The Harpoonist & The Axe Murderer @ Vogue Theatre -- 06/27/15

For the last week and a half, the Vancouver International Jazz Festival has descended upon the city with hundreds of bands across dozens of venues around the town, both free and ticketed shows. And you can't accuse the jazz fest of having too narrow a focus; the long running festival brings more than just the titular genre to Vancouver. Last year two of the Jazz Fest shows I caught were Royal Canoe and Yamantaka // Sonic Titan, and last night they presented two of the finest blues/roots rock bands the city has to offer.

Due to a bit of a kerfuffle at the doors, I got in a few minutes late, catching the tail end of a brand new song from The Matinée. It had been a little over a year since I last saw them play a show and in that time they have been writing and recording a new album, so they took this opportunity to test drive some of their new songs in front of the hometown crowd.

The new songs gave a little bit more emphasis on the "rock" portion of "roots-rock" with arena-ready anthems like "Broken Arrow", or the one that really caught my attention, a passionate song called "Rocky Mountain". Another new one, "Edge of Something" took more of a dark and moody turn, and "Anna Lee" started off with just the Matts -- lead singer Layzell and guitar virtuoso Rose -- for a soft and beautiful ballad, before they were joined by Geoff Petrie for backing vocals, and then the full band for a big finish.

Of course they sprinkled in old favourites as well, most of which had people stomping and clapping along, like the driving percussion of "The Road", and one of my favourites "L'Absinthe". After one last giant sing-(and-clap-and-stomp)-along, with "Sweet Water", the band ended their set with a bang, their hit single "Young & Lazy". And as that wound down, and Matt Layzell thanked everyone, he joked about them playing a jazz festival only for drummer Pete Lemon to shift into a jazz vibe, joined by Georges Couling on keys and bassist Marcus Abramzik. After a bit of scatting, they shifted into something a little more their speed, a cover of Tom Petty's "American Canadian Girl" to finish off the set.

Blood Alley, The Road, L'Absinthe,  Broken Arrows, Call Of The Wild, Edge Of Something, Rocky Mountain, Anna Lee, Sweet Water, Young & Lazy (w/ American Girl [Tom Petty cover]).

There a bit of a lengthy turnaround between bands, which normally would annoy me, but right before they were to go on an amp blew causing them to scramble for a replacement, so this time it was understandable.

But they got that sorted out and The Harpoonist & The Axe Murderer took the stage, the pair of Shawn "The Harpoonist" Hall on vocals and harmonica, and Matthew "The Axe Murderer" Rogers on, well, everything else. Guitar and drums, occasionally simultaneously with the kick drum, and in a feat of impressive dexterity, playing floor tom with one arm and guitar (with a drum stick) with the other. The pair was also joined by their secret weapons: Dawn Pemberton and Jody "Miss Quincy" Peck on backup vocals. The two are captivating performers in their own right, and came just shy of stealing the spotlight from the guys.

The set focused mainly on their latest album, A Real Fine Mess, kicking off with the almost-title track "A Real Fine Noise", right away showcasing Shawn's gritty blues vocals and Matt's incendiary guitar. They played for just over and hour and a half with highlights of the set including the rollicking and cheeky "Act Your Age", "Are You Listening Lord" dripping with raw emotion as Shawn raged against the heavens asking the eponymous question, "Sweat This Pain" dripping with something else in the Vancouver heat wave, and "Cry A Little", which they noted was written with Matt's brother, Ben Rogers, who also designed artwork for the band, including the show's poster.

"Don't Make 'Em Like They Used To", saw Jody pick up her own axe to play rhythm guitar, and they also tested out a new song that culminated with Matt just on fire, playing it for the first time (Shawn was sure to tell people after they played it, joking that you never tell anyone something is your first time before you do it).
They also played a stripped down "Roll With The Punches", but split up the verses into three different interludes throughout the set; first Jody belting it out, then Dawn flooring the crowd, and then finally Shawn capping it off. One guy behind me spent about 64% of the set just yelling "badass!" towards the stage, and with moments like those, I couldn't argue.

After a rousing "Wake Up", they "ended" appropriately enough with a breakup song, "Get Out", building to a big finish with Shawn and Matt duelling on their harp and axe, respectively. But the crowd wasn't satisfied with just that, and they were back out for a couple more, first slowing things down for their ballad "Feel Me Now" before bringing the energy right back up one last time, and again joined by Jody on guitar, for "Shake It".

I've said it just about every time I've seen them play, but it's amazing just how captivating two men sitting on stools can be. With energy and enthusiasm to spare, they filled the Vogue Theatre with their passionate blues rock.
The only thing that would have made the show better would have been a collaboration of some sorts. Both bands had covered each others songs before the night, and I thought that was leading up to something on-stage, which would have been pretty great. But even without that, it was still a damn good show with a couple of Vancouver's finest.

A Real Fine Noise, In The End, Act Your Age, Do Whatcha, Roll with the Punches (pt I), My Paradise, Mama's In The Backseat, Are You Listening Lord, Cry A Little, Roll with the Punches (pt II), [new song], In And Out Of Love, Sweat This Pain, Don't Make 'em Like They Used To, Roll with the Punches (pt III), Wake Up, Get Out.
(encore) Feel Me Now, Shake It.

Photos by Christine McAvoy