While the Mynabirds played an enjoyable (so I heard) set opening up a memorably celebratory evening at the Biltmore, I was booking-it, uphill, while mowing down a Budgie’s Burrito – and it’s real hard to eat while booking-it uphill. Luckily for the Mynabirds, they’ve been accruing a fair amount of acclaim, including a more-than-decent Pitchfork review of their spring release Generals, so they probably don’t mind my unfavourable (and delicious) prioritizing. Right?
It was a melange of emotions for headliner and beloved local A.C. Newman, both a farewell to tour mates the Mynabirds, and the first show with L.A.-based outfit Harriet, who would carry for future dates.
Harriet proved worth the trek. They’re a five-piece with the good-music-thing figured out: a healthy helping of synth (without dousing us in it), a smattering of well-placed harmonies, and practical footwear. Frontman Alex Casnoff’s vocals veered from somewhere in honky-tonk territory, careening into controlled and crunchy yelps, and even hit some sweet softies, while backed by impressively diverse drumming and an assortment of guitar twanging, sliding, and occasional shredding. Overall, they were a solid indie-rock act. Stand-out moments included hearing the single “I Slept With All Your Mothers,” exemplary of a lyrical tongue-in-cheek tendency, and witnessing the guy standing at the side of the stage attempting to sketch the band in his giant notebook as quickly as possible.
Finally, Newman appeared, humble yet triumphant, to a palpably eager crowd; and he was backed by an especially good-looking band. Double score! With his understated humour and recognizably warm voice, Newman and his band won the Biltmore over with the first note. Opening wonderfully with the big and beautiful “I’m Not Talking” proved that also-New Pornographer is a man of persistent classiness, and that it’s better if your bassist (local Megan Bradfield) can also play the clarinet. Following closely, “On the Table” had the unmissable mane of keyboardist, Zach Miller, flouncing, and the crowd lapping up every moment.
Pulling from an impressive discography, Newman’s performance wavered from cosmic country with ethereal ballads, to dance-inducing heights spurned by pop-rock gems including “Like a Hitman, Like a Dancer.” Woodwind wizardry tightened up and completed the sound, thanks to sax, flute, and clarinet master Chris Miller. Inevitably, finishing the set with the splashy “Miracle Drug” left everyone begging for an encore.
As the six heroically returned, Laura Burhenn of the Mynabirds appeared with a round of celebratory shots for bottled-water sipping Newman and his band. Despite admitting he didn’t really want to, like a good sport he gulped it down and finished the night with an appreciated three-song encore, garnishing an amazing evening with the lucid and lovely “The Town Halo.”
A.C. Newman is an act not to miss. Impressive poster art, mom-approved, and just consistently great; one of Vancouver’s most precious exports.