We Went To A Show | POND @ The Biltmore Cabaret

 

Review Alex Richardson      Photos Nicole Jorgensen

On a rainy Saturday night in Vancouver, Pond filled the suffocatingly small stage of the Biltmore. The intimate venue proved an excellent setting for the Australian five-piece band to blast through their fuzzed-out, pop rock arrangements. Drenched in the psychedelic vibe of your dad’s record collection, this project consists of Tame Impala member Jay Watson, Joe Ryan, Jamie Terry, and spritely lead man Nick Allbrook, often featuring numerous collaborators.

The set started with 30000 Megatons, the opener to their new album The Weather. Although many lyrics such as, "We need 30000 megatons, push the button now" and, "How can you smile you must be, sick or mad to stay on Earth,” strike an air of melancholy or a downright depressing tone, the energy never falters. Pond exemplifies their ability to craft a perfect blend of psychedelic, rock and pop.

“I fucking love it here and you should be so fucking proud to live here!” A proclamation from Allbrook that, for a moment, inspired a surge of patriotic, drunk concert goers to scream in support. Taking one dramatic step off the tiny stage into the arms of the crowd, Allbrook belted out vocals for a highlight rendition of Elvis’ Flaming Star. Although I didn’t recognize a few of their older tunes, the energy maintained its momentum. Sweep Me Off My Feet, produced by Tame Impala frontman/creator Kevin Parker, stole the show for me. This track is destined for heavy rotation on any summer road trip playlist. As a new fan of Pond, I'm stoked to hear how the record captures the sure-fire performer Allbrook’s frenetic screams, yips and woos, but fuck me, the experience of catching this band on stage and their live cosmic journey is not one to be missed. Listen to their new album, it’s a good time.

We Went To A Show | Tennis at The Biltmore Cabaret

Review Colin Crawford    Photos Nicole Jorgensen

As the chitchat died down in the Biltmore Cabaret, opener Peter Matthew Bauer took the stage in his pinstriped suit. Due to an unfortunate last minute emergency cancellation from Hoops, Bauer made his way to Vancouver on just a few days notice. Nervous but genuine, this solo act warmed the crowd. His 21st century Americana features rhythmic acoustic guitar and simple love songs. The setlist was a mix of new tracks from his upcoming album LP2 and his first record Liberation!. Bauer’s only on-stage mishap was multiple long-winded over-explanations of songs, lyrics and references. While the lack of full band instrumentation was felt throughout the set, his solo performance did lend insight into this deeply personal passion project. In the end, my curiosity was piqued enough to revisit Liberation! and I am very glad to have done so.

Yours Conditionally (Mutually Detrimental Records 2017)

The sun-faded album cover of Tennis’ new record Yours Conditionally poignantly sums up the dynamic of Tennis. Leading lady Alaina Moore confronts the camera with her gaze, while her husband and multi-instrumentalist Patrick Riley stands slightly behind her, quietly looking down. From the outset, Moore confidently challenged the audience to meet her eyes as she serenaded them.

Opening with their loungey single “In the Morning I’ll Be Better”, this band’s tight musicianship and professionalism was palpable and intoxicating. Hearing the new tracks from Yours Conditionally live just a week before their release gave us a sneak peak of the direction Tennis has taken their sound. The production is a poetic juxtaposition; written at sea on a sailing trip and recorded in the heart of the America, the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. Lyrically, Moore delivers a balance of vulnerable love songs, as well as sarcastic feminist anthems such as “My Emotions are Blinding” and “Ladies Don’t Play Guitar”. The liner notes and art book that come with the record lend insight to the intersecting themes and experiences Moore is meditating on: partnership, isolation, devotion and the pursuit of happiness. Prefacing the new song Matrimony with a disclaimer about how it might be too cheesy, Moore shared a story about how her partner Patrick Riley gave her a bad haircut right before their tiny wedding.

From shoegazey tracks on their first album Cape Dory to ‘70s roller-skate funk tracks such as “Needle and a Knife” and “I’m Callin” on Ritual in Repeat, Tennis took the crowd with them through their history as a band. Their stage presence denoted clear confidence in their material be it old or new. From start to finish on a rainy Wednesday night, the Biltmore’s dance floor was full of smiling and swaying Vancouverites.

Thank you to The Biltmore and to Sacks & Co. Music for hosting us!

We Went To A Show | Weyes Blood at The Cobalt

 

Review Colin Crawford    Photos Keiko Hart

Fatal Jamz rocks ‘80s nostalgia harder than your dad’s midlife crisis, and for the most part, they pull it off. After dedicating their set to their friend Natalie Mering (aka Weyes Blood) and thanking her for this opportunity to tour, they launched into an energetic set to an unfortunately (yet unsurprisingly) immobile Vancouver audience.  Clad in leather pants and velvet shirts, these glam-stars deliver a thick slice of power-pop from a bygone era. Accompanied by punchy drum and synth tracks, their three-piece live show layers simple bass lines, larger than life guitar solos and theatrical vocals. Fatal Jamz’s newest album Coverboy feels like the illegitimate lovechild of New Order and Bon Jovi.  Mythologizing a Los Angeles lifestyle that probably never really existed, Fatal Jamz is pretty much genre fiction in a good way. Regardless of how you feel about their music, you can’t say this project is uninteresting or uninspired. From passionate dance moves, to leaning down to kiss a fan gently on the cheek, frontman and songwriter Marion Belle embodies his dream-chasing, fame-obsessed lyrics with sincerity and charm.

After draping her embroidered velvet jacket over the front of her keyboard to reveal her trademark blue silk suit, Weyes Blood opened up her set with a slow acapella piece. Mering’s tenor voice carries a quiet, magnetic power that must be heard live to be properly experienced. With the audience’s attention now captured, the rest of the band joined Mering on stage. With such a simple stage setup, it would have been easy to miss the diversity of instrumental arrangements Weyes Blood put forth. Mering’s confidence and charisma command attention, distracting the audience from the bassist’s old school synthesizer and the keyboardist’s lap steel guitar.

The setlist at The Cobalt consisted mainly of new tracks from Weyes Blood’s critically acclaimed October album Front Row Seat To Earth. Evolving from the more conventional acoustic folk aesthetic of her previous releases The Innocents and Cardamom Times, Front Row has a much spacier, dreamier, key and synth-heavy aesthetic. Live, Weyes Blood brings another layer of energy to these songs with tight, loud percussion, bringing forward latent rock influences. Pleasing the crowd, Mering and company switched up the tempo with a bouncy rendition of Drugdealer’s song “Suddenly”, on which she is featured. Following this with a cover of the 1972 funk banger “Vitamin C”, Weyes Blood kept us guessing with a pleasantly surprising selection of originals and covers. Mering coolly scanned the audience, often suppressing a smirk and cracking dry jokes throughout the set.

At a Weyes Blood concert, you hear some ‘70s singer-songwriter folk revival with a futuristic, 21st-century spin. Mering’s craft full juxtaposition of future and past sets you firmly in the present, hanging on her every note. The maturation found on Front Row has set Weyes Blood apart from her contemporaries, and this tour is definitively proving it one city at a time.

Thanks to I am the Eggplant and The Cobalt for having us!

We Went To A Show | Half Moon Run at McPherson Playhouse

 

Review Joseph Leroux    Photos Lindsey Blane

Half Moon Run provided a dynamic live offering last Saturday night at their sold-out end-of-tour show at The Royal McPherson Playhouse. Live, the harmonies and practiced musicianship of frontmen Devon Portielje and Conner Molander, highlight the group’s fixation on classic folk and country elements that underlies their modern indie arrangements and dramatic live execution.

Onstage, Portielje was affected from first note; his leering posture and agonized face seemed cultivated to imply injury and danger. Contrasting that, surfer-haired, boyish Molander played back up duty most of the time, but was not shy in taking center stage--figuratively and sometimes literally--for guitar solos, dance moves, and tender moments with his harmonica.

Behind them, multi instrumentalists Dylan Phillips and Isaac Symonds occupied dual drum sets, while also triggering samples, playing keys, and bass and guitar. A chemistry of professionalism existed between the four of them. These boys knew how to play their songs, adept at supporting each other onstage. Briefly, Phillips even came downstage and sat at a Rhodes, and played the short interlude “Throes”, off of their 2015 release, Sun Leads Me On while the rest of the group disappeared.

I mention so much about these boys’ personalities alongside their music only because the impression I got both from the crowd and from them, was that I was watching rockstars.

When Molander stepped on stage, a woman behind me asked “who is that?” Her neighbour gleefully replied, “That’s Connor! Go Comox!” It’s true that some of the members of the band are from BC. Molander later said, as a sort of indirect reply to the enthusiasm going on behind me, and indeed everywhere else “We consider this a homecoming show, and it feels good.”

Need I say the set was well received? Security cleared out dancers from the theatre aisles several times, (“Fire code.” They said). You could dance in front of your seat, though, and so everyone did.

My excitement was tempered with a dubious skepticality. Having listened to both their records, I had never shaken the feeling that Half Moon Run’s arrangements were  noticeably derivative of their influences--big influences. This isn’t inherently bad, but I wondered if live the acoustic guitar work in “It Works Itself Out” would feel fresh, and sound to me less like a Johnny Greenwood warm-up exercise, which was my (admittedly pretentious) first impression. And what about a track like “Consider Yourself”, which owes as much to The Eagles as it does the current infatuation with 80’s synth textures? Do the bathed-in-reverb harmonies of “Everybody Wants” remind you of a recently resurrected Seattle group?

Thankfully, Half Moon Run is a band practiced enough to incorporate these already famous elements and pull it off in an honest and, as I experienced that evening at McPherson, a necessary-feeling way. The entire room was floored by their performance and star boy attitude, which for the most part avoided striding into arrogant territory. It’s clear that this quartet has potential and a keen ear, listening not only for what they can graft onto their own sound, but what they can absorb, exemplify and become.

 

We Went To A Show | James Vincent McMorrow at Alix Goolden

Review Colin Crawford  Photos Daniel Tolsma

At the end of November, Holy Smokes had the opportunity to see Irish singer-songwriter James Vincent McMorrow with special guest Allan Rayman. As a general rule, we will take any excuse to spend time in Alix Goolden Performance Hall, and this night did not disappoint. The pattering of rain on the stained glass windows, the high vaulted ceiling and the low-lighting set the atmosphere for this sold out audience of 800 eager fans.

The murmur of the crowd dimmed with the house lights as the silhouette of a hooded figure emerged onto the stage. Lit only by the glow of his pedalboard, Rayman’s sole band member looped heavily effected guitar layers on top of a cinematic backing track. After this introduction, Rayman himself confidently made his entrance sporting a long trench coat and at least five rings. Enveloped by a thick layer of smoke and subtle warm shades of underlighting, Rayman got into his unique brand of experimental soul/R&B. With unapologetic guitar epics backing Rayman’s voice, the set felt like a dark, slow, suspenseful film from the ‘80s. Rayman’s enigmatic, heavy hearted, vagabond persona Mr. Roadhouse has been carefully crafted through his lyrics, low social media profile and arthouse music videos. Rayman’s character commands attention with impassioned dancing, cringing and cackling, intoxicated by the stage. Masterfully oscillating between soft melancholy crooning and soulful growling, Rayman’s unconventional vocal style and range back up the swagger and theatrics he brings to his music. Check out his latest single 25.22 and keep an ear to the ground for this mysterious independent artist.

Drastically shifting the mood, James Vincent McMorrow and his four touring band members took the stage to Roy Ayer’s ‘Everybody Loves the Sunshine’. This Dublin native showcases his stylistic range by fusing folk, soul, gospel and jazz into a powerful live performance. Opening with a few upbeat and poppier tracks from his new record We Move, McMorrow and company filled the hall with catchy rhythms and layered instrumental and vocal harmonies. Once warmed up, we got some tuning chatter from McMorrow about how happy he was to return to Alix Goolden with a full band this go-round, as well as the fried chicken french toast he had to wait an hour for at Jam Cafe. The second section of this set featured four solo songs, including Lost Angles and a heart-wrenching piano cover of Steve Winwood’s ‘80s pop-gospel banger Higher Love. After serenading the audience alone, McMorrow called his band back to the stage to delve into crowd pleasers from his previous releases Early in the Morning and Post Tropical. In the final leg of this wonderfully lengthy set, McMorrow left the comfort of his keyboards and guitars for a few songs and got out on the front edge of the stage to just sing. Here more than ever we heard the raw power of this artist’s voice, sustaining incredible falsettos and reaching every note you hear on his records. Coming as no surprise to anyone, McMorrow closed out the night in the beautiful cathedral with his hit track Cavalier. The dramatic, crescendoing structure of this song lends itself to a feeling of closure, and with the final echo of his voice ringing in the hall, the crowd rose to their feet to say thank you.

Thanks to Atomique Productions for having us and thanks to you for reading!

-Colin Crawford

 

We Went To A Festival | Beach Goth 2016

Review & Photos   Elyse Mathes

The first problem was my sobriety. Maintaining a certain level of intoxication during a festival is like pacing yourself at Thanksgiving dinner: strategic. There is a method to the madness at music festivals and Beach Goth 2016 was madness. With HOMESHAKE drawing first blood on Saturday, and Nicolas Jaar wrapping up the festival Sunday, the moments to pursue liquor lines were few and far between.

It can’t all be milk and honey (If you want to know about the fun parts, wait.): The venue was packed. It was the most people per square festival meter I have ever witnessed. Park benches and tables vanished under the overflowing population of festivalgoers. That being said, if you take a quick breeze through the lineup, it is easy to understand why Beach Goth was a tin of sardines.

HOMESHAKE’s performance made me proud to be Canadian. The Montreal-based musician played a sexy little number Saturday afternoon. The next stand up performance was by Sagar’s tour companion, Jerry Paper, who, similar in sound, varies greatly in dance moves. If Steve Brule was an exceptional musician, his stage presence would parallel Paper’s. If you do not recognize any of the people mentioned above, please take a moment to reevaluate how you spend your free time.

The most raved about performance of the weekend, surprisingly enough, was Violent Femmes. Their set uncovered deeply suppressed nostalgia amongst festival attendees and turned a mild-tempered lot rather vicious. A mosh pit ensued that resulted in broken limbs and ambulances. Truly amazing.  A close second to Violent Femmes’ performance, and I must agree with this, was The Growlers. There are fans, and then there are fans of The Growlers. If someone were going to die for a spot in the front row, it would’ve happened during, “Going Gets Tough” on Saturday night.

In terms of music, the festival was incredibly successful. Even though TLC was lacking Left Eye, their show was full of energy and amazing choreography. King Krule balanced his angsty sound with an engaging stage presence. Inquisitive about how King Krule’s angsty sound would translate on stage, I was pleasantly surprised -- his performance was incredible in sound and presence. James Blake’s voice brought a girl to tears in the front row; her vocabulary consisted of “his voice” and “oh my god”.

I don’t think “Bon Iver” and “Saturday night” belong in the same sentence, but Bon Iver played the final slot on Saturday night nonetheless. When I listen to Bon Iver I want “Flume” and “For Emma” so I can cry into the arms of the person next to me. I assume that he was trying to keep the energy up and focused solely on his latest, more upbeat, persona.

The music started at the ungodly hour of noon on Sunday. I’m thankful that Humans, a Vancouver-based duo (and another proud moment for Canadian music), started my day off. La Femme followed with a performance in full costume, or partial costume in the case of guitarist Marlon Magnee, who gave the front row a peep show of what was under his dainty French maid lingerie.

Kali Uchis and Devandra Banhart were my Sunday highlights. The Columbian goddess put on an unbelievably sexy performance while Banhart’s smooth, Spanish lyrics paired accordingly with a gloomy turn in the weather.

As for the gloomy weather… it turned into a torrential downpour that the locals claimed had not happened in months. What timing! The Outdoor RX Stage flooded and sent the grounds into a panic. Good news, though – Nicolas Jaar’s performance was salvaged, and due to a lack of communication between festival planners and attendees, I was solo in the photo pit. It was lonely. As for Jaar’s show, I was slightly disappointed that I didn’t recognize any of his material (why you not play Colomb??), but it stayed true to his beautiful down-tempo South American sound and the crowd responded well.

Unfortunately, the weather was too wild for Grimes’ set, but she came out and gave a very sincere apology. Of course, the only article of clothing I purchased during the festival was her shirt.

The weekend was chock-full of amazing shows, but just for kicks, let’s wrap this up on a bad note: Beach Goth is over-stimulating. Your ears continuously thank you while your eyes bare witness to an endless sea of Barbie-pink-upside-down-crosses-on-foreheads and studded bikinis and your body is in constant contact with a drunk stranger while your nose is quietly plotting your demise. The festival could benefit from space in all aspects of the term: more time for performances and more room for people to feel more human and less herd-like.

 

We Went To A Show | Andy Shauf at Sugar Nightclub

Review Colin Crawford    Photos Jack Perry

On a Sunday night in October we caught Andy Shauf on the eighth stop of his extensive North American tour. It was immediately evident why this artist was a Polaris Prize finalist after seeing him and his band live. We were treated to a majority of songs off his critically acclaimed release The Party; an album full of melancholy yet charming vignettes of a small town life. Crowd favourites included the ‘Eyes of Them All,’ ‘The Magician’ and last year’s stand-alone single ‘Jenny Come Home.’

Cautiously scanning the crowd over and almost hiding behind the microphone and his guitar, Shauf’s stage presence is as interesting as it is understated. Despite the chatter of the crowd at the back of the venue being heard during the softer moments of the evening, it was still a very engaging set. Shyly smiling and making cursory small talk while tuning, the frontman let the music speak for itself. Each song from this Regina artist feels like a short story from a fly on the wall in your life. Through swelling crescendos and dramatic pauses, the narrative arcs and characters of these folk songs take on a new emotional layer in the live performance. The sincerity and vulnerability of his lyrics are perfectly aligned by the mood that Shauf and company create on stage, providing a subtly powerful experience. There is a tragic beauty and thoughtfulness in Shauf’s music that must be seen to be fully experienced. The eight minute encore track ‘Wendell Walker’ was the perfect ending to this Autumn Sunday night show.

Thanks to Atomique Production and Sugar Nightclub for hosting us.

We Went To A Show | Dilly Dally | Bloody Wilma @ Lucky Bar

Review Joseph Leroux            Photos Jack Perry

A small crowd was treated to an excellent one-two punch of heavy sets at Lucky Bar on Tuesday October 11th. Featuring Victoria’s own long-standing bass guitar and drum enigma Bloody Wilma as well as Toronto grunge-lifers Dilly Dally - who are fighting their way down the last stretch of a huge North American tour - the two groups delivered praiseworthy, if disparate performances.

Rob Anderson and Conor Matthews have been performing as Bloody Wilma for over a decade, in small theatres and big-bill opening slots alike. But with no online or recorded presence to speak of, it's no surprise you haven’t heard of them. Take the opportunity to see them live though and notice what the passing of time has added up to: dialed-in garage-blues style, wandering towards post-rock length song structure and inevitably into the DFA 1979 disjointed riffs. Frontman Anderson wandered in and out of the shadows on stage and faced his mic towards Matthews instead of the crowd. The banter was kept to a minimum, and the riffs rarely dissipated. “How much longer?” Anderson asked one of the promoters. Fifteen minutes. They played it, owning the set in a way that had an earnest anxiety to it despite their long, if disjointed, presence in the Victoria scene.

Dilly Dally’s onstage performance noticeably looser, noticeably more raw. Dilly Dally did more than just go through the motions at Lucky, even though the fatigue of tour was evident. Katie Monk’s voice regularly jumped the gap between languid pillow talk and childhood nightmare scream, while lead guitarist Liz Ball led the sonic charge. It took Dilly Dally’s bare ferocity to draw me from out against the wall. Their energy was immediate yet casual, and didn’t let up for a second.

Find Dilly Dally’s release Sore here via the fantastic Buzz Records.

We Went To A Show | Mild High Club @ The Biltmore Caberet

Photo courtesy of MRG Concerts

Review  Curtis Lockhart

Mild High Club was a spectacle that provided a warm, summery experience on a cold October night in Vancouver. The songs were slow, psychedelic and laid back. The band opened with “Club Intro”; frontman Brettin, with his high-slung 12 string guitar, stepped to the songs groove, moving slowly around the stage while stroking jangling chords. In spite of the fact that their latest album, Skiptracing, was released this summer, most of the set consisted of tracks off of their debut Timeline.

As Brettin sung with his eyes half open, the set was very relaxed, putting the entire audience at ease. The only problem I had with the set occurred in the middle of the song “Weeping Willow”, when Brettin decided to address the sound man about removing less of the snare drum from his middle monitor. I felt like I was being awakened from a deep sleep.That dreamy sensation I was feeling came to an abrupt stop and I could not regain it for the remainder of the song. I understand that adjustments have to be made for sound, but pick your moment. All that aside, the set was an absolute blast, each song elevating the energy of the audience more and more. After a long, anticipated chant for an encore, the band entered the stage at the latest possible moment, performing the upbeat “Rollercoaster Baby”. Given the enthusiasm of the crowd,  Mild High Club may need to play a larger venue the next time they roll into town. 

We Went To A Show | James Blake @ the Orpheum Theatre

 

Review Colin Crawford    Photos Nicole Jorgenson  

On a stormy night in Vancouver, a few thousand lucky souls found shelter in the Orpheum Theatre for a phenomenal night of alternative electronic music. Taking the stage first was the experimental electro-folk artist Moses Sumney. Opening the show with an acapella version of the track “Incantation” from his latest self-released EP Lamentations, Moses captured the attention of the theatre with his voice alone. This independent artist hailing from Los Angeles crafts layered soul tracks with a loop station, heavily-affected microphones and occasionally an electric guitar. Sumney is his own band and choir; looping beatboxing, stomps and snaps for a rhythm section, and harmonizing an impressive range of vocals to create immersive waves of sound. From the vocoder on the track Worth It, to getting the crowd to scream with him and then looping it, Sumney exemplifies the potential of the human voice as instrument through his equipment. With just two self-produced EPs and a few singles, he is surely a rising star to keep an eye on.

After Sumney’s enchanting performance, what remained were three raised platforms arranged with keyboards, synthesizers, sample pads, guitars and a half-electronic drum kit on an empty stage, as the crowd anticipated James Blake and his live band. As the house lights dimmed, a simple glowing dot glided back and forth on the stage screen alongside a tense ambient intro track. James Blake and touring bandmates Rob McAndrews and Ben Assiter took the stage, and the intro track was drowned out by applause. Opening with “Always” from the new record The Colour in Anything, the stripped down track began things on a minimal note. The simple lighting and geometric visuals for this track subtly foreshadowed the journey that this setlist would take us on. Over the course of the next two hours, Blake and company expertly meandered back-and-forth from minimal to maximal, captivating the audience in the complementary contrast with everything in-between. Accentuating these themes was the visual accompaniment by the British design group United Visual Artists, as seen in the music video for “I Need a Forest Fire”. Motifs of 3D-rendered geometric shapes and a burning star-like dot accompanied the stunningly coloured and timed light show, tying together the broad range of song choices from Blake’s discography.

Seeing James Blake live showcases the diverse range of influences he uses to create something entirely unique. Who else could recreate a remix of early Dubstep artist Untold’s “Stop What You’re Doing” and then go on to flawlessly cover Joni Mitchell? Or better yet fuse both styles on his infamous Feist cover? Whether we were being swallowed by waves of synth-bass, sirens and strobing light, or fighting back tears to harmonizing acapella loops, this show exemplifies why Blake continues to rise as a singular talent in music today. Nearing the end of the set, James took a few minutes to extensively praise his touring bandmates, Moses Sumney, the artists behind his visuals, his fans and his parents. (Fun Fact: his hit Wilhelm Scream is a cover/sample of a song by his father.) Returning to the stage alone for a double encore, Blake concluded with “Measurements”, sneaking off stage after the lights faded to black and the looped harmonies of his voice continued on.

Thank you to Timbre Concerts, Republic Records and The Orpheum Theatre for hosting us.