The Belle Game & David Vertesi @ Biltmore -- 06/04/15

Almost exactly a year ago was the last time I saw The Belle Game play, at the CBC Music Festival in Deer Lake Park. I am not sure if that was the last time they played live until now, but for the last few months the band has been hunkered down to work on their upcoming album. And as they near completion, they popped up for a show here in Vancouver, to tease and try out some of their new songs.
And you know it's going to be a good show when half of Vancouver's music scene shows up, members of at least a half dozen other bands in the crowd.

First up, though, was their pal David Vertesi opening the night with his self-described Sad Dad Cruise Ship, Crooncore sound, joined by Andrew Rassmussen on keys and Johnny Andrews on drums. After an instrumental build up, Vertesi started off the set with the high energy "Soft Skin" off his album Cardiography. Most of the set revisited the album, but also included a few new songs, like the catchy "Loud Talker".

I've always said what puts Vertesi above your average singer-songwriter is the amount of emotion he puts into his songs, and that was definitely evident during the show. Especially the absolutely heartbreaking "Learn To Run" which starts off soft and erupted with raw emotion. That lead into a new song, I think perhaps called "Forever Young", that was my favourite of the set. An upbeat song with lyrical nostalgia from Vertesi's smooth baritone. He also jumping into the crowd to play guitar part way through the song, eliciting some swooning reactions.

From there he turned every late-20-early-30-something person in the crowd into a screaming fangirl, with his cover of "Say You'll be There" by the Spice Girls, and finally he wrapped up the set with "Mountainside", a great song about a doomed relationship.

It wasn't long after that the curtain was pulled back for The Belle Game, (almost) the entire band clad in white. As well as their first show in a while, it was the first show with the band's "new" lineup, slimming down from a six-piece to a quartet; they dropped their bass player entirely (with Katrina Jones picking up the bass slack with the keys and synth) and guitarist Alex Andrew moving behind the drum kit. Adam Nanji and Andrea Lo's positions remained unchanged, on guitar and vocals respectively.

The set started with an ethereal, haunting introduction before they launched into a set of nearly exclusively new songs. Which for the most part sounded very much an extension of The Belle Game's sound. Enough like their previous album not to be jarring, but new & different enough not to be stagnant. And you could hear vague influences, songs had hints of R&B, or soul, or pop -- but without betraying the sound that made their first album Ritual Tradition Habit so good. Well, there was one song that had a bit of an overdose of synth and drum pads, but the rest of the new songs were rooted in their dark, orchestral indiepop sound.

Highlights included "The River", the only old song they played, which was the stunning highlight of Andrea's powerful voice, and a new song that I had actually seen performed a few times, and was a favourite since I first heard it, called "Mess Around" (I think). It is a slow-burning song that builds up to both Andrea's voice and their rich sound soaring, filling the venue.

They brought the set to a close with another soulful jam, not bothering with the whole faux-encore leave-and-come-back deal (which I always like when bands forego that). And while it was a really good set, I think the band had the slightest bit of "stage rust" -- notably, Alex seemed a little stiff on the drums a couple times. But seeing it was their first show in that configuration, I have no doubt that they'll be a finely tuned machine before long. It was still highly enjoyable, and definitely had me eager to hear the new album.

photos by Christine McAvoy