Steam Whistle Unsigned w/ JP Maurice, Rolla Olak, & Redbird @ Biltmore -- 04/03/14

The Steam Whistle Unsigned concert series was started by the Toronto microbrewery to promote local unsigned talent, and they have returned to Vancouver for the first show of the year. The ongoing concert series, which takes place in multiple cities across Canada, spotlights three local bands and partners with a charity that receives the proceeds of the show; this time it was Music Heals, an organization that promotes the healing power of music.

Starting off the night was a favourite around these parts, Redbird. It's been a while since any new music from the band, fronted by the lovely voiced Savannah Leigh Wellman, and recently she has been teasing a shift from her previous folksy-rock sound to what she described as "rock you can shake your hips to" -- or simply, Sex Rock. Which was a perfect description to the groovy jams of the new songs that made up the bulk of the set, like the sultry "Wandering One". Even the few old songs were bumped up a little, like "The West Wind" and the almost unrecognizable sexy bass groove given to "No Game".
My favourite of the set was the final song, which I didn't catch the name of; Savannah introduced it as a space rock song, and the slow beginning gradually swelled into a dizzying swirling of John Sponarski's amazing guitar and guest Andrew Rasmussen's keyboard for a great ending to the set. As someone that is maybe starting to think they are getting "over" the current folk movement, I really enjoyed the new sound, and I am very interested to hear the new album that Savannah teased.

Next up was Rolla Olak, who I have seen play a few times recently, ranging from solo to a full band. It's always the latter I enjoy more, and luckily that's exactly what this was, as Rolla was joined by his band (which included John Sponarski pulling double duty). His roots-y sound is a lot more upbeat and rocking with the full band, the energetic boot-stomping songs getting people moving. And while Rolla doesn't say much on stage, his passion is evident.
Part way through the set Savannah came out and helped sing on a slower jam, and as he was finishing up, Rolla got the weeknight crowd to sing along a little to a song called "It's Alright". He wrapped up with probably the best song of his set, a raging blues rocker where he was joined by Eric Larocque on harmonica.
Olak puts on a strong set, but I think is just missing that undefinable something to set him apart and above the others like him, to take him to that next level.

And finally, ending the night was JP Maurice. Joined by a stagefull of familiar faces, his nine-piece band included a host of local musicians; Stephanie Chatman on violin, Jer Breaks on guitar, Timmy "Boom Bap" Proznick on drums, Marcus Abramzik on bass, Andrew Rasmussen on keys, and a backing vocal trio of Alex Badger, Stephanie Mcmahon, and Savannah Wellman. There were a couple times when the nine-piece band felt a little too cumbersome, but the members rotated on and off stage, and for the most part they gelled well.
Starting off with a pair of songs that showcased the darker side of JP's pop-rock, "Poison Heart" and "Get Mad", the set was filled with raw emotions. Many of his songs are about love and/or loss, and the passion pours out of JP when her performs, leaving his heart on the stage every night.
Friend and collaborator David Newberry joined JP on stage for a song, "Pennies" and after the infinitely catchy "Mistake", JP and friends closed the set with the single from his most recent album The Arborist, "The Other One".
But even at a half past midnight, the remaining crowd cheered for more, and the band was back out for one final song, JP's cover of Fleetwood Mac's "Dreams", which briefly morphed into "Teenage Dream" and back again.

Not only was this Unsigned show a great showcase for the local bands, but a great showcase of the local scene. Musicians were crossing bands the entire night, and even the crowd was filled with various members of other bands, there to watch. It's shows like this that show off the level of support that can exist in parts of the Vancouver music scene.