The River and The Road played a packed show at the Media Club to celebrate the release of their debut self-titled album. The Vancouver transplants, consisting of the bearded Australian wonder Andrew Phelan on guitar and north Vancouver Island banjo-master Keenan Lawlor, have been busting their asses in Vancouver bars, up and down Granville Street in particular, for a brief time, but they’ve amassed quite the following with their twangy folk rock and good old boy charms.
They’ve made some good friends along the way too. Opening were Dogwood and Dahlia who took a moment out of their set to reflect on times playing basement shows with Phelan and Lawlor to make rent money. They made a great impression with their melancholy trumpet and moody songs that evoked all the emotion of prairie thunderstorms and whiskey-filled hearts.
Following up were the wonderfully loud and fun Behind Sapphire, who strike a kind of shoegaze-screamo balance in their music with layers of sounds and extended riffs that encourage heartfelt wild abandon. Their excitement and enthusiasm were contagious and reciprocated in kind by the enthralled crowd, and they struck an incredibly poignant moment with their cover of 19th century Christian hymn “Nearer, My God, To Thee” towards the end of their set.
Both of the opening acts set a high bar for The River and The Road, who did not disappoint. The already dense crowd pushed in as close as they could as Phelan and Lawlor took the stage. Everyone loves a banjo, but to incorporate it so beautifully into an acoustic folk and rock sound is really something to behold.
Phelan and Lawlor forego any theatrics with their music in favour of sincere melancholic music about loss of love on songs like “Elisabeth.” The soul and honesty evident in their music and their performance makes you feel instantly better about every loss and bitter memory that you have, even when they’re singing about cocaine addiction. The tempo and excitement steadily built.
They made a blues song dance like a swing tune and escalated to a triumphant pounding rock ‘n’ roll finale that had them playing with the crowd onstage—always with the folky twang of Lawlor’s banjo persisting. It’s no wonder that they’ve been embraced by Vancouver folk fans. The River and The Road aren’t going to remain a hidden gem for long; they’re basically to folk what the Black Keys were to blues, and it couldn’t have happened to two nicer guys. I was totally unfamiliar with any of the acts going into that night, but I was a lifelong fan as I left.