Review: Wolf Parade and The Pack AD at The Imperial

Some seven years after the last time I saw them, I went with Leah to see Wolf Parade at the Imperial last night. &, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

But let’s start with the Pack AD, who’re amazing, impeccable and can rock. I’m pretty sure I saw them a long time ago when they were participating in Shindig (maybe 2007? so after I was there every week, but before I stopped going entirely). I have a personal fondness for the stripped-down sounds of a guitar-drum two-piece. Add in serious vocal chops and yeah – just see the Pack AD if you enjoy garage rock, at all. There’s a line in their official bio that is pretty perfect, and true:

the Pack A.D. have owned every spotlight and stolen every show they’ve ever played. Becky and Maya are relentless and riveting, playing with the kind of fuck-off freedom that makes everybody in the room vicarious rock stars, even if it’s just for the night.

Wolf Parade is really a tale of two bands: Spencer Krug’s Wolf Parade, and Dan Boeckner’s Wolf Parade. And they really are two bands dressed up at once explains why still, some seven years later, the same line still applies – they don’t really know how to run a concert. There’s awkward silences (they had technical difficulties tonight as well), for most of the night there didn’t seem to be a lot of joy on stage, and while no one can fault their musicianship, they didn’t seem particularly tight for a band that’s been around as long as they have (even given their long hiatus).

Songs that Spencer (keyboards) sings lead on (and presumably, wrote), are synth/keyboards-driven melodic garage pop. They are ambitious, involve everyone in the band, are lyrically more diverse. Songs that Dan (guitar) sings lead on (and presumably, wrote), are straight-up guitar-driven guitar rock. Both are excellent – but different. I definitely have a preference, based on last night’s show, on Spencer’s version of the band (at the same time, it wouldn’t be nearly as good a band, or show, if it was just his stuff). Everyone seemed more involved, more together on those songs. Perhaps they are more difficult to play? Not sure.

It’s worth noting that by the end of the night, they’d really come together. What was a really rough start was totally put aside by their finale, an amazing, long, high-energy jam to end the night. It was the first time all night I saw Dan and Spencer looking at each other, smiling, playing with each other. If that’s the band that’ll show up the next couple of nights (this was the first of 3 shows at the Imperial this week), everyone else is in for a real treat.

Vance Joy at the Orpheum

One of Liam’s favourite artists is Vance Joy, who’s an Australian folk singer, in the vein of Jack Johnson, that is to say he’s very charming, pleasant and not particularly challenging, so absolutely radio-friendly and enjoyable.

As a last-minute thing, I found a pair of reasonably-priced, decent seats at the Orpheum, and so suddenly I was taking Liam to his second concert ever (his first being Mumford & Sons out in Surrey).

And… it was perfect. He was happy – singing along, clapping along, dancing in front of his seat – exactly what I want as a parent when I take him to something for him, rather than for me. The late night definitely meant a few yawns, and I think he’d have preferred if people didn’t stand up for the whole concert, but a rousing success.

The show itself? Well, it was mixed. The opening act, Rueben and the Dark were excellent. Really enjoyed their show, their energy, their music – Liam too – he immediately wanted to add their stuff to his music.

Rueben and the dark
Rueben and the dark

Vance Joy was charming as all heck, telling short stories to intro the songs he was singing. But… it all felt a little too pleasant. Charm, not excellence was the tenor of the night. The quality of songs is also widely varied – I’m not sure if he has on occasional collaborator who is responsible for his 3 (to date) radio hits, but they (+ 1 other) stood head-and-shoulders, quality-wise, above most of his material. Then, closing the night, he covered Paul Simon’s You Can Call Me Al, which.. while an excellent cover, really showed up his own music as lacking a certain something.

But – maybe that’s just where we are. According to one story Vance Told, just 2.5 years ago, he was playing the Media Club, just him and a guitar. And now he’s got 2 sold-out shows at the Orpheum. That’s a pretty good 2 years of work. I definitely enjoyed the show – he’s so damn pleasant you’d have to be a real asshole to not – but, I can’t say he was excellent.

But, that wasn’t really the point last night. The point was to go with Liam to see someone he really likes, for him to experience the pleasure of live music being played well in front of other like-minded fans and that, that was everything I could have wanted it to be. Liam’s just now developing his own distinct tastes in music, and I look forward to learning from him about new and different acts in the way I started teaching my parents about music I discovered, sharing back. This night was a great start to that, sharing his enthusiasm.

Jack White at Deer Lake

I finally saw Jack White last night! Fourth time’s the charm (I failed 2 times during the White Stripes era, once since – a mixture of weather problems and my own incompetence).

Note 1: I did not take the photo this post. That photo is by David James Swanson, whom I understand to be the “Tour Photographer”, and, if I heard the announcement right, both he and Jack White are totally cool with us using his photos. great!

I went with Iva & Leah. Not really Leah’s thing, but Iva was excited, and Leah’s a good sport & I think still enjoyed herself.

This is the sort of live show that I live for: Full of improvisation, different treatments on well-trodden songs, mistakes, and, above all, a showcase of musicianship that only occasionally veered into wankery.

The best: I’m guessing that Jack White & the band make up (or alter) the set-list on the fly. Before each song, there’s this hurried conversation between Jack and one or more band members – whomever has to bring in the song with him, while the others catch up. When they start to improvise mid-song, bringing in snippets of other songs, this requires more conversation. Watching the drummer & bassist intently watching & listening to that musical lead was a highlight.

The mediocre: This band is not quite tight enough for this to work. At least once, the band got confused as to where the song was going, and there were some audible mis-cues.

The bad: With Jack White, I’m beginning to think “less is more”..the songs where he lets his band really stretch out worked the best. His solo & lead guitar work definitely veered into wanking showmanship too often, Ball & Biscuit being the song that really stands out in my mind as Jack White wanking off musically, rather than working the song. But letting his bandmates run – even a gorgeous theramin solo! was truly remarkable.

The inexplicable: Why was the sound so bad? I’ve been to several shows at Deer Lake now, and this was by far the worst. Everything was off. Why was the side-of-stage-piano mic better levelled than the lead? What was wrong with the acoustic guitar pickup? Why was there a distinct right-to-left echo going on? Why the muddy? I was wondering if perhaps they were aiming for some “old school” muddy, mono-mix blues sound…but it didn’t work.

The acceptable: That was a short set…just under 2 hours. I partially blame the rules for playing at Deer Lake…hard to have a long show when you’ve got to finish at 10pm. But boy did they pack a lot into that short set.

The everything-is-alright-in-the-world: Singing the guitar riff to Seven Nation Army with 100s of other humans with the band backing you and Jack White singing over it was a beautiful collective-joy moment, and a great send-off for the night.

So yeah, A good night

The Boss in Vancouver

Bruce Springsteen in Vancouver

Stop. Before you read any more of what I have to say, go read Lauren’s beautiful take on the concert. She’ll describe it much more beautifully than I. She also experienced a very different concert than I. Perhaps the one I wanted to have.

Much like Lauren, seeing Bruce Springsteen live was on my musical bucket list (& perhaps my actual list). I knew going into the show that this would be a tidy, soul-based, big-band experience. But it didn’t connect for me. Maybe it was my vantage point. I was high up, slightly behind the stage as you can see from the instagram above.

It irked me that the band started the show in “mid-concert” form – there was no warming up the crowd, we were just suppose to already be fully swayed by the awesome that is the band, and call-and-answer, sing-along and glory by the end of the first bar. I wasn’t. I don’t care you are, you earn my devotion through the course of a show, not before I show up.

Watching from above, the show seemed so choreographed,  so pre-planned that nothing felt spontaneous. I got the distinct impression that the hand gestures, the rock-god posing – it would have happened whether there was an adoring audience or not – not that there’s ever any fear of there not being an adoring audience at a stadium rock show.

What I love most about live music is seeing musicians on stage who appear to truly love being there, who are present in that moment, with whom I can share a sense of a special moment. At one point Bruce said that he loves his job. Which is great, I’m glad. But I guess I want him to pretend, for me, that playing live shows isn’t a job – it’s a passion, something he simply couldn’t exist without. Because no matter how much you love your job, you can walk away, leave it behind and get back to your life.

I can’t fault the band’s stellar muscianship, his showmanship or the effort put into the show. I cannot believe that at his age Bruce Springsteen can still work a stage the way he does. Hell, I couldn’t keep up with him, and I’m only slightly over half his age (he’s, I believe, 64; I’m 35). But the whole event felt clinical, precise to me. Cynical, even.

First Solo Concert: The Grateful dead

@livenationwest just asked:

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Which got me thinking – what was my first solo show? I’d been to earlier shows with family, and I knew that in 1992 I went to  a bunch of shows. But thanks to the miracle of the internet, I have discovered which was (I think) my first “solo” concert.

On March 20th, 1992, 3 friends and myself all did the “I’m staying at so-and-so’s house” trick with our parents, and traveled from Toronto to Hamilton to see The Grateful Dead at Copps Coliseum. I can’t recall if we were discovered or not, or if my parents know to this day (if not, surprise!) that I did this. I must not have gotten in immediate trouble if I did because my second concert concert was only a few days later – U2’s ZooTV show at Maple Leaf Gardens on March 24th, 1992 – although maybe my older sister took me to that concert? I can’t remember who it was with.

Those two concerts started about a 15-year run of my seeing lots of concerts that ended more or less with the birth of Liam (I still get to the occasional show, but at a much lower frequency).

What was your first show?


Tokyo Police Club & Friends at the Commodore

Thanks to tickets I won from Miss 604, I got to go see Tokyo Police Club, along with Dinosaur Bones & Said the Whale on Saturday night. As part of some promotion, these tickets included what was originally to be a soundcheck party with Tokyo Police Club, but instead became a pre-set backstage visit. I’ve been backstage a couple of times – about a decade ago when I saw Moby, at the Commodore, and also seeing Toad the Wet Sprocket at, I think, the Opera House in Toronto (the old concert venue on East King – not the current fancy opera house) (did I just age myself with that last band?). Both previous times, backstage was a party. Fun, relaxed, energetic. But both Moby & Toad were acts at their height at the time, whereas TPC are still figuring stuff out. So there was an awkward meet-and-greet lineup. I suppose I could have got my picture taken with them, or had them sign my pass, but I’m not really that sort of guy. Were I covering the show for someone, sure – but then I’d have interview questions. Instead we made awkward small-talk, and I think everyone involved was glad when it was over.

Coming back outside, I caught the end of Dinosaur Bones’ set. They were fun. I’d need to give them a dedicated listen to decide if I liked them, if they had anything original in their sound, but they were fun. After a short break, Said the Whale came on, and played the house like they were the headliners. Given that they were local, it might actually have made sense for them to headline this show. The crowd was right into them and the feeling seemed to be mutual. I must admit I’m not the biggest fan of theirs. As Day said, they’re a cross between Spirit of the West & Maroon 5: they don’t know if they’re a hell-raising party band or smooth radio-friendly pop. Currently, they fall awkwardly between. Their  two most well known songs, or at least the two I recognized from the radio, seemed to epitomize either end of that spectrum. For all that, however, I greatly enjoyed their set. I think a couple of years on the road and they will be an utterly amazing live act, regardless of the quality of their studio material.

As I said earlier, perhaps Said the Whale should have headlined. Tokyo Police Club, despite their great hooks and catchy lyrics that have made them a deserved success, are not well-seasoned on stage yet. Sure, they perform well – they ran through their set cleanly from what I could tell, but there was a certain something missing – a spark, a connection, a something that Said the Whale had instantly from the first chord. But I don’t want to sound like I didn’t like the set – I did. I’m a big fan of the material, which goes a long way to overcome a less-than-stellar stage presence. & they played a good mix of stuff from their last & current album, and I bopped along happily.

So overall verdict? Enjoyable but not standout.

Review: Wolf Parade & Moools at the Vogue Theatre

I was pretty stoked about last night’s concert. Each of Wolf Parade’s albums have made into pretty high rotation with me, and when I last saw them live, opening for…I want to say The Walkmen, but I’m not sure that’s right, their energy was great. That carried through to last night’s show as well, although it wasn’t without fault.

Those dots in the lights? That's Wolf Parade

I had never heard of The Mools before. They’re an indie-rock trio from Tokyo who play complicated, jazz-infused rock. I loved it. Last night I tweeted that they were lead by a “stealth puppet-master drummer”. Which I think needs clarification. Their drummer was very understated, a surprisingly still drummer. At first, I wasn’t that impressed. But then they started messing with time signatures, and the lead singer/guitarist went off on these crazy, amazing solos and I noticed, like in all truly great rock bands, it all started and ended with the drummer. So thus the puppet-master, reeling out the other parts of the band, then, as the solos come to a close, bring them back in. Definitely see them live if you can, and check out their music.

After a short intermission which really only served to heat up the theatre even more as sweaty bodies milled about in uncomfortably close quarters, Wolf Parade came out. And they rocked hard. They really, really gave it a lot, which, as an audience member is always really rewarding when you can tell a band is really bringing it. Towards the end of the night they talked about this – that playing Vancouver is sort of like playing a hometown show and historically they had choked but were really happy with this show.

The pacing was pretty good, mostly alternating older & newer tracks. If I have a quibble, and I do, but it’s a minor one,  is that they don’t yet seem to know how to run a concert. They’re still  a fairly young band, and haven’t been headlining for that long, and it shows. There were some overly long silences, some awkward-odd as opposed to awkward-hip interactions with the crowd.

LCD Soundsystem at Malkin Bowl: my review

Glowing mirrorball
LCD Soundsystem: not as brilliant as their mirrorball

My first show of the year last night (wow – so sad that that’s true!). But I waited for a good one. Well, an ok one,  seeing LCD Soundsystem last night at Malkin Bowl. Holy Ghost! opened. They were fun, but eminently forgettable – they mined the 80’s sound, but didn’t really do too much with it. Which is a shame – I’d listened to a bunch of their stuff before the show and it had been fun. Possibly they just don’t translate live well. Or at least not in a setting like Malkin Bowl. In a tightly packed sweaty nightclub it would’ve made me want to dance.

The weather all day had been terrible, so I was expecting to get soaked, but fortunately the rain stopped on our way down, and we even saw a little blue sky. Pre-show we went for a drink at Stanley’s Park Bar & Grill, which was fun – completely full of concert goers, they a good system of a beer garden with  smokies & corn-on-the-cob grilling on the barbeque.

LCD in lights
In the gloaming

LCD Soundsystem opened well, apologized for being so far back on the stage (they’d moved all the equipment under cover given the uncertainty of the weather – although I’ve yet to see a show at Malkin Bowl where that wasn’t the case), and got on with it. I’m a huge fan, and they played 2 of 3 songs I really wanted to hear during the set (“Daft Punk is playing at my house & “New York I love You” to end it, they didn’t play “North American Scum”), but I’m not sure I’d call it an particularly inspired set. They hit the notes, they did their thing, but they never went off the rails in either a good or bad way. It’s odd to be disappointed because an act is tight and on their game, but I want something more from a live show. Particularly from an act like LCD Soundsystem where they could so easily play with their songs a little. This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy it, because I really did enjoy it, but it wasn’t stand-out by any means.

Free Chor Leoni Concert!

From Chor Leoni, a client of mine, and an astounding choral ensemble:

As part of Chor Leoni’s commitment to encouraging young men to sing, the choir invites you to attend a free mini-concert. This concert will include the young men of PROMYS (PROgram for Mentoring Young
Singers) who will have spent the afternoon singing and rehearsing with Chor Leoni.

The programme features Chor Leoni and the PROMYS men singing together, as well as a bonus set highlighting the repertoire Chor Leoni will perform at the upcoming 50th national convention of the
American Choral Directors Association in Oklahoma City.

A free, hour-long concert before dinner on a winter’s afternoon – it’s a delightful way to spend time and help encourage young men to sing!

Saturday, February 7, 2009 4:30 pm – 5:30 pm
Shaughnessy Heights United Church
1550 W. 33rd Ave Vancouver BC
information 604.999.6153


If you’re a high school aged young man and would like to join Chor Leoni for the PROMYS workshop that precedes the mini-concert, there’s still time to join us!  The workshop starts with registration  from 1 – 1:30 pm and runs from there until the end of the mini-concert. Music! Snacks! Good times! We look forward to singing with you.

The Boss

Last night at GM Place, one of my life’s dreams actually came true: I saw Bruce Springsteen & the E Street band play live. It may not be the most aspiring of dreams, but it was one of mine, as I’ve been a huge fan, much to the scorn of many friends, ever since I was a little kid listening to my brother’s copy of Born in the USA on the record player at home [note: It may actually have been my folks, or my sister’s, but Stuart does seem the most likely owner of that album].

I had planned to twitter the set list as the show went on, but, 3 songs in, I was so engrossed in the stellar performance I simply forgot. It was pure, basic rock’n’roll at it’s finest. The man (and his band) may nearing 60 years old, but he plays with such, such wild abandon and such intensity that he comes across as fierce as I’ve ever seen. His voice is a little hoarser, and loud notes are shouted rather than sung, but it really doesn’t matter when he’s yelling “Baby we were born to run”.

The E-Street band are so tight it’s scary. The only act I’ve seen that is comparable is Crazy Horse, Neil Young’s sometime-backing band. It’s an apt comparison, I think, given that their stage acts are very similar, despite the very different temperaments of Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen.

The show was your standard late-career-rocker mix of new album material (not a bad choice, as Magic is fantastic) and older fan favourites, with a pair of obscure tracks to please the fanatics (he dug up an outtake from Born in the USA for one track, at the request of someone he ran into the previous night who’d been following the tour around).

Rock’n’roll bliss!

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