Real Live Action

Hard Drugs & Adelaide


Biltmore Cabaret; July 25, 2009

Review By Andrew Candela

After the heavy blanket of thunder and rain dissipated, releasing Vancouver from one of its most spectacular storms in memory, the city was treated to an even greater spectacle of nature. The sky held an electric orange glow, a slow-burning light show that spread just to the western side of Quebec St., leaving the east side of Mount Pleasant in a deep brown and purple haze. Though any deep divide between Vancouver’s East and West may be long gone, nature’s light and shadow play had me imagining there was still, deep differences between East and West. Walking into the dimly lit Biltmore basement where the PBRs were on special and greasy hair and flannel was the norm, the night felt like an East Van experience.

Hard Drugs, photo by Ryan Walter Wagner
Hard Drugs, photo by Ryan Walter Wagner

I saw Adelaide once years ago and felt indifferent. Not so tonight. They’ve honed southern grunge rock to a science. Remember the time before Pearl Jam and Nickleback, when singing in a sustained drunken drawl had some charm, and the lyrics (although barely discernible) were gloomy, thoughtful and interesting? How a generation of drunk drivers and hicks hijacked and ruined a singing style is a mystery to me, but Jesse Booi from Adelaide has found a way to sing with a southern slur and make it sound shit hot (rather than just shit.) Assisted by the pool of incredible talent that plays alongside him, bassist Ty McLeod and drummer Ben Frey kept the crowd lulled with a trance-inducing rhythm, while their lead guitarist John Rogers crafted each of his leads into a swelling melodic narrative of grungy lamentation, drawing from the most tasteful elements of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. The low point was when a string broke and the band couldn’t get a new guitar fast enough to keep the feeling going. A difficult finale, for a great set.

Hard Drugs were quick to assemble their nine-piece all-star group, which included members of Bend Sinister, Black Mountain and Blood Meridian. There were some serious cult overtones to the spectacle. All the musicians were clad in white (save frontman Jeff Lee), and had confused shit-eating-grins on their faces. Lee, despite his scruffy and broody demeanor, was obviously pleased to be there, and announced that this would be the first, and likely last time, the entire Hard Drugs self-titled album would be played live. What ensued was a sweaty, finely-tuned alt-country musical landscape, bringing the audience over an hour’s worth of love, addiction, tragedy, murder and gunfights. While the telling of Terminal City’s junkie love story could have used a slightly more nuanced perspective (the double LP has some questionable pictures of band members posing like “real life” junkies), the audience and members were so enthusiastic that it was impossible to dwell on the politics of presentation. The backup vocals were executed and arranged with razor sharp precision, the keys and guitars were dynamic and subtle in their interplay, and everyone in the band took a turn singing.

The whole night felt like a beer and pot soaked homecoming party. Very East Van indeed.