Brasstronaut @ The Lido -- 08/20/15

Sometimes you know exactly what you're going to do for an evening. And then sometimes, a band you haven't seen live in over three years announces a "secret show" at a bar five minutes from your front door.
The latter is what happened last night when earlier in the day, Brasstronaut announced a small, free show at The Lido, which is a place that I had only been to as a drinking establishment; I had not yet been to see one of their free shows and was eager to. 

Since their last album, Mean Sun in 2012, the band had scattered across the country (and even the continent) and did a little bit of work on solo projects or with other bands. But in that time, they were also working on a new album, and they all happened to be in Vancouver this week, they wanted to test out some of that material for a small audience of friends and supporters. 

Lead singer & keyboardist Edo Van Breemen joked it was the second (and last) show of their "2015 World Tour" as the six-piece band packed the tiny stage, in front of a screen showing distorted versions of themselves on stage. They starting off the set with the aptly named "Bounce", which builds to a rhythmic thumping, as Edo's haunting vocals (which were a little too low for parts of the set) weaved around the intense, layered sound that filled the small bar. They played mostly from the Mean Sun album, with other highlights included the punchy "Falklands" featuring some incredible drumming by Brennan Saul, and the epic, winding "Mixtapes". 

photo by kirk hamilton

Aside from the old, they teased their new album out in January, and sprinkled a few new songs throughout the set; one moody and introspective song written about a traffic jam in Paris; another quite the opposite, a really sexy tune with a bit of an R&B influence that got all the drunk girls up to the stage to do that drunk girl dance (you know the one). 

They went back to their first EP to close the set with "Old World Lies", as Sam Davidson & Bryan Davies -- on clarinet & trumpet respectively -- stood at the back of the room when they came in part way through the song, leading to a beautiful ending. 
But of course, the crowd was eager for more and since there wasn't really anywhere to go, the band just kinda stood next to the stage before returning for one last song, leaving the night on a more energetic note with the intense and heartbreaking "Slow Knots", building to a frantic finale. 

As I mentioned above, it had been way too long since the last time I had seen Brasstronaut perform live, and it was such a treat to be able to see them in such an intimate venue. The show got be excited for the new album, and I already can't wait to see them again. 

Brasstronaut @ Rio Theatre -- 06/02/12

The first time I saw Brasstronaut live, I knew that one day I wanted to see them at a soft seat theatre venue. Something about their dense, orchestral sound just seemed like it would be a perfect fit. Last year I got a tease of that when they opened for Mother Mother at the Vogue, but I was very excited when they announced that their hometown show, in support of their new album Mean Sun, would be at the Rio Theatre.

Opening the show was Útidúr all the way from Iceland. The eight piece band was deeper and more eclectic that the usual orchestral folk-pop sound, with numerous influences, including a hint of gypsy-rock and even a bit of a Spanish flair in a song. But it never seemed like a jumble; it all came together beautifully. Even the vocal styles of the two lead singers, Gunnar Örn and Rakel Mjöll, were quite different, but meshed together very well.
The set had a great "flow" to it, with the band starting with some of their softer, lighter songs and then building in energy, until they reached a cacophonous ending. Highlights included "Words Are Moving Slow" and the lilting "Fisherman's Friend" in which they urged people to get out of their theatre-seats and dance, and got a growing crowd up at the front of the stage to do just that.
The band also had a great presence and infectious energy. With broken, but understandable English, they seemed genuinely excited to be playing, mentioning that it was one of the biggest shows they had played so far, and even pausing to get a picture of the crowd.

Not long after, the the six members of Brasstronaut took the stage, their name emblazoned on the curtain behind them. The stage was dimly lit, with the band often in silhouette as they made good use of the movie screen behind them, projecting imagery throughout the show; sometimes random patterns, sometimes a little more elaborate, like a sunset over an ocean for "Mean Sun" or space imagery for "Moonwalker".
Starting the set off with the upbeat and aptly named "Bounce", they hit on a lot from their new album Mean Sun, with Edo Van Breeman's haunting vocals and the band's intense, layered sound filling the theatre.
They had a bit of a technical snag early on, but it was soon solved and their hour-and-a-half long set went off without a hitch, with highlights including the deceptively heartbreaking "Slow Knots", the punchy "Falkland", and guitarist Tariq Hussain taking over vocals for the soft and eerily-beautiful "Moonwalker".
Rakel from Útidúr was out to help out the vocals for "Mixtape", which built to an intense ending, and was followed by one my my favourite songs, "Hearts Trompet", also starting soft but building to a grand climax, with drummer Brennan Saul showing off his immense talent by the end.
They finished the main set with "The Grove" and were joined by the members of  Útidúr for the first song of the encore, "Opportunity", before Edo asked to bring the lights down for a sleepy time, lullaby song to end the night. The lights dimmed as much as they could as they launched into "Old World Lies", and Sam Davidson quietly leaving the stage part way through, only to reappear in the back of the theatre, softly playing his clarinet and slowly making his way back to the stage for a beautiful ending.

It was a magnificent show, probably the best I have seen from the band, and they were incredibly appreciative of the support of the sold out crowd. I can not wait until the day when Brasstronaut headlines the Vogue, or even the Orpheum -- two venues the band's sound deserves.

Bounce, Mean Sun, Falkland, Moonwalker, Slow Knots, Francisco, Mixtape, Hearts Trompet, Requiem for a Scene, Fossil, The Grove.
(encore) Opportunity, Revelstoke Dam, Old World Lies.

Sweetheart Serenade @ Rio Theatre -- 02/14/12

To be honest, I don't usually pay much attention to Valentine's Day. I usually just let it slip by unnoticed, but when Hip City puts together a show like the Sweetheart Serenade, with a few local acts playing intimate acoustic sets at a venue as nice as the Rio? Well, I wasn't going to miss that.
There were five acts throughout the night, and they all had short sets, so I'll [try to] keep it brief. But first, one thing that bugged me was an incessant buzz or hum throughout the night. It wasn't that noticeable when songs were played, but it was pretty prominent otherwise; if the person on stage was transitioning or bantering. I noticed it last show at the Rio, too, but hopefully it was just a one-off thing. I usually like shows at the Rio, so I would hate for this to be a persistent problem.

But on to the show itself. First up was Hannah Epperson, armed only with her violin and looping pedals. Interestingly enough (probably not that interesting), every time I've seen her has been at a show involving Zach Gray. Her set was short, but she showed off her fantastic violin skills and masterful loops, with a voice that fit perfectly for a few of her own songs, and an instrumental cover of "Can't Buy me Love". She also has the best awkwardly-charming stage banter this side of Aidan Knight, joking with the crowd between songs.
But the short set wouldn't be the last we saw of Epperson, as she was without a doubt the hardest working musician of the night.

Next up was Sunny Pompeii, the solo project of Said the Whale drummer Spencer Schoening. At first he was out alone for a couple songs with a folky charm, both original -- one that started "Last night I dreamt I kissed Neko Case" which immediately became a favourite -- and covers, before being joined by Epperson for a song and bandmate Simon Marmorek for the second half of the set. The covers throughout included the likes of Akron/Family, Grizzley Bear and Animal Collective and while Spencer's voice was a little worse for wear thanks to recording earlier in the day, their original songs were quirky and entertaining.

Next up was Tariq, who was backed by his Brasstronaut bandmate Sam Davidson on clarinet and space clarinet EWI, but performing his own songs. In contrast to Brasstronaut's ethereal sound, Tariq was more straight forward folk, almost with an alt-country twinge to the songs. He kept the theme of love songs going, though had mostly sadder love songs, and the strength of them was definitely Tariq's lyrics; a perfect example being "Front Row Seat", a love songs related through concert seating, with some clever and poignant lyrics that was not just my favourite of his set, but one of my favourites of the night.

John Sponarski, Harold Donnelly and Georges Couling of Portage & Main took the stage next. They, too, were joined by Epperson for a song, "Rocky Mountain Wanderer", and Savannah Leigh Wellman of Redbird (and honourary Portage & Main member) was also out for most of the set providing backup vocals. After the building "I'd Never Climbed a Mountain", they brought their set to an end getting the mellow crowd a bit more energized to sing along to the two-word chorus of "Carolina".
Some of their songs are as good, if not better, when stripped down, so it's always nice to see them play a more intimate acoustic show.

And finally The Zolas wrapped up the night. Zach and Tom took the stage and, once again, Hannah Epperson was out to lend her violin. They played a couple new songs, starting with "Ancient Mars" that had Tom on the drum pad, before feigning leaving, but were of course out for more; a cover of Radiohead's "Codex" and another new(ish) song "Strange Girl", where Zach decided to spontaneously jump on the drum pad mid-song for hilarious (yet awesome) results.
That seemed to be the end of it but they were out one last time -- in what may have been a rare legitimate encore -- for the crowd favourite "You're Too Cool" before ending the show.

In all, it was a really nice night, and all the performers on stage looked like they were legitimately having fun and were all really loose on stage, creating a really nice and intimate feel. Perhaps appropriate for what day it was.