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

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?


Goodbye Richard’s on Richards

Kings of Convenience 7
Kings of Convenience, March 11th, 2005

Today is Richard’s on Richards last day. I shan’t be attending – it’s actually been over a year since I was last there. But I have many, many fond memories of that place, and did want to commemorate it.

I went to my first Richard’s on Richards show within a week or two of arriving in Vancouver, back in August 1995.  My girlfriend and I was staying at Chantal’s, a friend from Toronto, above a pawn shop on Granville, near Helmecken. I was nowhere near old enough to get in to the show, and looked young to boot. I don’t recall if I came in via the “smoking doors”, the double-doors at the front, or via the back door, but I remember sweating bullets nearly the entire show that some bouncer would know that I hadn’t come in the front door. I don’t even recall the show. In my memory, it was Maceo Parker or Bootsy Collins, but with another thought I now doubt that.

Since that first show, I believe I’ve seen another 70-odd shows at Richards – until Liam was born, I was there nearly every other month, if not more often. Many of my favourite bands I saw for the first time at Richard’s – sometimes, I knew nothing at all of the band, and only came to be a fan of them later. Such was the case for when I first saw the Walkmen, whom I believe were opening for someone else at the time. Others, I was a fan of, only to be disappointed in their live show – like Phoenix, whom I still quite enjoy their studio work, but won’t see live again.

Like many others, the washrooms at Richard’s were something of an eye-opener. While I’ve been in much worse bathrooms, they were probably the most disgusting washrooms in Vancouver.  And yet, inevitably, you’d find some joker snorting coke of counters I wouldn’t wipe my worst enemy’s face across, you’d find condoms floating in the toilets, and most bizarre, always a couple of people that seemed to just be hanging out in there.

The lounge upstairs, I’d inevitably trip over someone I knew half-passed out from something, or become momentary friends with whomever I was standing in line with waiting for world’s slowest bartender at the upstairs bar. After a few visits, I started to show up at shows really early, so I could pull a prime stool on the balcony across from the stage, and would sit there stalwart for the entire show lest someone steal it. It didn’t seem to matter if you were with someone who could hold the stool for you – if you were gone for too long, you’d return to find someone else sitting in it.

It is my belief that there were 2 different sound crews that worked Richards. Crew A was fantastic – the mix was right, the levels were perfect, and made every act sound better. Crew B was clearly manned by a bunch of deaf monkeys who’d only ever seen pictures of a sound-bboard in a magazine. There was never anything in between there – only great sound, or shitty sound. Some bands, like the Walkmen and Bloc Party were able to rise above the shitty sound and still deliver stellar shows (actually, thinking back, the shitty sound for the Walkmen may have been on purpose – they seem to thrive with a muddy mix). Some bands, like …and You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead just sounded like shit. I don’t believe that I would love the Decemberists or Franz Ferdinand as much now if it weren’t for those 2 perfect shows at Richard’s where the sound was great, they were tight and the crowd love it.

The closing of Richard’s on Richards really marks the end of a chapter in my life – it is the last of the live venues in Vancouver that formed a sort of circuit in my teens & twenties, having outlasted all the others by several years. So long, Richard’s, and thanks for all the memories.

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!

SHiNDiG 2004: Semi-Finals, night 3

So Tuesday marked the third and final semi-final night for this year’s SHiNDiG and featured Cadeaux, Vancougar and Foster Kare. I’ve seen all these bands before (although I missed Vancouger’s earlier show at SHiNDiG), and so had a fair idea of what to expect.

I just don’t like Cadeaux. They’re fine instrumentalists, and but the vocals I have issues with. They’ve two female singers, who I’ll dub Ms. Tall and Ms. Punk. And see, Ms. Punk’s vocals totally drown out Ms. Tall, but I think Ms. Tall has a much better voice. Both of them need a far sight more ferocity to pull off what they’re doing also. Combine that with a bass first lost in the mix, and then breaking, it made for a not-so-stellar set.

Vancouger is a lot of fun – punk-colored pop with, well, sass would be a good word, although I’m sure the band would and will hold it against me. They’re everything I liked about Cub when I was a kid, and so make natural successors to them (although, sadly, with less interesting hair)

Foster Kare, who started slowly when I saw them last, started slowly again tonight, but gradually won me over as they went. I didn’t like their set nearly as much as I did last time, despite their continued wizardry. It’s perhaps when compared to really good bands, versus the mediocre bands they played with before that their songs, while technically proficient, sound flat, familiar and a little uninspired. Why go to all that trouble of being so damed talented, only to take the easy way out?

In the end, Vancouger deservedly walked away with the win , and will face off against Dandi Wind & Mohawk Lodge in the finals. Which, in case you didn’t know, is next Tuesday, and given the quality of all three bands this year, is a must-see. I haven’t been this psyched by any of the finals of the previous 3 years of SHiNDiG.

SHiNDiG 2004: Semi-Finals, night 1

And so the weak have been culled, and now the various greybacks of the local music scene are left to duke it out to become the SHiNDiG 2004 champion, to go on to a long and successful career as local music darlings (or at least, intend to do such. Actual post-SHiNDiG success seems much more ephemeral that it perhaps should)

Lining up this night were the winners from the first 3 weeks of SHiNDiG, Dandi Wind, The Little Death and Evol Hearted. A small quibble here: I think it would be more interesting if the 9 semi-finalists were all ‘re-seeded’, so that it could be say Week1, Week 5 & Week 9 in the first semi-final, rather than just dividing up the opening rounds into 3 groups.

Like probably everyone else who’d been through the first round, there was little doubt as to who would win this night: Dandi Wind is just so much more than either of these other two bands. Not only is the performance amazing, but musically it stands out too: I forced myself to just listen with my eyes shut this time, to see if the music would stand up without the performance, and it really did.

The Little Death, who are interesting with their varied time signatures, odd little drum lines (I’m sure there’s a technical, or musical term for what I mean – fills, is it?), and other little musicianly tips-of-the-hat. Unfortunately, they are not the virtuoso musicians that this sort of wizardry requires in order to pull off. Also unfortunately, the singer’s voice is almost painfully bad. Which all leads to them just not doing well last night.

Evol Hearted, whom I missed in the first round, were, in my opinion, rather dull. Melodic, clean, talented, but, well, bland. Nothing about them (apart from having a female drummer, which is more common than you might think in Vancouver, but still uncommon) really stands out in my mind as being worthy of moving on. They aren’t bad by any stretch of the imagination – they’re in fact quite tight and together and decent. But, like so many bands, they fail the critical test of having something that sets them apart. Which doesn’t mean that they won’t find that spark someday, or won’t enjoy some success – it just means they’re not going any further this year in SHiNDiG.

And so our first finalist is proclaimed, and deservedly so: Dandi Wind. All that remains now is to see whether any band can stand up to their fantastic, manic performances.

SHiNDiG 2004: Night 9

So I’d like to take you on a trip down memory lane…

Do you remember, back in the day, when metal was hard & raucous? Before it was sullied by pop-influences, power-ballads & nü-metal. When 3 guys could stand on stage, scream ferociously into the mike while engaging in fast guitar- & bass-wizardry, backed only by a drummer who you swear, will pound a hole into his kit at any second? Ahh, those were the days, my friend, and that was Foster Kare

Sadly, not all memories are so good. Let’s take a sideways step. Still back in the day, but remember when Gowan & Glass Tiger ruled the radio? When the boys were pretty & the pop was shitty? This, my fellow travellers, was the magic of The Cassanova Playboys, who were far too sexy for their shirts, who brought a gaggle of hotties for fans, and who will likely one day feature prominently on pop radio, much to the horror of us all.

We’ve spent time coursing backwards through the 80’s: the good & the bad, but remember – there was rock before the 80’s. In the 70’s, rock was over-the-top, orchestral, grandiose, all those lovely things. And thus we see the influences of The Rub, a 5 piece that harkens back to the glory days of Fleetwood Mac and their ilk. Featuring a flautist amongst the mix, they played sweet, melancholy songs that never quite lifted off the ground. They’d perhaps be more comfortable with a full orchestra backing them, or at least an over-wrought stage-show at a stadium to play in (I jest). They were certainly virtuoso musicians each, and mirroring the various solos on the flute was a daring move, but I think they need to find their Robert Hunter, to create better songs for their talents.

I’m hopeful that Foster Kare carried the night. I certainly can’t imagine either of the other two acts did, particularly given the character of those judging last night, but, I’ve been surprised before, and will likely be again. But now SHiNDiG 2004’s opening round is done, and next week, the semi-finals begin. If you’ve not been out yet, start now, because the chaffe has fallen by the wayside, and it’s time to see which of the remaining wheat is, umm, umm, the wheatiest?

SHiNDiG 2004: Night 7

Much like last week (which, for various reasons, I haven’t written about here. My apologies to those whose lives are bereft without these reviews ;), week 7 of SHiNDiG was better than virtually every other night. Not the least of which reason was that the Railway Club was packed, as each band brought out some fans.

The first band of the night, Hejira is possibly one of the very best bands that I’ve ever seen in 3-odd years of going to SHiNDiG. Certainly, they were, shall we say, heavily influenced by Radiohead, but they were good in their own right. The cynic in me also wants to say “given the amount of money they must have spent on gear, they’d better damn well be good”. And fortunately they were. Their first song was really derivative, but after that they found their own sound within the techno-rock that Radiohead (and few others) do so well. The singer, with his high, plaintive, somewhat nasal voice, was very evocotive, if a little incoherent. The guitarist, who is the recipient of my major complaint for fiddling with switches as much as playing, thrashed out admirably, while the bassist/keyboardist/mixer held steady, not being too flashy, but certainly holding his own. Their sound is almost certainly unique in the Vancouver music scene, and well-worth seeing (although be wary if they play anywhere with notoriously bad sound).

The Skatomatics, as the name implies, were a Ska band. Like the name also implies, they brought nothing new at all to the genre, seemingly content to rock lightly through the night. It would have been ok had they any edge, or played a little looser, but rather, they kept it safe & staid, and the result was disapointingly boring. Ska should always be fun, at the very least, and I didn’t find theirs much fun at all. It was pleasant, sure, that’s damning praise.

Closing out the night was Cadeaux a really interesting pop-band. Featuring 2 female lead-vocalists, who battled & traded lead throughout the set, they were really good. Sadly for them, their voices were simply too high-pitched for me, and I’d wince whenever they’d hit a high note. There was also a strange tinny buzzing, like a dime shaking on a vibrating plate, or something, that was really irritating. I’m not sure if that was part of their sound, playing the higher ranges on the guitars, or some fuck-up in the sound, but it drove me out of the club early. Despite this, their songs, their sound, their musicianship was all interesting, and worth another look.

Because I left early, I don’t actually know who won last night. I certainly voted for Hejira, but I suspect that Cadeaux might have carried the night, because their sound is closer to what I would call the “CiTR sound” – slightly messy, cute, endearing pop-rock, little pretense and lots of scenester cred.

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