Wil @ Electric Owl -- 06/25/12

It's that time of year when the Vancouver International Jazz Festivaltakes over the town. I am planning on a few shows this year, but the first of which is a musician I first saw sever or eight years ago, and was instantly mesmerized by. Wil (full name Wil Mimnaugh) lives up to his website name, ibreakstrings.com, with the habit of breaking strings right off his guitar from the intensity of his strumming. I hadn't had the chance to see live in far too long, so I was more than a little excited for the show.

It was an early show, and first up was Bocephus King, who had an upbeat, bluesy sort of sound. With King on guitar and vocals, joined by Paul Townsend on drums and Robin Layne on percussion, with a variety of shakers and noisemakers, they seemed very natural and fluid, almost as if it was improvised right there, and the way the band meshed was incredible, as they melted genres together flawlessly. 
Part way through the set they were joined by Skye Wallace, with her soft voice helping out with vocals and the set was brought to an end with a song that started soft and built to a great ending, and even featured a bit of flute. 
It was amazing to watch all the songs come together live, and any other night, there is a strong possibility that they would have stolen the show.

Not long after Wil took the stage, just himself, and Kevin Haughton on drums. His fast-hands on the acoustic guitar and rough, soulful voice filled the room and his passion for playing was immediately apparent, as the music seemed to flow out of him effortlessly for the entire set. Clocking in at nearly two hours, Wil played songs spanning the years, from the heart-wrenching "Oak Tree" off his newest album, Heart of Mine, all the way back to the first song he wrote, "Both Hands", switching occasionally from a normal microphone to an old microphone. the "shitty phone call mic" as he called it.
The first broken string of the night came during "Roam", a song written for the Travel Alberta board, and after picking up his backup guitar -- which had a visible arc of wear and tear from how intense he plays -- he broke yet another string a couple songs later. At that point he decided to end the set with one more song, written because of his frequent string breaking that both requires and is titled "4 Strings", an instrumental that was among one of the most impressive displays of guitar playing I have witnessed.
He was set to wrap up the set with that, but was informed he still had more time if he, and the crowd,  wanted; and with an overwhelming response, he got what may have been an actual, legitimate encore -- though only after a short, ten minute break to re-string his guitars.
When he returned he took a few requests, breaking his third and final string of the night with "The Deal", and switching to his backup to end off the set with an older one, "Sweet Rebecca" and finally finishing off the night with the amazing and intense "Honey Pie".

For years, Wil has been one of my favourite guitar players, especially to watch live, and this show did nothing but remind me why. The "breaking strings" thing may seem gimmicky when heard about second hand, but it never feels forces, like he's actively trying to break them, and it only takes watching him perform live once to become a lifelong fan.

And as for the fate of the broken strings, they don't just wind up in the trash. Several years ago Wil's wife Caroline started making jewellery out of the discarded strings, and at the merch booth -- or online -- you can buy bracelets, necklaces and earrings made from broken guitar strings.

Rain On, Gold, Wedding Dress, Oak Tree, Tell You Twice, Both Hands, Roam, If You Want Me Too, Ride, 4 String.
(encore) The Deal, Baby Baby, Sweet Rebecca, Honey Pie.