Rah Rah @ Biltmore -- 02/20/14

Even though I've seen Regina's Rah Rah three times in the last year and a half, it's always been opening for someone else. Well, now with a Juno nomination under their belts for Alternative Album of the Year, the Regina band returns to Vancouver for their first headlining show in quite a while.

I arrived at the venue just to catch the last couple songs from Brandon Wolfe Scott. The Yukon Blonde guitarist was playing his own solo material, joined by Johnny 99 (aka John Sponarski) on pedal steel. His songs were much more laid back than Yukon Blonde's rock, with more of a country twang. It was still pretty noisy at the venue for the few songs I saw, so I wouldn't mind catching him again at a more attentive place, where I can really dig into the songs.

Next up was singer-songwriter, and fellow Reginan, Andy Shauf. The only other time I saw him live, Shauf was alone on stage, and at the time I remember thinking I would like to see him with a backing band. Well, fortunately this time he was joined by a full band that included strings, woodwinds, and keys, giving a lush and rich sound to his melancholic songs. The main I noticed most about the set was how well it was put together. Starting soft and sad, the set built in intensity as they went, only to drop back down; strung together, the songs had a certain ebb and flow that made for an engaging show.
While his set was good., I felt like I would have liked it a lot more if I were more familiar with his music. Which means I have to spin The Bearer of Bad News a couple times before his next trip to Vancouver.

And finally, the six members of Rah Rah filled the stage. They kicked off with an older song, "The Betrayal pt. 1", and with a relentless high energy, they barely slowed down for an hour. There are few other bands who are as fun to watch, as each member has a great stage presence and an enthusiasm that infects the crowd. Their collection of undeniably catchy songs doesn't hurt either, and the set spanned their three album, but focused mostly on the newest, The Poet's Dead.
Highlights included the raucous "Art and a Wife"; a great showcase of Erin Passmore's vocals in "I'm A Killer"; and "20s", which includes the ever-relatable line "I spent my twenties on rock & roll, I'll spend my thirties feeling old"
I don't think a single member of the band stayed on one instrument all night, as they traded and swapped places -- sometimes even in the middle of the song, seamlessly swapping out the drummer, or trading guitar and bass. And at one point, they were joined by sometimes-member Leif Thorseth for one song, my favourite of theirs, "Duet for Emmylou and the Grievous Angel" which literally gave me chills as Erin and Marshall's voices traded off verses for the heart wrenching song. 
They ended the main set with a fun cover of Robyn's "Dancing On My Own" before coming back out for a couple more, the modern love story "Little Poems" and finally bookending the set with another form their first album Going Steady, "Cuba/Peru".

Between the band's intense energy, the large inflatable letters -- R, A, and H -- which they threw into the crowd partway through the set, and the confetti cannon, Rah Rah once again showed that when it comes to live shows, they are less a band and more a force of nature.

The Betrayal pt 1, Saint, The Poet's Dead, Run, I'm A Killer, The Innocent One, 20s, Art and a Wife, First Kiss, Dead Men, Duet for Emmylou and the Grievous Angel, Prairie Girl, Dancing On My Own [Robyn cover].
(encore) Little Poems, Cuba/Peru.

String Fling II w/ Four on the Floor String Quartet @ Rio Theatre -- 02/06/14

A little over a year ago, the Four on the Floor String Quartet -- who have provided strings for virtually every band in Vancouver -- had the chance shine on their own with the first String Fling at the Rio Theatre. It was a great show melding local indie rock with gorgeous, classical strings. Now they are back for a second year, for the second annual String Fling.

The members of the quartet for the night were Michelle Faehrmann on cello, Elliott Vaughan on viola, and violinists Stephanie Chatman and Emily Bach -- with Hannah Epperson on violin and Megan Bradfield on stand up bass also rotating in for a few songs.

They opened with a strings instrumental, and live visuals projected on the screen from an old school overhead projector that ran throughout the show, done by Mind of a Snail Puppet Co. Each artist got three songs, with the Quartet playing segues between each, and the first artist up was Brandon Scott from Yukon Blonde. His own songs were more laid back with a folky singer/songwriter vibe, compared to Yukon Blonde's high energy rock, with the strings punctuating the introspective feeling.

After an amazing and frantically dissonant viola piece by Elliott Vaughn called Nine Fingers, Tonye Aganaba took the stage. There were some technical problems with her guitar for the first song, but the focus of her set was definitely her powerful and soulful voice, which shone through her own songs, as well as a cover of Rihanna's "Diamond".

Another piece from the Quartet called "I Spell Your Name With Other Letters" (or, "Other Letters" for short, or "O.L." for shorter) segued into Jay Malinowski. Admittedly, I have never really liked Bedouin Soundclash, or his solo material, which he was featuring. His new project, called Jay Malinowski & The Deadcoast, also includes Elliott Vaughan, and he brought out the piano for one of the songs from the new album. Aside from his own songs, he also included a cover of Krief's "Forever Goodnight", before wrapping up the first half of the evening.

There was a brief intermission, before the show started back up with Michelle on cello, backed by Ali Sidat of Mother Mother on drums, for a really cool number -- starting off with kind of a dark, almost post-rock sound before spinning into a more dancey piece; it was one of my favourite pieces of the night.

Continuing the second half was one of the two leads of Rococode, Laura Smith. Rococode's songs have always had a bit of an eerie or haunting quality to them, and the addition of the strings drove that feeling home. She played a couple new songs, one with Ali and Ryan joining her, before finishing off with a haunting version of "Empire", which may have been my favourite interpretation of the night.

The Quartet went a little more contemporary and covered some Daft Punk before the next act, Ryan Guldemond. He said he wanted to juxtapose the beautiful strings with blasphemous songs, one of which spun into a spoken word monologue about a failed breakup with an ex. The songs were as catchy and sharp as you would expect from the Mother Mother frontman, but a lot less grounded; more surreal, but definitely interesting.

And finally, the night wrapped up with Fur Trade. The Quartet did a version of one of their songs instrumentally before Steve Bays and Parker Bosley were out for the band's very first live show. The two were members of Hot Hot Heat together, and while I was never much of a fan of that band, I have liked Fur Trade's singles, and their live performance was definitely impressive. Their pair of songs, "Kids These Days" and "Same Temptation", got the theatre crowd up to the stage and dancing, for a perfect ending to the main set.

But of course, the members of Four on the Floor were back out for an encore, for one last song, joined by Tonye and Laura on vocals to perform an awesome cover of R. Kelly's ridiculous song "Genius".

The night ran fairly smooth, with near seamless transitioning from one band to the next. I've always enjoyed strings in music, and the best moments from both this year -- and last -- were with acts that you might not consider adding strings to. There seemed to be a lot more synergy between the bands and the quartet this year, and I can only hope the tradition continues, as it is bound to become one of the most anticipated annual events.