Trekking to shows at the increasingly popular Main and Hastings locale has become such a disagreeable excursion for me that it has become sort of a rule avoid it whenever possible. Of course, as the old adage goes, for every rule there are exceptions. In my case, there were two: 1) the repossession of my skateboard after 3 months of separation and 2) the opportunity to check out Vancouver’s newest hype, Bend Sinister. How does the repossession of and subsequent obsession with my skateboard correlate to the Bend Sinister set on March 4th? Both are more fun than a night of blow and Supertramp records, and both possess the capability to knock one onto his or her ass.
Personal hobbies and drug references aside, the members of Bend Sinister are quickly proving themselves to be the local band to watch out for. Friday night’s show at the Asbalt remains in my mind as further proof of their ability to put on a unique, tight, and unquestionably enjoyable live show.
Bend Sinister is a band already awash with both energy and personality; seeing them play at ground level only served to heighten their already remarkably dynamic live performance. With the promise of a heavily produced album Through the Broken City within the next month or so, Bend Sinister is ensuring that what is lost production-wise at a live show is duly made up for in entertainment value.
For a band whose repertoire is not nearly fully developed, Bend Sinister is able to put together a tight set that has at once the ability to showcase their technical musicianship, while at the same time keep the crowd engaged. The sweaty Asbalt crowd had no problem responding to Bend Sinister’s energizing indie prog-rock, and likewise, Bend Sinister had no problem playing off the energy of the crowd. Bass player Dave Buck ended up standing on a table on stage-right and guitarist Naben Ruthnum, in a valiant attempt to stand up on the now infamous guard rail that separates the crowd from the band, was, well…knocked on his ass. Nobody skipped a beat.
At any rate, those who came to the Asbalt to see Bend Sinister and Black Rice, rather than Destroyer and Frog Eyes, who were playing at Wise Hall the same night, left pleased. For those who missed it: it seems as though Bend Sinister is only just beginning to pick up hard-earned momentum; don’t miss them next time, even if it means missing Destroyer or having to wander along East Hastings at ungodly hours. These days, $7 won’t buy you much better.
Shout Out Louds
High Speed Scene
Richard’s On Richards
Something tells me, and correct me if I’m wrong, folks, that if you’re the first band on a bill where no one knows who the hell you are, you should rely on your music and not your stage banter to sell the audience. Lines like “I’ve heard rumours about Vancouver… well actually no I haven’t, I’m just trying to be clever” don’t make me want to rush out and buy your watered-down-pop-rock-sounding-like-Cheap-Trick style tunes. “We are High Speed Scene and we are desperately trying to make it in this business” is at least a little more honest.
A scruffy looking five-piece followed, and spying a banner being unfurled to my right, I saw the name of the band. I also saw a girl setting up what appeared to be (and what I later found out to actually be) a xylophone. Cool. Turns out, to everyone’s surprise, they are Swedish and not from Athens, Georgia, or whatever town is hip this month, and are actually pretty good. The singer gots a few “He sounds like Robert Smith fronting a sixties-pop band” comparisons from some friends watching the show. The bassist has a couple of legs up on the rest of the band in height; he was fun to watch, lumbering around the stage, his bass looking like a toothpick he could floss his pearly whites with. Along with The Concretes, Shout Out Louds may be part of the new Scandinavian wave ready to crash on our shores, so watch out.
Then The Futureheads, a bunch of lads from Sunderland, hit the stage and had the crowd from the first note of “Le Garage” to the last note of “Piece Of Crap.” Lots of knee-jerking, head-snapping, and hand-clapping to be had on this night. Who invited Patrick Pentland of Sloan on stage? Oh wait, that’s guitarist Ross Millard, nyuck, nyuck. Any band that can divide the crowd in half each singing the different backing vocal parts to “Hounds Of Love” (yes, the Kate Bush song), is OK in my books. In fact any band that plays equal parts Devo, The Jam, and makes me smile is OK in my books. My pal Jeffie got props three times from the band, and from now on I will only refer to him as “the little man from the record shop.” The rest of the set was peppered with songs from their debut, including the current fave “Decent Days And Nights,” “A To B,” “The City Is Here For You To Use,” and so on, but they also paid tribute to their influnces by covering The Television Personalities’ “A Picture Of Dorian Gray.” Apparently anyone who missed them this time out can catch them opening for a certain “hot” band soon, but my guess is their performance won’t be half as good as the one I just saw.
Antony & the Johnsons
The Red Room
A night with Antony & the Johnsons turned out to be everything you could hope for: haunting, understated, and rapturous. The Red Room was an excellent choice of venue (certainly superior to the Media Club, where the show had previously been booked). It was intimate and elegant, though if, like me, you didn’t get a seat in the pit, you probably spent most of the show looking for a place to stand where you could actually see. In person, Antony is a physically imposing figure (though far from obese, as some misanthropes have labelled him), tall and broad-shouldered with a face half wounded cherub, half smiling Buddha, framed by a feminine cascade of straight black hair. His appearance, however, striking as it is, can’t compare to the otherworldly perfection of his androgynous voice.
He played all of his best songs: “The Lake,” “Cripple and the Starfish,” “River of Sorrow,” and almost everything from I Am A Bird Now. Unbelievably, he sounds even better in person than on record. He seems to draw his rich, breathy vibrato from some organ between the heart, throat, and lungs that normal humans don’t possess.
Antony’s songs evoke an extraordinary amount of emotion, so intense as to break down barriers between pain and pleasure, memory and reality, and even accepted conventions of propriety, but he’s no exhibitionist. Antony is so generous with his expressionism that the feelings in his music seem to have belonged to you all along, a profoundly personal experience that accounts for rapt response of the crowd. The silence that saturated the venue during his performance was total; it was as if everyone was holding their breath. The humming of the bar fridges was actually audible.
Antony’s accompaniment was also minimal, as promised, with only Rob Moose on guitar and occasional violin, and Julia Kent (formerly of Rasputina) on cello, both extremely tasteful. Perhaps the most surprising thing about the show was the diversity and devotion of the audience: people of all ages and persuasions were captivated by Antony’s music. Clearly, he’s come a long way from his days as an unheralded drag singer in the New York gay scene (which he claims never embraced him in the first place), and far from the transgressive spectacle you might expect from a gender-bending performer in love with Warhol’s Factory and embraced by the art elite (he played at the Whitney Biennial last year). Antony’s soul music is accessible to all.
Richard’s on Richards
Ireland’s best swept through Vancouver in early March as The Frames delivered an early St. Patrick’s Day present at Richard’s on Richards. It was too bad some of the people at the venue couldn’t return the favour. For most of the night, too many people chatted loudly through the Frames’ set. The situation was compounded when the band started with a couple of quieter songs from the new album, Burn The Maps, including “A Caution to the Birds.”
But by about the third song, the band was able to truly showcase the energy they are known for to the half of the crowd that was there to see them. As photographer Neil Braun said to me, “there is something about this band that sucks you into their show.” They were able to mix in older favourites like “Lay Me Down” and “What Happens When The Heart Just Stops” with more up-tempo songs from the new album, like “Finally” and “Happy.” However, even during the introduction to “Happy,” lead singer Glen Hansard wanted to tell a story but was so annoyed with the small group of chatters; he just mumbled the title of the song.
There was a point in the set where I thought Hansard, Joe Doyle (bass/vocals), Rob Bochnik (guitar) and Simon Goode (guitar, filling in for violinist Colm Mac Con Iomaire) could have easily walked off the stage because of the chatter, but sometime in the middle of the night, during a period of silence between songs, fans started yelling requests from the Frames’ large back catalogue (from “Red Chord” to “New Partner”), just like they had done all night. Hansard looked at the fans and said, “I’ll tell you, when we came out here at the start, we weren’t feeling it. But now we are.”
A great night turned into something even better at that point. The band put even more energy into entertaining the many dedicated fans at the concert playing high energy tunes like “Fake.” They finished off their set and the crowd cheered for more. They came out for the encore and obliged the crowd with old favourites Frames’ fans had been dying to hear: “Revelate” and “Red Chord” with a little bit of Van Morrison’s “Here Comes The Night.” They threw in a cover of Mic Christopher’s “Hey Day” as well.
The Frames’ showed their mastery of showmanship by ending their encore with a cover of Daniel Johnston’s “Devil Town.” The show ended with the crowd snapping their fingers and singing about living as a vampire. That song left the crowd quiet and contented enough not to scream for another encore, which the band would have gladly played.
With Mac Con Iomaire’s violin missing from the line-up, I was afraid there would be something missing from the Frames’ concert, but those fears were allayed about a minute into the first song and the Frames gave what one Irishman in the crowd said was one of the best concerts he had ever seen. I agree with him wholeheartedly.
Kings of Convenience
Richard’s on Richards
Ever since quiet has been the new loud, things haven’t been quite the same. Extroverts became introverts, and angst-ridden teenagers turned to making life-sized models of the Velvet Underground in clay. Chronicling all of this from Bergen, Norway has been the Kings of Convenience, a duo of acoustic guitar players and singers who write sparse but somehow perfectly arranged songs. Unlike other acoustic acts out there, though, Erik Glambek Bøe and Erlend Øye have secretly associated with different musical styles (Øye being a respected DJ), and have made friends in varied places, as noted by the follow-up to their entirely acoustic debut album: a covers album, Versus, of other artists including the likes of Ladytron and Four Tet.
That being said, maybe it wasn’t all that surprising that the Kings of Convenience were able to convince Canadian Arts & Craft star Leslie Feist to come and join them on the stage for a surprise appearance. What was surprising, however, was the fact that these guys actually put on a fun live show full of audience participation, sexy dancing, and decent banter (especially after hearing stories of their live show in Toronto, where one of them was sick, and repeatedly left the stage in anger because the cash registers at the bar were too noisy for him to play over).
As usual, during the most tender and intimate moments of the concert the edge of the crowd turned to conversation faster than I could say “shut up!” but the Kings of Convenience, instead of trying to fight it by direct means, were able to simply give the audience parts of their songs to sing, thus keeping the musical intimacy and also giving every listener who gave a damn an opportunity to help keep the talkers at bay. Dang, those Norwegians are a smart lot.
Nostalgia was the name of the game this night, as some Southern Ontario punks joined Vancouver’s own Azimyth for a blast from the past extravaganza at the Picadilly. The crowd was scarce, which tends to happen to a mid-week, poorly advertised show, as hipsters hit The Cellar for some pretentious boogying, and college kids stay home playing Yahoo! Pool instead of working on their PowerPoint presentations. Nonetheless, a few handfuls of locals were treated well by the $3 cover, the cheap pints, and some mean Canadian rock.
On their second self-funded, cross-country tour, the Brantford, Ontario foursome Youthinasia delivered a solid jam in support of their latest E.P.—recommended for ingenious E.T.-esque artwork and melodic punk revival sentimentality, The Solution is especially catchy. Short and sweet (pop) punk songs were masterfully executed with a bruising ferocity the Pic’s diminutive stage definitely cursed the next day. The music was reminiscent of NOFX, Green Day, and Lagwagon, with singer Ryan Jarvis lapsing into Blink 182 poppiness and brief reggae-inspired grooves, while excellent bass line bridges and tight drumming made for a set highly enjoyable to locals and tourists alike.
While Youthinasia delivered a dose of happy mayhem circa 1995, Azimyth handed out distressing, disturbing, brooding, screaming, post-grunge pop-metal that took me back a few more years, to the early nineties, when bands like Nirvana and the Pixies were dishing out their angst and noise. Surprisingly well-dressed this night, Azimyth did not ‘hit’ the stage; they walked on, looked around the room, nodded to each other, and commenced their set.
This is a band that does not require wild on-stage antics to be enjoyable. Their music has matured since the band’s conception in early 2002, and now demands a certain dignity; while I have seen a younger singer/guitarist Corey Hawkins plummet to the stage floor in Cobainesque anguish, this was not the case tonight. I appreciate this band for their soft-to-heavy transitions on all fronts. Dancing cymbals explode into merciless cannonades, happy little bass riffs get dark and broody, distortion pedals add layers of noise to the guitars, and Hawkins’ soft hums mutate into morbid, resonant screams…and back again, in the span of a single song.
Not their best show tonight, but certainly solid enough to gain more fans, provided more people would get off their proverbial asses and support local music! A hair-raising time was had by all, from crunchy opener “We Won’t Break” through a finale deliriously covering CCR’s “Fortune Son.” This local trio is not to be missed, and may well be gracing larger stages in the not-too-distant future. Eat your heart out, Blasphemers! You missed a good one.
Giving an objective account of a live performance by a band that you have long held in high regard can be a challenging task. All too many fans watch a band they love put on a mediocre-at-best show and then stay up all night staring their friends in the face and emphatically explaining how seeing Cat Power was a pivotal musical experience for them. To be brutally honest, a lot of bands’ live performances leave fans feeling like they just got a bad hand-job from a best friend’s younger sister: a little bit let down and a little bit embarrassed. But before talking about the slightly disappointing performance that Hood put on for the slightly disappointing number of people that came out on March 23, I have to make some room for the opening act, Windows 78.They were bad washed in digital delay and reverb. The lead singer started crying, I think I was crying too.
Okay, glad that’s done with.
As I hinted at before, Hood has long been a favorite band of mine. Having heard that the members of Hood don’t identify themselves as a “live band,” I should have checked my anticipation a little bit during the week preceding the show, but all bets were off after entertaining the idea that Dose One, another long time favorite of mine who now resides in Vancouver, just might lay down some live vocals for the tracks he did on Hood’s “Cold House.” Even a B-grade performance will sour the most partial fan if their expectations haven’t been properly grounded.
To be fair, Hood’s performance wasn’t awful, they just weren’t that good. They were able to keep their set interesting and lively despite the fact that their music is regularly slow and often bleak, but their performance was irrevocably marred by some unfortunate slip-ups. This was topped off by grimace-worthy unraveling of the last song they played as guitarist/lead singer Chris Adams simply gave up and walked off stage. For a band that has been on tour for some time now, it was an inexcusably unprofessional finish. Dose proved to be a little rusty as well when he jumped in early for his verse on “Branches Bare.” So much for anticipation, I guess.
But there were moments of brilliance on stage, though, and by no means was the set a total loss. It was great to hear the drum machines and broken-up sampling done well live (see “The Lost You”), and the drummer, whom (though I hate to admit it) I had never paid much attention on Hood’s albums, was a real treat to watch. Yet overall, despite managing to recreate their sound and atmosphere quite well and despite frequent moments of greatness onstage, their set was marred by some unfortunate slips. My impossibly high expectations weren’t met and I left a little bit let down and a little bit embarrassed.