String Fling w/ Four on the Floor String Quartet @ Rio Theatre -- 12/13/12

Even if you don't know them by name, there's a good chance you've seen some members of the Four on the Floor String Quartet playing live. As a group or individually, they've been a part of the Vancouver music scene for a while, playing with local artists like Adaline, The Belle Game, Kyprios, The Matinee, and many others, as well as having members of the quartet taking place in every Peak Performance Project as a part of various backing bands.
But they've decided to step into the spotlight and put on the first (of what I hope is many) String Fling, which saw members Hannah Epperson, Michelle Faehrmann, Tony Kastelic and Dougal McLean inviting some local acts to the Rio Theatre to play some of their own songs, with string accompaniment. And as someone who has always had a soft spot for strings in music, I was definitely interested to see how they came together with some of Vancouver's finest.

The show was broken into two halves, with each the performers playing a few songs and a steady flow of music with Four on the Floor performing between acts, with songs from their members or spoken word poetry over top of some strings arrangements. They opened the show with a songs before being joined by the first performer of the night, Ali Milner. With her gorgeous voice and jazzy piano, the strings blended really well with upbeat songs like the catchy "Waiting" and the dynamic "Fly".

After a spoken word interlude, they showcased a couple of their own solo projects, first Dougal Bain McLean with a could laid back, singer-songwriter-type songs, followed by the looping violin and lovely voice of Hannah Epperson, joined by Ajay Bhattacharyya on a drum machine for the aptly named "We Will Host A Party".

Ajay stayed on stage, joined by his bandmate Amy Kirkpatrick as Data Romance was up next. There was a bit of technical difficulties before they started, but Hannah covered fairly smoothly and they soon launched into their dark and moody, synth-infused electronic vibes. They played a couple new songs, teasing a new album in February, but I think they meshed with the string quartet least well -- which isn't to say it was bad in the slightest, just a clash of styles. That is, until their last song which was a bit more low key with Amy's ethereal voice soaring with the strings to close out the first half of the show.

After a short break, the second half opened with a spoken word piece from the quartet before Dominique Fricot took the stage. He is definitely no stranger to playing with Four on the Floor -- they helped him land third place in this year's Peak Performance Project -- and so he meshed the best with the quartet of all the performers. The acerbically charming Fricot talked and joked with the crowd, taking advantage of their relaxed atmosphere to play a couple slower, quieter songs from his repertoire, including the title track to his recent EP If Baby Could Walk. 

The next interlude, featured another spoken word piece, this time it segueing into the quartet playing the epic Game of Thrones theme, which was as fantastic as it sounds.

Of all the acts of the night, I was most interested to see how Shaun Verreault's bluesy sound mixed with the strings, and he introduced his first song as one least likely to be backed by a string quartet; Wide Mouth Mason's "Love Not Loving You". Originally a raw, distorted blues-rock song, it was turned into an absolutely gorgeous and heartbreaking number that ended up being my favourite of the night. His next couple songs were from his own solo albums, both a little more suited for the strings accompaniment, giving his amazing guitar playing and powerful voice an extra kick.

After one last Four on the Floor interlude, The Gay Nineties hit the stage to close out the night with their energetic and infectious rock. The first song had guest vocals from the powerful Colleen Rennison of No Sinner, and their raw energy was enough to get people up and dancing at the front of the stage. They sounded pretty much exactly like themselves, but with the addition of strings, which wasn't a bad thing at all, and they were definitely a good choice in closing out the night.

The pacing of the show was fantastic, with it never dragging on or seeming long, and for the most part everything ran like clockwork. It was a great night of music with a fantastic premise, and at the end of the show, they hinted at already planning a second one, and I already can't wait to see who Four on the Floor will be collaborating with for another.

Peak Performance Project Showcase #1 @ Red Room -- 09/13/12

The Peak Performance Project is a multi-year contest in which The Peak, along with Music BC, picks 20 BC musicians/bands a year and makes them stars. Past winners are We Are The City, Kyprios, and Current Swell with a ton of great bands and artists included as well.
Part one of the project was a rock & roll boot camp where they went on a week long retreat to get lectures and advice from industry pros to help them refine their craft. Phase two is a series of shows at The Red Room, four artists a night for five weeks, each playing a 45 minute set. The bands are rated by a panel of judges, which will go toward their final score in the project, and they've also been tasked to learn a "Classic Canadian Cover" to play during their set. I always love hearing bands play cover songs, and I am definitely looking forward to see who each act chooses (and, as in the past, I am going to keep a running tally on how many Arcade Fire, Neil Young or Leonard Cohen songs we get).

And going in to this, I'm not going to pretend I don't have biases; there are bands this year I am familiar with and bands that I am already a big fan of, and this showcase was, at first glance, the one I was looking forward to the most. 

Ali Milner: The jazzy-pop sounds of Ali Milner started off not only the night, but the showcase series. Her backing band included some familiar faces; Erik P.H. Nielsen on bass and Rob Tornroos on guitar. I've seen Ali play a few times in recent months, and I would have to say this is the best set I've seen her play. Behind the keys with her gorgeous voice, her bubbly personality is infectious, and it translated into a fun and upbeat set, with dynamic songs like "Fly". 
Ali is no stranger to covering Canadian singers, and her cover wasn't new, rather a song that she's had in her repertoire for a few years, "After the Gold Rush" by Neil Young. It was a good cover, but I was hoping she would do something new.
The set ended with "Waiting", which saw Ali take out a box of egg shakers part way through the song and jump into the crowd to distribute them for people to play along -- and they all had numbers on them, with one lucky person winning some merch. 

I genuinely hope that Ali makes the top three -- which would make her the first female to crack the top three -- but I have a feeling this is going to be the hardest year to predict the outcome.

beekeeperWith the lights dimmed, and a robotic voice introducing them, the trio of Devon Lougheed, Luke Cyca and Brandi Sidoryk hit the stage with a high energy and did not looking back. Their genre-bending "math rock" may be hard to keep up with due to the frantic arrangements and seemingly constantly changing time signatures, but drummer Luke anchors them magnificently, and they put on one hell of a live show, which is either absolutely brilliant or incomprehensibly weird. Or both.
Devon was more focused on stage than I've seen him, especially between songs, still showing his manic energy and goofy sense of humour but not going overboard. He even took the set down for a moment with a sincere story and almost mellow (or, as mellow as beekeeper can get) song called "Drownings". 
For their cover, they teased playing Rush, but then launched in to "You Learn" from Alanis Morissette, which was definitely the most interesting cover of the night, giving it a "beekeeper twist", and even had Devon going into the crowd.
"Pinwheel Revolution" took a moment to show off Brandi's operatic past and her glass-shattering voice, and they brought the set to an end with a "family photo", pulling up as many fans as they could fit on the stage for a big group picture, and then letting everyone stay and dance for the last song, "Believe, Believe". 

Probably the most high energy and genuinely fun set of the night, beekeeper is another band that I really hope makes the top five, but I can see them maybe being just a little too "weird".

Redgy BlackoutThe members of Redgy Blackout hit the stage looking slick, adorned in dress shirts and ties, with Scott also sporting a vest and top hat. They were immediately fun and energetic, with their unique mix of indie rock, folk and pop. Both Scott Perrie and Jeremy Breaks have a good live energy and play off each other really well, getting everyone moving to songs like "Coming Alive" and "Bottom of the Sea".
After what I thought was going to be an introduction into a Matthew Good Band song for their cover, they ended up going with Arcade Fire's "Rebellion (Lies)", giving a more up-tempo version, and getting the crowd to yell along with the "LIES!" 
Their final song they brought out Brandi from beekeeper to help out on backup vocals, enlisting the crowd as well, and scores of balloons being tossed throughout the crowd to wrap up their set. 

While I enjoy watching Redgy Blackout live -- they are tight, have great harmonies and write catchy songs -- I think they are just missing something, some ineffable quality to really push them over the edge.

Jordan KlassenOne of the more well known acts -- with a little bit of Peak airplay before the competition started -- Klassen ended off the first showcase. The first thing you notice about Jordan is his incredible energy on stage. He oozes enthusiasm, jumping and leaping around the stage; rarely will you see a more enthusiastic tambourine player. That energy definitely rubs off on his five bandmates, and even into the crowd. 
Klassen's rich, folk-pop sound gives way to grand songs that start slow and build to a soaring finish. Like the alternating slow burn and explosiveness of "Piano Brother", the lush "The Horses Are Stuck" and "Go To Me", which had a couple members mingle in the crowd with tambourines, creating a surround-sound feel for the song.
His cover was the 90s pop hit "Love Song" by Sky, which was not at all ironic, but endearing and appropriately cheesy. It was probably my second favourite cover of the night, as it was both a unique and interesting take on the song. The set, and the night, was brought to an end with "Call & Answer", which is probably my favourite song of his; another one that starts soft and grows to an energetic and huge ending.

I would not at all be surprised if Klassen makes the top three of the contest; he has almost everything they're looking for, and would definitely be deserving. 

And with that, the first showcase was done. Join me next week at the Red Room where we'll have the chance to see The Harpoonist & The Axe Murderer, The Fugitives, The River & The Road and The Headwater. It's bound to be a good one. 
And hopefully the sound in the Red Room is better next week.

The Mocking Bird @ The Media Club -- 05/18/12

One of the first shows I saw this year was the CD release show from The Mocking Bird, the new project from Vancouver's Bob Kemmis, and turned out to be an excellent show. So given the opportunity to not only see them again, but also a redhead with an amazing voice as one of the opening acts, I had to take it.

The lovely Ali Milner was started off the night, with just herself behind the keys for "According to the New York Times", before the rest of the band kicked in half way through the song. Her upbeat, jazzy sound was driven by her incredible & soulful voice, and Ali was a natural performing, with an effortless charm and great stage presence.
Highlights included "Don't Forget To Call Me" and "I Want To Be Loved By You", as well as a few brand new songs, one of which, the high energy "Waiting", was my favourite of the set, and a couple covers; Shania Twain's "Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under" and the final song, a fantastic version of the Rolling Stones' "Gimmer Shelter", which ending with each member leaving the stage one by one until only drummer Richard Brown was left.

Next up was The Never Surprise,  the duo of David Gaudet and Nick Eakins joined by a few familiar faces; Niko Friesen on drums, Robbie Driscoll on bass and Andrew Braun on keys. Starting off with the catchy "Sun Goes Down", the set was full of their smooth, indie-folk sound. I have seen them a few times before, but this was the first time where they added keys to the mix, and it helped flesh out their sound exponentially. The band also had a great presence, though there wasn't much between songs -- though David did joke at one point they were working on their banter.

And finally, The Mocking Bird hit the stage, a little after midnight. Joining Bob Kemmis -- all in matching shirts -- was a great assembly of talent, including Erik P.H. Nielsen on bass (who also played with Ali earlier), Pat Steward on drums and Shaun Verreault on guitar. There was also a small horn section on a few songs, packing the small stage at the Media Club with nearly a dozen musicians.
The set started off with "Grace", the first song off of No Good Deed Goes Unpunished, which immediately set the tone for the ridiculously catchy, roots-rock, with great and clever lyrics. Other highlights were the insanely catchy "Where's Your Get Up?" and the dark "Love You Hated Him" which built to a huge ending.
Once again, Kemmis was a great stage presence, with a charm and sense of humour that was evident in both the songs and banter, and the combined talent and experience on stage came together for a fantastic band.

Unfortunately, due to the set starting after midnight and transit cutting off at 1, I had to run and miss the tail end of the set, which I hate, but aside from my pet peeve of shows where the headliner ends up going on at almost 12:30, it was a pretty great show; a night full of excellent local musicians.