Some shows are best served with spilled beers, tacky floors and a neighbour’s moshing ponytail whipping sweat into your eyes. Sometimes you want to settle into a plush red seat, drink in hand, and sit back to take in the artistry.
The latter was the case at the Red Gate Revue on Thursday as Kellarissa took to the stage for the triumphant launch of Ocean Electro, the third album (and first in seven years) from Larissa Loyva’s solo project. The launch was supported by a diverse mix of local talent which stood testament to Loyva’s long-term and varied involvement in Vancouver’s music scene.
Sydney Hermant opened the evening with a solo Hello Blue Roses set. Hermant is one half of this project, alongside partner Dan Bejar, but alone she capably embodied their sound through dexterous juggling of guitar, flute and vocal loops. Hermant’s soaring folk voice, though, took centre stage, toeing the line between familiarity and heartbreak, and wedding offbeat literary phrasing with the shape and tone of ballad form.
The second opener was a dramatic change of pace. Devours is the solo project of Jeff Cancade, who approached his synth-laden beat-making station in a sequined jacket and thick, fierce, glittered brows, teamed with football shorts and sneakers – this was an artist who was not here to stand still. Although camp samples and heavy disco beats seemed an unlikely match for the theatre-style venue, Cancade skilfully built his set to showcase candid lyrics and earnest vocals in equal measure with euphoric, glitchy hooks. By closing track “Late Bloomer,” he had half the audience enrolled in his percussion section, and had built ample energy and anticipation for Kellarissa’s set.
And, from the moment Lovya took the stage – resplendent in a structured snakeskin jumpsuit, flanked by a quartet of backup singers in neck-to-wrist golden capes – it was clear that this set would not hold back on bells and whistles. The format was a stark departure from the one-person shows on which Kellarissa has built her reputation: not a loop pedal in sight, the orchestration relied on backing tracks and the choral (also shimmying) coordination of her fellow vocalists.
This meant the set followed not just the track listing, but also the acoustic palate of Ocean Electro very precisely – until, that is, the addition of unwelcome bells and whistles five songs in, when the stage’s smoke machines progressed from setting ambience to triggering a full-blown evacuation alarm. As the bells kept ringing, the track kept playing, and for a moment it seemed as though the whole spectacle could fall apart. But Kellarissa rose to the occasion: voices swelled and they saw out the song with renewed vigour, finishing “Mirabel” to a standing ovation that continued out onto the sidewalk.
When the show returned after a half hour interlude featuring a requisite appearance from the City of Vancouver’s fine emergency professionals, the strength of voice Lovya had summoned to drown out the fire bells didn’t fade away. Instead, she stepped more assuredly into her role as lead vocalist. In the penultimate song, “Hey Hey Rosé,” the ensemble reached their full potential as Lovya’s soaring lead converged with deftly layered backing in a choral totality powerful beyond the sum of its parts. If Kellarissa envisioned ‘ocean electro’ as a genre defined by ‘femme psych electronica’ – this was surely it.