Khatsalano Street Party @ West 4th Ave -- 07/11/15

For the fifth year running, the Khatsahlano Street Party shut down ten blocks of West 4th Ave here in Vancouver for the city's largest free music & arts festival. With a half dozen stages, there were over fifty bands playing throughout the day, as well as activities throughout, and hundreds of vendors lining the streets.

Click through for a rundown of the day, including sets from Louise Burns, Hot Panda, Yukon Blonde, and Peak Performance Project acts Windmills, JP Maurice, and Chersea! 

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Catlow w/ Hot Panda @ Biltmore -- 06/13/15

It was pretty good fortune that Catlow and Hot Panda were playing a show together; both are bands I was only marginally familiar with, but had wanted to see live for a while. Hot Panda, I had last seen four or five years ago, and while I wasn't totally sold on them then, I had heard a lot of good things about their newer material, from trusted sources. And for Catlow, I had heard a few songs from the Vancouver band over the years that I liked (most recently in the CBC Searchlight competition), but just never took the chance to see them live. So with Hot Panda opening for Catlow's video release screening show, it was pretty fortuitous.

I missed just about all of the first band, Owl Skowl, getting there just in time for their last song, and all I could really tell from it that it was loud.

It wasn't long before "Also Sprach Zarathustra" (better known as the theme from 2001) filled the room as Hot Panda lead singer Chris Connelly walked around the dancefloor, getting people pumped and urging the people sitting on the side to come closer, before jumping on stage as the other two members came out, Catherine Hiltz on bass and Aaron Klassen on drums.

Right away they launched into some high energy alt-pop/dance-punk songs and didn't let up until the end of the set. They also gave me a slightly tongue-in-cheek vibe; not that they weren't being sincere, but between their energy and joking around a little between songs, I got the sense that they were having the most fun in the room, and that would be the case no matter the venue size.

Some highlights from the set included "Masculinity", which saw bassist Catherine pull out a trumpet and play both instruments at the same time (only for Connelly to joke that while that was impressive, he was also singing and playing guitar at the same time!) and a song from their last album, Go Outside, called "See You All Around" that started with a really neat back-and-forth riff-off between Chris' guitar and Catherine's bass to start off, and ended with a nice drum solo from Aaron.
They managed to up the energy one more time as they came to a close with a bit of a schizophrenic song, "Negative Thinking Patterns" -- that I swear snuck in a little Green Day into the bassline -- the song bursting into an all-out rocker to end with a bang.

It was a really fun set, and if my sources are correct, they have a new album done and ready to go (but no word on a release date yet). If this show was any indication of that album, I can't wait to hear it.

After a showing of their new video for "Stormsad" (see it below) Catlow hit the stage adorned in black & white. I always appreciate it when a band even attempts to look coordinated, so I liked that the three members in the middle of the stage were wearing all black, while the two on the outside were clad in all white.

Musically, the set was full of 90s-tinged alt-pop, driven by lead singer Natasha Thirsk's confident voice. Most of the songs were high energy rockers like "Number One", or one of their recent singles, "Lose Control", full of ridiculously catchy hooks. But there were also a couple slower numbers (relatively, anyway) like the spacey and rhythmic beat of the slow-burning"Stormsad", and a sultry & seductive song called "Iamloved", Thirk's voice enticing the crowd.
After about an hour they drew the night to an end with a frantic rocker called "Shinsy" from their second album (I think), playing right up to the curfew and not bothering with the encore-fake-out.

In the end, while I did enjoy the set there was something bugging me in the back of my mind the whole time. Something just felt off. I don't know if it was the mix, if the band just wasn't quite cohesive, or something else, but I wanted to like it more than I did. They were also following Hot Panda, which was not an enviable task.

But that aside, it was still a darn good show and I'm looking forward to seeing them both again soon enough.

Then & Now @ Wise Hall -- 10/10/14

Now in its third year, Then and Now is a simple concept; take a handful of local artists, and get them to play a brand new song & an old song -- their newest, shiniest song, and one of their first songs -- and tell stories about both. Put on by Altered By Mom's Devon Lougheed, and Leigh Eldridge, the night was also a fundraiser for Megaphone Magazine, a local publication that is sold by the homeless or low income people, who get to keep the profits of their sales.

Even though Devon was absent from the event, the night was hosted by Caitlin Howden (The Sunday Service) and Stu Popp (SADCAST, Fat Kids On Basketball), who kept things rolling along and even started an impromptu auction of things they took out of the musicians pockets. Such wondrous items included a guitar pick, an unused bus pass, an american $10 bill, and a partially used Earl's gift card, all of which helped earn over $40 more for Megaphone.

Each of the eight acts was slotted two songs, so even with a little bit of setup in-between a few of them, the night never seemed to drag on.

The night started with the husband & wife duo The Wild Romantics and the first song they sang together, a cover of "Valley of Decision" by The Horse Thieves. Their 'now' was a new one called "Memphis, TN", fitting of the duo's alt-country twang, as they ended the song forehead-to-forehead, sharing the microphone, their voices blending together beautifully.

Badgerchild made some of the crowd feel old as she told the story about her then-song, the first song she put up on YouTube as a teenager, Vince Vaccaro's "Costa Rica" after being inspired to pick up the guitar after a breakup. She followed that up with breathy vocals on a new song called "Out of my Head".

Next was CityReal, supported by Tonye Aganaba on guitar, for some acoustic hip hop. He said it was the first time he had ever performed his songs acoustically, as he played on a djembe with Tonye's voice mixing quite well with his rapping.

The first half of the night wrapped up with Hot Panda. Lead singer Chris Connely came out alone on guitar, singing a cover of the first song he ever performed live, "Steak For Chicken" by The Moldy Peaches. Their 'now' turned into a hilarious performance art piece, after Chris claimed guitars were done, and technology was the future. First he pulled out his phone to get Siri to play the sick beat they made, then once that failed, he went to the tablet... which was out of power. And finally just went to the laptop for some (acceptable) backing tracks and brought out the other two band members in their DJ personas, on "synth" and "instagram video". No text description can live up to the performance, but the song itself was ridiculously catchy.

After the intermission, the second half began with CAST, a really interesting and unique performance by the jazzy drum & vocal duo, with Ben Brown on drums, who were accompanied by a tap dancer.

Tonye Aganaba returned to the stage next, taking the concept to heart with her first song being how she felt about love then -- raw and unbridled emotions -- and her now being how she more currently felt, her amazingly impressive voice silencing the hall.

Going to the very extremes of "then and now" Wide Mouth Mason singer Shaun Verreault -- like a few others during the night -- played the very first song he ever performed in front of people, Black Crowes' "She Talks to Angels" while his 'now' was the most 'now' he could have gotten, a brand new song which he had just finished writing while at the show itself, as he silenced the hall with his effortless and amazing guitar playing.

And finally, after one more short break to set up her gear, the night came to a close with Chersea. The singer/songwriter/looper went back to the very first song she wrote on a loop station, a gorgeous a capella song called "Classy" that showed off her own incredible voice, and her new was also the newest song she had in her arsenal, an upbeat and high energy dancy song.

Like the first two iterations, the night was fun and eclectic, zipping through genres with stories about why each performer chose the songs they did. It's always interesting hearing the change in artists over time, or seeing some of the influences of their work, and I hop it'll be back again for a fourth year.

Mint Records Ridiculously Early X-Mas Party @ The Biltmore -- 12/03/10

Last night was my third year running attending the Mint Records Ridiculously Early X-Mas party. I was one of the first 75 people in, meaning I got a free prize! My draw ended up being a prize pack that consisted of... a girls M shirt and underpants. So I was able to trade it for another one, a box of giant pocky! And since they are always sponsored by pocky, for some reason, there was free packages of pocky sticks all around the room.

Like every year, they crammed a good number of bands into several hours, each playing short(ish) sets, so for the sake of not writing an essay (and my sanity), I'll try to only do a few lines for each set.

Laura Barrett: The only act on the bill not on Mint Records, she started off alone with a kalimba instrumental, "to get us used to it" and played a few songs with only the kalimba before a couple more came out to back her up on & off. She had a great stage presence, and though I had only heard a few of her songs before, I quite liked her set -- even if a few of the songs got a little repetitive, with just a kalimba. I would really like to see her again, and wonder what she would sound like with a full backing band.

Geoff Berner: Was just himself and an accordion. He was a little offputting at first, but once you realised what he was doing, his songs did grow on you; it helped that a lot of them were funny, or had stories woven around them. While a couple were a bit... less good than others, there were a couple that were pretty hilarious Ambiguous Lyrics and Half German Girlfriens sticking out. His last song, too, which was a duet with Carolyn Mark.

Kellarissa: Had seen at last years party, and while I only vaguely remember her set, I do not remember disliking it this much. I am normally a fan of looping, but that didn't help when the vocals were occasionally atonal yelling and the synth was kind of piercing.

fanshaw: Was one of the acts I was really looking forward to, and transitioned the show from acts which were a bit more low key to the more high energy ones. The first song was just Olivia Fetherstonhaughalone, but her full band (which included Shane Turner) came out right after. She mentioned it was their last show in a while, I think to write new material, so they were just up there to have fun. The set was quite good, and aside from her own songs, they ended with a pair of covers; "Love Hurts" and Cohen's "Passing Through"

Carolyn Mark: The other act I was really looking forward to came out and really kicked the energy into high gear. I've only seen her at the last couple Mint parties, and I really liked her. She has a bit of a country twang, but excellent voice to back it up, and the rest of her band were pretty great as well. I really hope I don't have to wait until next years party before seeing her live again.

Hot Panda: I've seen them at a few Mint related events, and while I have liked their sets in the past, I was never really able to get into them too much. However, maybe it was the new material, but I enjoyed their set a heck of a lot better this time around. The band is so enthusiastic on stage and just creates an infectious atmosphere. They also covered Mr Grinch, which, come on, is awesome.

The Evaporators: While I am not really sure their music is something I would listen to on a regular basis, they are fun as hell to watch, thanks to Nardwuar. He was running around the stage, into the audience, crowd surfing multiple times -- even with his keyboard. He also had most of the people in front singing along, admitting they were "Addicted to Cheese". For the last song, Kyprios made a surprise appearance for "I Don't Need My Friends", and the two of them ran through the crowd, making sure everyone in the room got crouched down, to jump right back up, before being carried off by the fans.

While I think I have liked past years lineups better, once things got going a bit, it was a fantastic show. There are still maybe a little too many bands playing; even though the seven bands all played shorter sets, the show did drag on a couple times, and went until just about 2am. But that said, I am still very much looking forward to next years event.