Real Live Action

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Barely Legal: An Underground Comedy Show

w/ Chris James, Jacob Samuel, Ashkan Mohammadi, Corey Michaelis, Michelle Buteau, Langston Kerman, Randee Neumeyer, Kyle Bottom

author
Clara Dubber
Image Courtesy of
Gavin Matts

Sophie Buddle and Gavin Matts host Barely Legal, a secret stand-up show held on the first Friday of each month. With an ever changing lineup, this platform showcases a wide range of performers, from local talent to more established comedians from abroad. Without openers or headliners, the sets were instead piled with weaker sets at the beginning and end of the night and the strongest in between.

The May 5 show was held at Slice of Life Gallery, which offered drinks and craft donuts to attendees. The venue was small without being cramped, despite selling out seats, necessitating a wall of bodies in the back. A haphazard stage made up of a few boxes covered by a rug sat in the corner, with rows of benches and chairs scattered around it. While the performers seemed sometimes unsteady, to the audience the stage felt more like an elevated plane of a living room than a stack of crates.

Buddle wasn’t able to host this instalment so Matts MC’d alone, warming up the audience with a short innocuous set before introducing the first performer, Kyle Bottom. Being the first set, Bottom required an easiness and confidence that he lacked. Each joke was an island and he did not buoy this choppiness with compensating material. His marijuana jokes were banal and his homelessness bit was disrespectful.

Randee Neumeyer, another local, followed Bottom with a similar lack of continuity but dissimilarly observant humour. Her lack of flow sometimes acted to punctuate her sharper points, but that seemed more of a happy accident than an artistic choice.

Third was Langston Kerman. Hailing from NYC, he brought an experience and culture of audience participation into the space. He lifted the energy and never let it fall, expertly eddying his set around the audience. At times it felt like he was phoning it in, but he is so talented that his phoning was still quality comedy.

Then came Michelle Buteau, who had the strongest set of the night. Also from NYC, she carried over Kerman’s energy with a set that was organic and strong, gracefully bounding through topics between audience interactions that she ensured lent themselves to her material.

Corey Michaelis was able to build up to and execute each punchline but not build on their momentum, resulting in a mountainous set. Alternately, Ashkan Mohammadi built his set up halfway and then plateaued. His set was not low-energy and engaging like Ron Funches, but drawling and heavy-lidded.

Jacob Samuel’s comedy was consistent and well executed, with no exceptionally bad or good pieces. Finally, Chris James closed the night with a well-meaning but slightly boring set and acted as a stand-in host for Matts, who had to leave early.

In the end Barely Legal was a surprisingly good comedy show. Despite the hosts’ absences, it was well-curated and organized, and Buddle and Matts were able to both bring in incredible comics and make a platform for local comics to hone their craft in a generous space.

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The xx

w/ Sampha

author
Jack Lamming
Image Courtesy of
Live Nation

“It’s been awhile, Vancouver,” Oliver Sims of The xx told the crowd. Their opener, Sampha, had just left the stage some twenty minutes before, after an incredible set ranged from the slow ballad “(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano” to the tense “Blood on Me.” With features on the latest Drake and Kanye projects, Sampha is just inches from the spotlight — I felt bad for the people who came just for The xx, and missed an artist whose music will be everywhere a year from today.

It’s been four years since The xx came to town, five years since their last album Coexist, and eight years since their debut album, xx, with their biggest hit, “Intro.” The xx have spent that time quietly bubbling away on the periphery, as their brand of cool britannia waxed and waned. Their music is tuned to the frequency of quiet self-reflection, and the stage at Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre was designed with that in mind.

The band stood flanked by four mirrored pillars that were filled with lights and rotated with the music. The xx, despite a consistent chain of slow-burning radio hits, have never made it to that certain mainstream status. They’ve never become icons, never more than just a band. And watching them on stage, I could see why. Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sims stood on stage, doing little more than swaying side to side with their guitars in hand. The music sounded exactly like album tracks to the point of fault, offering nothing new to listen to, with no new interpretations.

The xx’s obsessive self-reflection has led the band to stagnate, and forced innovation outside its confines. The DJ and drummer Jamie xx released a solo album in 2015, In Colour, to almost universal praise. True to his London roots, the album was a mix of dance-hall infused pop and house, with vocal features from both Madley Croft and Sims. Given Jamie xx’s massive success outside of the band, the group has both embraced his success and a more house-centric vibe. The band went so far to celebrate Jamie xx’s success that they played the biggest hit from In Colour, “Loud Places,” on a rainbow stage.

It’s undeniable that The xx are bigger than they’ve ever been, and only getting bigger. But without a change in direction from just melancholy love songs, it’s difficult to see them not being forgotten. Sure, they have good bass lines and house-influenced drums, but does that excuse a sound that is neither here nor there? The xx will stay around, but I fear will never rise to the success that they have the potential to have — if they even want it.