The stage stood bathed in red light while the crowd at the Waldorf waited expectantly for someone to step up to the microphone. Soon enough, openers Hoorayborhood performed a spoken-word piece with a couple keyboards chirping in the background.
Riel Hahn, who I hadn’t heard of before, was up next. Judging from the guitar slung over her shoulder and the tacky sport coat she was wearing, I was expecting some girly, sensitive, singer-songwriter bullshit. However, instead of playing the guitar, Hahn spent the first five minutes talking about how she had gotten into a fight with her mother last weekend after being picked from the ferry. Hahn then bemoaned the recent election, stating that any woman who voted for Harper should expect a “punch in the face” from her. She sang two songs, the first a humorous ditty about her life as a single, middle-aged woman, the other about her desire to live in a Communist country. She was pretty funny, but I’m glad her set was short. Her singing was terrible.
Graham Clark took the stage after Hahn, and his offbeat timing and steady stream of jokes kept the audience in stitches. Clark is one of the masterminds behind the popular Vancouver comedy podcast, “Stop Podcasting Yourself.” It should be noted that Clark was wearing a newsboy cap and has a mighty, mighty beard. It’s Moses-esque! He informed the audience we weren’t just going to get “wet with excitement” from his set, but covered from “head to toe in moisture.”
The Burnettes came onstage after Clark and played a short, three-song set. The band was lead by Cora & Chris Burnette. Cora had an interesting, Little-House-on-the-Prairie look to her wardrobe, which lent itself well to the countrified pop songs the band was playing. Their song “Falling,” about the highs and lows of a new relationship, was a jumpy number with jangly guitar and plucky banjo. They were the first “serious” act of the night and they performed well, but ultimately they were a mere appetizer for the main course, the pride of Commercial Drive, C.R. Avery.
C.R. Avery and the Special Interest Group took the stage dressed in suits that looked like they’d been rescued from a Grandparent’s attic. The band looked sharp, if dated. Avery looked like a 70s era James Bond, with huge lapels decorating his fitted beige suit jacket. Opener “You On Me” was an epic, sprawling, soulful number that sounded like a b-side from Springsteen’s Darkness On the Edge of Town. “Whatever happened to you and me against the world?” Avery sang over and over as the band built upon a doo-wop inspired riff. Eventually Avery started bouncing around stage singing “Ooooo baby!” in his finest Elvis drawl.
Avery played a number of tracks both old and new throughout the set, and also treated fans to a spoken-word piece about stories “tattooed beneath his skin.” He made people laugh with a tale about a seven-year-old kid who heckled him at a show in the Rhizome café. This was my fifth time seeing C.R. Avery and this was the tightest show I’ve seen his band perform. The musicianship was focused and precise, giving Avery room to play but also providing him boundaries to work within.
There are times, however, when I wish Avery would focus on one type of music. I truly believe he could be the next Springsteen. He has the grit, the imagery and the talent to write tough, mind-blowing pop songs (and sometimes he does) but he has so many interests that his records often lack cohesion. He’s seeking greatness in his own unique way and I’m happy to be along for the ride, but, man, I would love to hear more Springsteen and less beatboxing on the next record.
The show ended with the band coming back on for an encore that involved a burlesque dancer who, while handcuffed and blindfolded, undressed herself down to her bottom drawers while the band played a thumping, garage-esque rendition of “Dungeon of Love,” off Avery’s latest album So It Goes. Overall, it was a fantastic set from C.R. Avery and the Special Interest Group.