Real Live Action

Samantha Savage Smith

w/ Lab Coast, Masahiro Takahashi, and Half Chinese

The Cobalt; August 3, 2013

Real Live Review by Fraser Dobbs

There aren’t many nine-to-fivers in Vancouver’s live music scene, so it’s funny that everyone seemed to have gone to bed early on a Monday night instead of showing up at the Cobalt for a mish-mash of rock bands. Or maybe they were all hanging out with their bros at the Kurt Vile concert? A fistful of music nerds still came out to support the imported Calgary musical community, and that’s all that was needed.

Opener Masahiro Takahashi met the members of Half Chinese by doing exactly what most Vancouverites don’t — approaching a band after their set. His enthusiasm is infectious and a breath of fresh air compared to the cold-shoulder approach most locals favour. Flanked by Harrison Pratt and Enzio Verster, Takahashi’s unconventional pop songs were beautiful, and a perfect fit for Half Chinese. Sung mostly in his native Japanese, Takahashi has a bossa nova styling that is definitely a product of his homeland. The Pillows without the overdrive, or Deerhoof without the mangled time signatures, the band was energetic to watch, especially when Pratt donned sunglasses behind the drum kit.

Out-of-towners Lab Coast and Samantha Savage Smith were nearly the same band—it must be nice when you share so many members between groups that you can all squeeze into one minivan. Lab Coast played first with a R.E.M. vibe, and were a great example of Prairie Rock: open and honest singer-songwriter tunes turned into pop jingles with plenty of relatively sparse instrumentation. Gently tugging on the crowd’s heartstrings from behind a synthesizer, frontman David Laing was humble but emotive. Rhythm guitarist Henry Hsieh stood out as a particularly excellent addition to the ensemble, throwing in some excellent tube-fed tones and just the right amount of overdrive growl to each song.

Samantha Savage Smith’s unique voice, which wasn’t showcased when playing lead guitar with Lab Coast, is reason enough to justify her own set. Think Joanna Newsom in a higher register with a twang, and you wouldn’t be far off. Instead of a harp, Smith balances her vocal chords with some straight-up country guitar and an appropriately modest backing band. Those that stuck out the night were richly rewarded, and they didn’t even have to put up with 300 people screaming for an encore of “Baby’s Arms.”