String Fling III @ Biltmore -- 01/28/15

For the third year running, members of Vancouver's Four on the Floor String Quartet have stepped into the spolight for a show called String Fling. The event sees the quartet -- who have backed up about 87% of all Vancouver bands -- front & centre for the night, to be joined by various local musicians to fuse indie rock with classical strings. Previous years have been at the Rio Theatre, but this year they took over the Biltmore Cabaret for two nights of stringy goodness.

The members of the quartet for the night were Michelle Faehrmann on cello, Elliott Vaughan on viola, and violinists Stephanie Chatman & Emily Bach, and they were occasionally joined by Sean Bayntun on piano. Each musician joining them had a quick set of a couple songs, with the quartet playing their own pieces between each set, usually of songs written by members.

After the quartet started the show, the first performer to join them was frequent collaborator, Dominique Fricot. He took stage with his acoustic guitar and a few heartfelt songs, the strings giving them added emotional weight, especially on "Strange Lady". He also got the crowd participating in a stomp-stomp-clap along to "Those Eyes", before proceeding to act as emcee the entire night, wine glass in hand.

Hannah Epperson was also no stranger to the quartet, being a rotating member herself. Normally a looper, she eschewed her pedal for the first show in a long while, as she had actual humans backing her this time. Her soft and beautiful voice lilted over the strings, and I really liked her second song, a brand new, heavy hitting song, which included Daniel Ruiz on drums (the first of his frequent appearances throughout the night).

The tone shifted a little as Dustin Bentall got up with a bit more of a rockin' sound. As much as the softer songs fit with the string quartet, I always like how seeing things a bit rougher sound. Which was pretty darn good in this case. His first song, "I Have Not Been Sleeping" was just him with the strings, but they were joined by Ruiz on drums again and Ryan Guldemond out on backing vocals for the title track to his latest album You Are An Island.

Wrapping up the first half of the evening was legendary bluesman Jim Byrnes, just putting on a clinic. He dazzled the crowd from his stool with one of his own songs, which he joked was one of the oldest of the night, and then a cover of what was definitely the oldest of the night, "Saint Louis Blues", originally recorded in 1914 by WC Handy. It would have been hard for anyone to directly follow that, so they took a brief intermission at that point.

After the intermission the quartet was accompanied by an interpretive dancer for their song, before it was time for Mother Mother Member Ryan Guldemond. In true Ryan fashion, he challenged the audience with a song about death and attending your own funeral (or not) in his first song "End of Me" and seemed genuinely humbled and honoured to be playing with the quartet, asking them questions and even engaging Elliott in a slight guitar/viola duel at the end of a song.

There was a few repeat acts from previous years, and the next performer Tonye Aganaba was one of them. With her guitar in hand, she jokingly assured the crowd that it was in fact working, after a bit of a technical glitch from last year. Her incredible, soulful voice filling the room for one of her own songs, as well as a powerful cover of Thom Yorke's "Black Swan".

And finally, Bend Sinister's Dan Moxon was the last to play. Taking a seat behind the piano, he played a couple of the band's slower ballady songs, ending with "Careless", but first playing an absolutely gorgeous rendition of "Don't Let Us Bring You Down" -- which may have ruined the song for me, since now I only ever want to hear it with strings.

But that wasn't quite the end, as the quartet was drawn back on stage for one last song, as they were once more joined by Dom Fricot, for a fun cover of INXS' "Never Tear Us Apart".

The only downside this year was the venue. I feel The Rio was a much better place for this kind of show, as while the Biltmore was seated, it was still more of a "club" venue than a "soft seater", and from where I was sitting I could hear incessant talking and chatter all throughout the night. It detracted a little from the show, especially when the quartet was playing beautiful instrumentals.
But that is hardly the musicians' fault, and aside from that it was a great night. String Fling has continually been one of the most unique events in Vancouver, giving these amazingly talented string players, who are usually backing up other bands or off in the wings, the chance to take centre stage and shine.