lyrics to songs he hadn't played in 15 years, it didn't come across as "bad". His proclivity to banter with the crowd between songs made it feel less like a show, and more like some friends sitting around someone's living room. He even occasionally chatted to people one-on-one as he recognised longtime fans in the crowd, or people from his past.

During the set he talked about everything from behind-the-scenes jokes, and why he changed some songs and couldn't play others -- at one point he just let people yell song titled and explaining why he couldn't play each (sometimes sincerely, sometimes glibly). He went from the absurd (don't get into music, get into washroom fixtures) to political (who exactly declares that there is a "war" on Christmas?) and everything in between (Lamb's Rum) as the show was about three quarters music and one quarter storytelling.

After a sold hour and a half, he brought the main set to an end with "Apparitions" -- which, when someone yelled it out earlier he joked of course he was going to play it, they day that he didn't would be the day he was beaten to death by fans -- before he was obviously back out for a few more including a song that his record label deemed "too country", "Hopeless", and the absolutely gorgeous and heartwrenching "Sort of a Protest Song", before finally ending the night on a positive note, his fantastic cover of Daniel Johnston's "True Love Will Find You In The End".

I've said countless times before on this very blog that Matthew Good ranks among my all time favourite musicians, and it's shows like this that cements that position. How he can effortlessly shift from light-hearted banter to heavy, dark songs. His powerful voice that, even if it can't still hit the highs, can blast you right in the chest and rip open your heart. He played for two hours, and I probably still could have stayed for more. 

Strange Days, Tripoli, Born Losers, A Boy And His Machine Gun,  99% Of Us is Failure, Truffle Pigs, Symbolistic White Walls, Prime Time Deliverance, So Long Ms. Smith, Metal Airplanes, While We Were Hunting Rabbits, Omissions of the Omen, Load Me Up, Apparitions. 
(encore) Alert Status Red, Silent Army in the Trees, Empty Road, Hopeless, Sort of a Protest Song, True Love Will Find You In The End.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

3am Mixtapes: Episode Fifty Nine: Space!

Each week on the 3am Mixtapes podcast, I will share with you the Top Six Songs of a certain subject. The topics can be as general as most perfect songs. Some might be a little more... specific. Top Six Songs To Play While Punching and Kicking The Air To Get Your Frustrations On Life Out.

And this week is going to be a little topical. Inspired by something that happened last week, it's the Top Six Interstellar Songs!

Space out to:

"The Universe Expanded by Franz Ferdinand
"What If I Can't See The Stars Mildred? by Matthew Good
"Go Go Space Man by Top Less Gay Love Tekno Party
"Cosmic Destroyer by Chad VanGaalen
"Cold Moon by The Zolas
"Space Oddity by David Bowie

Any questions or comments or waffles or criticisms or suggestions for future themes are welcome!

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Monday, November 17, 2014

Paper Lions @ Media Club -- 11/14/14

Flashback to two years ago -- almost to the day. I was at the Media Club to see PEI's Paper Lions as they came through town, and I remember looking around at the modest crowd and being so angry. This is a band that way more people need to see live! I thought. Cut to this past weekend, as they rolled through town again, still touring strong on their 2013 album My Friends, this time to a packed and sold out club.

Opening the night was Djavin Bowen and the Uproar. Maybe. Despite the promo material saying Lonesome North, lead singer Djavin Bowen introduced themselves as such, and even hinted it was a temporary name. Whatever they are called, the seven-piece included members of Young Pacific and other local bands, and even a trumpeteer -- whose tuxedo was in contrast to the rest of the bands' t-shirts and denim -- to fill out their sound.
With a high energy, their songs were filled with an indie pop vibe, occasionally sauntered into folk territory, and had some catchy songs; a few that were definitely made to sing along to, and an ambitious cover of Arcade Fire's "Sprawl II" that broke down into some folksy harmonies at the end.
The set was a little rough, perhaps because they are a fairly new band, but is was not bad. Not great either, but someone to keep an ear out for in the future (if you can figure out what they're called).

Not long after it was time for Paper Lions, starting with lead singer John MacPhee taking the stage alone, with a drum machine pumping out the beats to "Bodies In Winter" as the rest of the band burst in mid-song. From there they hit the gas on their incredibly infectious indie rock, spanning from old favourites like "Sweat It Out", that had the crowd appropriately yelling along with the chorus, "I'll sweat it out from nine to five, to sweat it out on Friday night", to a rockin' song from their newest EP, Acquaintances, called "Do You Wanna".
Songs ranged from the softer, harmony-laden "Ghostwriters" to the all-out-rocket "Strawberry Man", which goes all the way back to their time as the Chucky Danger Band. The latter they may have even broke some strings -- or worse -- as the band had to quickly duck off stage to fix it while John told the story about the video for their next song, "Travellin'".
After one of my favourites, the ferociously catchy "Lost The War", they wrapped up the main set with "My Friend", John jumping into the crowd at the end to proclaim each person in the crowd his friend, doling out hugs and high fives while singing.
But of course, they were not quite done as the encore began with drummer David Cyrus MacDonald exploding into a drum roll that would make "Wipeout" blush, as the band joined him for the fierce "So Lonely", and wrapped up the night with one of my favourites from the new album, "Sandcastles", leaving the crowd with the sentiment "We build sandcastles, knowing that they'd wash away"

Paper Lions are such a strong live band, the four members having incredible chemistry together on stage, with near-perfect harmonies, and put on one hell of a fun show. I'm already looking forward to the next time they're through town.

Bodies In Winter, Stay Here For Awhile, Sweat It Out, Philadelphia, Don't Touch That Dial, Ghostwriters, Do You Wanna, Little Liar, Strawberry Man, Travellin', Lost the War, My Friend.
(encore) So Lonely, Sandcastles. 

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Harpoonist & The Axe Murderer @ Commodore -- 10/09/14

Two years ago was the first time I saw The Harpoonist and The Axe Murderer, as part of the Peak Performance Project, And since then, I have had the worst luck seeing them again; every single time they played, I was cursed to miss it for one reason or another.
But finally, I broke that "streak" earlier this year at the Burnaby Blues & Roots Fest when they played a short set, and now I finally got to see them headlining a show of their own. And not just any show, their first headlining show at the legendary Commodore Ballroom, in front of a sold out crowd.

Unfortunately, I missed the openers Petunia & The Vipers, arriving at the venue a couple minutes before The Harpoonist & The Axe Murderer hit the stage, adorned with over a dozen bare lightbulbs. The duo of Shawn "The Harpoonist" Hall on harmonica & vocals, and Matt "The Axe Murderer" Rogers on guitar and kickdrum were joined by a pair of lovely & powerful backup vocalists, Dawn Pemberton and Jody "Miss Quincy" Peck, and later on "Major" Tom Heuckendorff on organ to fill out the sound.

Starting off by teasing a verse of their song "Roll With the Punches" -- which was reprised a few times throughout the set, but for some reason never paid off with the full song -- they launched into an hour-plus set that focused on songs from their new album A Real Fine Mess. Their gritty, swampy blues sound drives straight into your soul, with songs like "Mama's In The Back Seat" with its frantic rhythm; the rollicking "Act Your Age", letting both Pemberton and Peck shine on backup vocals; and the Big Sugar-ish funk of the almost-title-track "A Real Fine Noise".

Part way through the set, the pair let the rest of the band take a break -- as Shawn joked they wanted to hog the spotlight -- for a pair of songs that included a bit of a slower song, "In The End", and one written by Matt's brother, Ben Rogers, "Love Me 'fore Ya Leave Me".
After a few more, they wrapped up the set by somehow taking things up another notch, with a one-two punch of "Wake Up" and the explosive "Get Out", both from their previous act "Checkered Past". And of course, they were back out for a couple more, enlisting in the aid of Miss Quincy & The Showdown drummer Jen Foster, for the aptly titled "Shake It", and wrapped everything up with "In And Out Of Love".

You wouldn't think that a show where the two main band members sit on stools all night would be dynamic, but in this case, you would be wrong. Even though both stayed seated for the set, they drew the crowd in with plenty of opportunities to clap, stomp, & sing along, and had energy to spare. Proof could easily be found on Shawn's shirt, which was soaked with sweat by the end (probably Matt's too, but his was darker to begin with). The duo was also vocally and visibly honoured to wrap up their tour with a packed hometown show, at the Commodore.

When they first announced they would be playing there, I was a little surprised, as I didn't realise that they had become a "Commodore band". But what didn't surprise me was watching them tear it up. They put on a great show, and I only hope this means my luck has turned, and I am able to catch them again next time.

Roll With the Punches (pt I), Cry a Little, Do Whatcha, Act Your Age, Don't Make 'em Like They Used To, A Real Fine Noise, Roll With the Punches (pt II), Mama's In the Backseat, Tea for Two, In the End, Love Me 'fore Ya Leave Me, Feel Me Now, Are You Listening Lord, Sweat This Pain, Roll With the Punches (pt III), Wake Up, Get Out.
(encore) Shake It, In and Out of Love.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

3am Mixtapes: Episode Fifty Eight: Rainy Nights

Each week on the 3am Mixtapes podcast, I will share with you the Top Six Songs of a certain subject. The topics can be as general like like best winter songs. Some might be a little more... specific. Top Six Arbour Day Songs.

And now that we're in the rainy season -- in Vancouver, anyway -- why not take a look at the Top Six Rainy Night Songs!

Hear the drops of:

"Crushed Pleats" by Dralms
"If Only" by T. Nile
"Banks" by Rococode
"Make You Better" by The Decemberists
"Loud Talker" by David Vertesi
"Movin' Away" by My Morning Jacket

Any questions or comments or waffles or criticisms or suggestions for future themes are welcome!

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Monday, November 3, 2014

The Strumbellas @ Imperial -- 10/30/14

I've said a few times before on this blog, there's a certain ubiquitous folk sound that I have just "gotten over". Maybe it was the over saturation, maybe I've just moved past it, but I find myself thinking it less and less interesting.
That being said, there are still some bands that prove there's still some good folk out there, and The Strumbellas is one of them. Which the Toronto band did last week as they took to The Imperial, as part of their Ride On North America Tour.

First up was Edmonton's The Provincial Archive. The four-piece had a poppy, folsky sound reminiscent of early Decemberists, as they played songs from their recent album It's All Shaken Wonder. 
Starting with the lead off track from the album, "Daisy Garden", lead singer Craig Schram introduced every song with a brief story, occasionally switching off between guitar and banjo, and even taking one song solo as the rest of the band took a break for "Land Machines".
The crowd stadily grew, and made their way towards the stage, as the set went on thanks to catchy songs like "Common Cards", and "Weight and Sea" from their previous album,  Maybe We Could Be Holy, which got some clapping along,
Their set ran for about 45 minutes -- maybe a little long for an opener -- but it was a solid set nonetheless, and I'm looking forward to the next time they're back.

The six members of The Strumbellas packed the stage launching immediately into "Home Sweet Home" from their Juno winning album We Still Move On Dance Floors, getting the crowd doing just that.

The entire band had a great energy and presence on stage -- especially David Ritter on keys and lead singer Simon Ward -- and a very loose vibe; they joked around with the crowd, and never wasted an opportunity to needle each other. They made even a packed Imperial feel like an intimate hangout in someone's living room.

Musically, their "folk popgrass" sound had songs ranging from a slower, country jams to a fiery rocking  and everything inbetween -- with plenty of stompin' and clappin' and singing along to their deceptively upbeat songs, a lot of which about death. Highlights included the anthemic "End of an Era", the explosive energy of "Sheriff", and a new song that they "weren't finished fighting about".
There was also a great moment where Simon said he was going to try a song off-mic, unplugging his guitar and stepping to the front of the stage for a beautiful song "The Fire", as the rest of the band joined him off-mic and the crowd shushed each other into silence.

They wrapped up the main set with "Sailing", but of course were back for more -- one member joking that the whole encore concept was "More awkward than sleeping with your wife's sister" -- and they wrapped up with a couple more, including the raucous "Did I Die" that even included a harmonized rap from Simon & David.