Real Live Action

A.C. Newman Dent May & his Magnificent Ukulele

February 20 @ Biltmore Cabaret

Review By Alex Smith

In 2004, A.C. Newman kicked off his solo career in fine style with The Slow Wonder, and surprised anyone who expected nothing more from him than the New Pornographers lite. Now touring in support of his follow-up to that album, Newman brought a distinctly triumphal air to his performance at the Biltmore—and why not? It was, in a sense, a homecoming for one of Vancouver’s most celebrated musical exports. But then again, Newman doesn’t live here anymore, and Get Guilty is nowhere near the achievement that The Slow Wonder is. There was a jarring contrast between old songs like “Drink To Me Babe, Then,” “On the Table” and “The Town Halo” (the last of which closed the set and nearly brought the house down), and newer material, which mostly fell flat. Although the band (a New Porno-esque supergroup featuring Shane Nelken of the Awkward Stage, among others) thrashed around the stage convincingly, it felt oddly phoned-in at times. Not to worry, though—the bulk of the crowd, mostly comprised of embryonic nouveau-Main Street yuppies (with the hipster contingent forming a vocal minority), enjoyed the show demurely from their barstools, applauding politely and occasionally venturing out onto the floor in search of one of the scattered pockets of energetically leaping and flailing youngsters.

Opener Dent May & his Magnificent Ukulele, on the other hand, was a magnificent surprise. May managed to win over an indifferent crowd, crooning earnestly and combining rustic instrumentation with unexpectedly grandiose flourishes of ’60s pop. The effect was something like Burt Bacharach playing with Elvis Costello (wait, didn’t that actually happen once?) with the Violent Femmes as their backing band—May left the stage having raised his Vancouver profile considerably.