The Mocking Bird CD Release @ Roundhouse -- 01/20/12

It was a show that almost literally snuck up on me. I had all but dismissed it in favour of a different show, until mere hours before, I realised that The Mocking Bird was the new project from Vancouver musician Bob Kemmis. And then when I heard some of the people that would be backing him in the band for their CD release show, well, my decision was made.

Opening the night was Vancouver's Nat Jay armed with just her guitar and lovely voice for an acoustic set. With her folky, singer-songwriter sound, there were a few times where the songs sounded a little similar, but they were all very heartfelt and raw with emotion. The heartbreaking "Some of You" was a great example of this, with the longing lyrics and Nat Jay's warm stage presence drawing in the slowly-growing audience. Her catchy songs, emotional lyrics and intimacy all came together for a very enjoyable set.

Shortly after, The Mocking Bird hit the stage with a band of over a dozen musicians -- all in matching shirts --  joining Bob Kemmis, including a string quartet, horn section, Matt Kelly (Treelines) and Shaun Verreault (Wide Mouth Mason) both on guitar, Pat Steward on drums and his Odds bandmate Craig Northey on percussion. And the set definitely lived up to the pedigree of musicians on stage.
Kicking off with the opening track to the album, "Grace", the set went from upbeat and catchy rock to slower numbers, having almost an alt-country twang with Matt Kelly on pedal steel for a few songs. The strings and horns added an incredible depth to the song without feeling out of place, with the whole thing coming together beautifully for an incredible set.
Highlights were "Where's Your Get Up", "Quitting You", "Loved You Hated Him" and the song they finished off with, the last song off the album, "What A Difference". The usual encore first saw just Bob playing a brand new acoustic song -- with Matt, Shaun, and Pat providing backup vocals -- and then the rest of the band came back for a great cover of The Replacement's "Can't Hardly Wait" to wrap up the night with a bang.

Kemmis is a fantastic frontman with great energy, effortless charm, and funny banter between songs. And that charm and wit definitely seeps into his the songs as well, with some very well written and clever lyrics, and the occasional wordplay (which I am always a fan of). Everything meshed together amazingly for one heck of a show that will not soon be forgotten, and a damn good way to kick off the year.

Matthew Barber & Oh Susanna @ Biltmore -- 06/11/11

While it may have been a stretch to call myself a Matthew Barber fan, I had always liked his songs when they've popped up on the radio. But after picking up his latest album, and having heard too many good things about the Toronto singer-songwriter's live shows, I knew I couldn't let this slip by. It was also the first time I had been to a seated show at the Biltmore, and while it was a little strange at first, it definitely fit the mood of the night.

A night which started off with Vancouver's Nat Jay, who I had never actually had the chance of seeing live. For the first couple songs, it was just her and her acoustic guitar, but she was soon joined by Robbie Driscoll (of damn near every Vancouver band there is) for most of the rest of the set. While a few of the songs were a bit similar-ish, they were all quite catchy and well written, especially lyrically, and she had a really nice voice that perfectly fit the mood of her songs.
As the set went on, she seemed to get more comfortable, chatting with the crowd a bit more, telling the stories behind songs -- a few of which personal -- including one which she said wasn't played live too often, which built to a strong climax. I didn't catch the name, but it was probably my favourite of the set.

Oh Susanna was up next, joined by a slide guitar, and wearing a Canucks jersey (she is originally from Vancouver). She had a very alt-country twang to her set, and an incredibly rich voice. Most of her songs had the same tempo to them, but the set was the perfect length with her powerful voice definitely the focus the songs. And her voice meshed really well with Matt Barber's, when he came out for vocals on "Lucky Ones". She also had good stage banter, keeping the crowd engaged and laughing a few times between songs, and a really good stage presence, seeming completely natural performing.
It was a really good set, and I would definitely be interested in seeing her live again.

In keeping with the openers, Matt Barber took the stage just him & his guitars, and harmonica, for most of the set. Staring off with "(I'm Gonna) Settle My Accounts With You", his hour long set was full of heartfelt, and heartbreaking, songs. A great, and emotional, batch of songs, well written both musically and lyrically. Barber is a great storyteller, both in his songs and in the banter between them, and was very captivating, with the crowd quiet and attentive -- which they were for the whole night, in fact (another rarity for the Biltmore). Throughout the set he brought up a couple of guests to help out on vocals; his sister, the lovely Jill Barber on "While Away" and Oh Susanna on "Let Me Go Home". And as well as switching off between acoustic & electric guitars, Barber also jumped on the piano for "Where The River Bends".
He "ended" the set with "Cinnamon Hearts", but was back before the curfew for one last song, "You and Me" again with Jill on backup vocals, and leading the crowd in the call-and-response to close out the night.

I have to say, after a show like that, I would definitely consider myself Matthew Barber fan now. And I wouldn't be surprised if more than a few people flat out fell in love with him over the course of the night.