The Tom Fun Orchestra w/ The Strumbellas @ Electric Owl -- 11/23/12

The first time I ever saw The Tom Fun Orcheastra live was back in '09; it was their first Vancouver show, at a crappy pub with mediocre opening bands, and they didn't even go on stage until 1am, thanks to a lengthy turnaround due to the venue not letting the eight piece band set up beforehand. In short, it was a bit of a gong show.
But as soon as they played, they turned the whole night around. They took what could have been a terrible night, and with the power of their live show, wowed everyone in the room.
I've seen them every time they've been back since (which is not often enough), so I wasn't going to miss them at the Electric Owl. Especially since they were touring with a band that I had been meaning to see for a while, so that worked out well.

That opening band was Lindsey, Ontario's The Strumbellas. The six members took the stage and from the opening song, I was struck by their stellar harmonies and upbeat, alt-country "folk-popgrass" sound. The insanely catchy "Lakes" was a great example of said harmonies, and their whole set was bubbling over with energy. Other highlights included "I Just Had A Baby" with the lyrics "I have cried to bigger men than you, I have lied to better friends than you." and yet another song to get stuck in your head long after the show, "Sheriff".
Each member had a great enthusiasm and stage presence, with a lot of funny banter -- most of which was off the cuff ribbing of other band members; especially from lead singer Simon Ward. You could tell they were all having an absolute blast on stage, and that excitement was definitely infectious. I have no doubt that I'll make sure to see them next time they're through town.

It wasn't long after that Cape Breton's The Tom Fun Orchestra hit the stage, now down to seven members with instruments ranging from accordion and banjo and horns, for a rich and lush eclectic mish-mash folk, roots, blues, rock and punk. The sound is driven by the distinct and unique rough gravel of Ian Macdougall's voice, which contrasts beautifully with the lovely voice of Breagh Potter; their different styles could easily clash, but they blend together so perfectly.
Most of the set focused on the new album, Earthworm Heart, starting off with the lead track, "Merry Christmas, Jim" -- not a very festive song, despite the name. Some highlights includes the cacophonous "Watchmaker" from their previous album, You Will Land With A Thud, and "Lungs", which rises to a grand ending.  They played right up until the curfew, not bothering with the faux-encore, ending the night by first inviting members of The Strumbellas back on stage for a big group party for the explosive "Animal Mask", and then inviting everyone on stage for their last song of the night, "Sympathetic Wolf" culminating in a giant sing along, the stage packed with musicians, friends and fans.

As amazing an energy as The Strumbellas has, Tom Fun managed to not only match it, but top it as well. The term "force of nature" may be a cliché when describing music and bands, but it definitely applies to The Tom Fun Orchestra, and with the strength of both bands, this may be a late contender for one of the best shows of the year.