I am a total sucker for handclaps, throwback harmonies, walking bass lines and drums that sound like they come from Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound. But when a band is echoing the specific aesthetics of an era , in this case the mid-60s, it’s easy to get trapped in a step-by-step homage rather than put a new spin on their iconic musical influences. Luckily, Vancouver’s Shimmering Stars and Louise Burns & the Moonshiners were able to evoke that oh-so-good vintage vibe without feeling like cheap Beach Boys or Wanda Jackson knock offs.
With its Tiki-themed décor and exotic drinks, stepping into the Waldorf Hotel is like being transported into some swanky ‘60s b-movie. The retro atmosphere proved to be a perfect backdrop to Louise Burns & the Moonshiners mellow set, which was full of bright pop jingles with a touch of country twang. Burns, who’s been around the Vancouver music scene for a while (she was the original bassist for girl-group Lillix), was accompanied by a group of other familiar local musicians. Standing out from the rest of the band was back-up singer Debra-Jean Creelman, who also sings with her band Debra-Jean & the Means. Her subtle presence was enough to grab your attention as she rocked the tambourine and made her full and vibrant voice heard on tunes like “Drop Names Not Bombs.” Burns, meanwhile, channeled her inner southern belle and delivered tender but raw vocal performances, coming across like a Canadian Jenny Lewis. The set livened up near the end with the sugary and upbeat “What Do You Wanna Do,” but overall it was a chill set to match the relaxed setting.
Shimmering Stars quickly took the stage and requested that everyone move to the front. There were no objections, especially when the band broke into the groovy “East Van Girls,” which easily set up some hip shaking and enthusiastic arm swaying within the crowd. For a band that claimed to be feeling under the weather, Shimmering Stars sure looked and sounded great. Coordinated outfits, boyish charm, pretty Everly Brothers-esque vocal harmonies – it was difficult not swoon over these guys.
It’s true, the whole 60s West Coast thing has been done to death by countless bands, but the thing about Shimmering Stars is that they carry the sound so effortlessly. Songs like “I’m Gonna Try” and “Sabians” feature seamless and dreamy build ups that make you wish they could go on forever. Furthermore, their sunny melodies, which are all wrapped in thick, delicious washes of reverb, are unexpectedly juxtaposed with bitter-sweet and somber lyrics. You’ll be dancing with a stupid grin on your face when suddenly you realize that lead singer Rory McClure is singing about being scowled at by a cute girl or feeling lost in the crowd. Fittingly, the band ended the night with a lush and lovely cover of the Beach Boys’ similarly lonesome “In My Room.”
The only complaint of the night was that Shimmering Stars’ set ended ridiculously early. Maybe it was because the band was feeling ill, or that there was another event going on right after. Either way, that’s how it usually goes. All fantastic shows seem to end far too soon.