I had high hopes for the album release party at the Biltmore for recent Nevado signees, Hunting, and did my best to keep them that way as I descended from cold air to the quiet tedium of an early-to-rise group of Cowichan sweaters with local songstress Lisa Joyce aka Joyce Island taking the stage. She opened with “Mercy on Me,” but not before she had the chance to explain, “This is a song about, um, fucking your life up.” Prefacing each of the alt-country tunes with an unpoetic tribute became ritualistic. Nods were given to Rob Ford, Pussy Riot, the civil unrest in Crimea, Rita MacNeil, and simply “assholes” in general as she recited the majority of last year’s self-titled EP before closing the set on an adapted cover of Hank Williams’ “Sundown and Sorrow” with the hurried excitement only the onset of a tour can incite.
An amiable small town atmosphere sifted through the room as the unassuming Albertan Shuyler Jansen stepped forward. Charming prairie boy Canadiana was met with an austere drum loop to create a simple and personable affair—one where a player like Jansen could be found amongst the crowd after his set, sharing stories over what was liable to become one too many. Meanwhile the hazy refrain “Words have lost their meaning,” resonated through “Totally Anonymous” before the songwriter noted his fourth solo album was nearly finished in-between sips of beer.
Little more was said between songs and he was in no hurry to rush through his own brand of unabashed electro-folk as he casually played through “If It’s Meant To Be,” taken from his 2011 album Voice from the Lake before announcing his friend Paul would be joining him on stage. That friend being none other than Neko Case collaborator and Hunting guitarist Paul Rigby, whose guitar work on “Brand New Wick” and “Don’t See It Changin’” provided Jansen’s placid introspection with big sky monoliths fuzzy enough to impress any latent shoegazer.
Following one last Jansen original and a trip to the bar, the room became awash with trucker caps and denim jackets anxious to hear the latest from newly formed Vancouver indie-folk group Hunting. With lyrics fit to traverse loneliness, it was no wonder the Biltmore began to feel more like a dusty Klondike saloon than a place where shirtless bros gathered every Saturday night to let the bass drop. Nevertheless, the sea of denim began to ebb as Bradley Ferguson and co. ran through 45 minutes of hi-fi watery reverb paired with Jesse Zubot’s subtle violin and the cute glockenspiel accompaniments of Jessica Yliruusi.
As the fuzzy folk group churned through hits like “Everytime I’m With You” and “Everything Will Be Okay,” it was questionable whether the crowd—who appeared more concerned with themselves than those on stage, even during the catchy forlorn single “Patti”—had earned an encore.
Tired of being ignored, Ferguson remarked, “Actually, fuck it,” before dashing away to make his exit. The seemingly preoccupied crowd erupted with disappointment before he got even two steps away, so the frontman shrugged his shoulders and closed out the night singing “Goodbye.” And even though Ferguson and Rigby returned for an encore of “Lonely Happy,” I became preoccupied by a friend who lamented, “I miss the atmosphere of small town gigs.”
“Why?” I responded.
“Because everyone’s so nice.”
“Yeah, but they’re always unremarkable. Everything’s so, I don’t know… ”
“Yes,” I said, “Vanilla.”