Elliott BROOD @ Media Club -- 09/29/13

Ten years ago, Mark Sasso, Casey Laforet, Stephen Pitkin got together and released Tin Type, the very first Elliott BROOD album. To celebrate that anniversary, they embarked on a tour of smaller clubs and venues. In Vancouver, that meant the very first place they played here, The Media Club. And considering the last time they were here they sold out the Commodore, a place with five times the capacity, it was sure to be one hell of a show.

As an added bonus, opening the night was John Sponarski of Portage & Main. He took the stage armed only with an acoustic guitar, the occasional harmonica, and his secret weapon, Savannah Wellman of Redbird helping on vocals. John played a set of his own solo songs, which were a little more countrified than the roots-rock of Portage & Main, and his voice a little more gruff, contrasting nicely with Savannah's lovely voice.
The songs were personal and full of emotion, as John told the stories behind them between songs. He admitted it was only his second time playing solo after he flubbed a song, but that can be somewhat forgiven as he also explained that some of the songs were a mere two days old; even the "oldest" ones had only been written a couple months ago. 
My favourite of the set was the last song, a passionate song that was equal parts celebration and lamentation as a reaction to a band breaking up, with a bit of a sing along. It was a great song, and I am not sure if John plans to do more solo shows, or get some hired guns, but it would sound killer with a full band giving it their all. 

Before Elliott BROOD even stepped on stage, the packed crowd was already buzzing, and there was an explosion of enthusiasm as the trio started off with "Will They Bury Us?" from their latest album, Days Into Years. They played a lengthy set that spanned their entire ten years, and those years of experience has refined their live show to a well oiled machine of "death country".
They are an incredible live band, full of energy and fiery passion. Everything from the songs to the banter seemed effortless, Steve's incredibly tight drumming, Mark switching between guitar and banjo and ukulele, Casey playing guitar while playing bass pedals with his feet.
They got the crowd into early on with the massive sing along to "Oh Alberta", everyone clapping and stomping along, and it hardly slowed down from there; even the the softer and more sombre "Northern Air" had an intensity to it. "The Valley Town" garnered another huge sing along, and they wrapped up the set with "Fingers and Tongues".
But they were only off stage for a moment before jumping back in, somehow upping the energy and intensity with the instrumental barn burner "Chuckwagon", and the night came to and end with the absolutely explosive "Write It All Down For You" and every single person stomping and "hey! hey! hey!"-ing along. It is normally an impressive song to see live, but with the culmination of all the energy and emotion in the room, I am surprised the floor wasn't stomped clean through.

Elliott BROOD is normally a very impressive live show, but put them in a small venue filled with the most passionate crowd I've seen in a long time, and you have one unforgettable show. I can only hope they'll be back to the Media Club for their twentieth year anniversary.

Will They Bury Us?, T-Bill, Wolfgang, Oh Alberta, President (35), Garden River, The Bridge, Rusty Nail, Northern Air, The Trail, Bowling Green, Lindsay, If I Get Old, Only At Home, The Banjo Song, Old Dan Tucker [traditional cover], The Valley Town, Hold You, Fingers and Tongues.
(encore) Chuckwagon, Johnny Rooke, Write It All Down For You.

Portage & Main @ Biltmore -- 1/25/13

It's hard to believe that it was just shy of two years ago when Portage & Main played their very first live show. John Sponarski and Harold Donnelly had been friends for many years, and in other bands, before coming together to form this band, and they kind of hit the ground running, releasing their first album before even playing a live show. But after near-constant touring since the first album came out -- including the cross country train trip Tracks on Tracks and their involvement in the latest Peak Performance Project -- they've released their second album, Never Had The Time, and celebrated the release with a show at the Biltmore Cabaret.

There was a definite folk-country theme to the night, and starting off the night was Vancouver's Rob Butterfield. His band included some familiar faces, Colin Cowan and Chris Kelly on bass and keys respectively, and there was a definite countrified twang.
The songs were pretty catchy, but the tempo of a lot of them were the same, and he was perhaps a little too much on the "country" side for my tastes. But it picked up a little at the end, with the last couple songs; one was a much more energetic boot-stomper, and the last song of the set had a bit of a blues tinge to it. He wasn't bad in the slightest, but it was wasn't quite my speed.

Next up was another Vancouver-based alt-country band, White Ash Falls. Fronted by Andy Bishop -- formerly a member Yukon Blonde -- the ensemble also included prolific pedal steel player and former Treelines member Matt Kelly. They also straddled the line of being a bit "too country" for my tastes, with a melodic, folky, Americana (Canadiana?) sound. But Bishop was a strong frontman, his voice lending perfectly to the well written, intimate and heartfelt nature of his songs.
Near the end of the set, he brought out Brandon Scott of Yukon Blonde to help out on the rare song-named-after-the-band "White Ash Falls" off their most recent album, By The River Bend, which was my favourite of the set.

And finally, the band of the night Portage & Main took the stage, kicking off the set in high gear with the raucous "Sweet Darlin'" before the title track to the album they were celebrating the release of, "Never Had The Time".
I've seen the band numerous times in the last couple years, and they just keep getting better; their set was incredibly tight, the chemistry between John & Harold apparent as they played off each other, not to mention with the rest of the band -- Georges Couling on the keys, Ben Appenheimer on bass and Dave Gens on drums. This was definitely the best I've seen them yet.
They had a few guests out to help them, Matt Kelly once again pedal steel and Redbird's Savannah Wellman joining on vocals for a few songs, her voice meshing with John and Harold's beautifully. There wasn't much banter, mostly a lot of thanking everyone for coming -- John was visibly moved by the sold out crowd -- but their stage presence more than made up for it, the entire band bursting with energy. Highlights of the night included the deceptively upbeat "Better Man" and "What Have I Done" off their first, self-titled album.

They ended the main set with "Good Morning Sunshine" from the new album, which featured a bit of audience participation, with the crowd singing over the last couple verses. And as the band said their thank-you's and left the stage, the packed Biltmore kept their part, the "da 'n da dada dadadada", going until the band came back out for their encore. It's hard to explain in text, but it made for one of those great "concert experience" moments, the whole crowd in sync with each other, and John's first words when he got back on stage summed it up: "Well that was pretty cool."
For the encore, they did a strong cover of The Band's "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" and they continued the singing along by ending the night as they traditionally do, pulling friends and fans alike on stage for "Carolina", everyone shouting along with the two-word chorus, capping off one hell of a set.

Sweet Darlin', Never Had The Time, Lied To Me, As a Child, Rocky Mountain Wanderer, Better Man, Oona Jean, What Have I Done, Good Morning Sunshine.
(encore) The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down [The Band cover], Carolina.

Peak Performance Project Showcase #5 @ Red Room -- 10/18/12

The Peak Performance Project is a multi-year contest in which The Peak, along with Music BC, picks 20 BC musicians/bands a year and makes them stars. Past winners are We Are The CityKyprios, and Current Swell with a ton of great bands and artists included as well.

Part one of the project was a rock & roll boot camp where they went on a week long retreat to get lectures and advice from industry pros to help them refine their craft. Phase two is a series of shows at The Red Room, four artists a night for five weeks, each playing a 45 minute set. The bands are rated by a panel of judges, which will go toward their final score in the project, and they've also been tasked to learn a "Classic Canadian Cover" to play during their set. I always love hearing bands play cover songs, and I am definitely looking forward to see who each act chooses (and, as in the past, I am going to keep a running tally on how many Arcade Fire, Neil Young or Leonard Cohen songs we get).

The final showcase of this year's Peak Performance Project, it was a bit of a bittersweet night. The Red Room was packed with fans and other musicians alike, all soaking in as much as they could, like the last days of summer camp. It was also a showcase I was looking forward to, with three acts I haven't heard as much as I'd like from, and one of my favourites from this year's crop of bands. 

Mike EdelI missed the first couple songs from Mike Edel (the Red Room is notoriously slow letting the large lines in), but luckily caught the majority of the set. He had a few familiar faces in his band, Colin McTaggart on guitar and Kiana Brasset on violin & helping out on vocals. With a bit of a low key, folk driven sound, his set was good, and he has well written and heartfelt songs, but I didn't think there was much to set him apart; either from the rest of the top twenty, or from his genre.
He chose "Heart of Gold" from Neil Young for his cover, which was a fine interpretation, and just when I was thinking he needed a bit more of an edge, he wrapped up with the two most dynamic songs, "The Country Where I Came From" and "More Than The Summer". The former starting soft and slow and burst into an energetic ending, and the latter keeping that energy up; a good pair to end off on.
(Disclaimer: I have considered that, since I missed the beginning, I started in a bit of a mid-set-lull, which was the basis my opinion)

T. Nile: With a banjo in hand, a sharply dressed band, and a large parasol at the back of the stage with images and videos projected onto it, Tamara Nile took the stage for her set. She had a darker folk sound, with a bit of an electronic tinge, and a strong voice to drive the songs. She is definitely a good musician, but I didn't think anything really stood out from the set; it could have been that the Red Room can be merciless to the acts that sway on the folk or quieter side, but I didn't find myself drawn in. 
She brought out Graham Madden from Tough Lovers to help out with her Canadian cover, Byran Adams' "Cuts Like A Knife" (which has shown up in previous years) and ended the set with her current Peak-single, "Running", which was a good example of her electro-folk sound, and my favourite of the set. 

Dominique Fricot: No stranger to the Peak Performance Project, Dominique Fricot was in the first year as part of The Painted Birds. But now Dom has struck out on his own and is in this year as a solo act, backed by a band with some notable Vancouver musicians. The main members included Rob Tornroos on guitar & Niko Friesen on drums, and he also had Hilary Grist helping out on backup vocals and members of Four on the Floor on strings for a few songs. 
There are a few bands or musicians this year that I thought have been talented, but just need that extra edge, or just a little something to set them apart, and Dom is one of them. He has a great stage presence and charisma, and you can tell he pours his emotions into his songs, but they just need a bit of a kick to set them apart. 
His sound has a strong 90's alt rock influence, and there were a few songs, such as "Burn and Start Over", that were quite catchy. He didn't stray too far from that 90's influences with his cover of "You Don't Love Me" from Philosopher Kings, which featured Adaline out on backup vocals. The duo's voices mixed very well together, and Dom was at his most outgoing and energetic on stage during the cover. 
That being said, Fricot does have a certain appeal, with huge supportive fan base (which is well deserved) and I would not be surprised (or disappointed) to see him in the top five. 

Portage & Main: I've made it no secret that I have clear favourites in this year's competition, and Portage & Main was one from the get-go. They've been my pick to win it from the start, and their set just strengthened that opinion. The folk-roots-rock band kicked off in high gear with the rocking "Sweet Darling" and hardly looked back.  Even with some of the slower songs, they managed to keep up a high energy, especially both John Sponarski and Harold Donnelly, who play off each other so well.
Their cover was another Bryan Adams tune, "Summer of '69", which was not really a bold choice, but a good interpretation, slowed down and rootsy, more geared towards their style; and they had a good chunk of people singing along with the chorus. 
They brought the set to a big ending, inviting nearly everyone involved in the PPP on stage to belt out the chorus of "Oh Carolina" -- as well as the crowd -- for a huge singalong, and a great showing of camaraderie for all the bands. Some of the musicians even didn't want the experience to end, staying on stage chanting "Oh Carolina" after the band was done. 

And with that, the showcase series is over. Now is when the the business side of the competition kicks in, with the bands each having to write a business report -- showing it's not just about how well the musicians play, but how industry savvy they are as well, There is also the voting process, which counts towards their "final grade". So head over to the Peak Performance Project website to vote for who you think should take the top stop, and cross your fingers. The top five will be announced on November 1st, and the top three will play the grand finale on November 22nd at the Commodore, to find out who wins $102,700.

North by North East: Wednesday

My first time ever at North By North East started off last night, and it began with the ending of Tracks on Tracks. For those who haven't been following along, Tracks on Tracks is a project put together by Vancouver's Green Couch, with some help from CBC Radio 3 and VIA Rail. The event took ten bands from Vancouver to Toronto by train, with bands playing every night, some acoustic sets throughout the day, and even a few shows at stops along the way.

All the bands that were on the train -- save the duo of Zach Gray and Adrian Glynn, who were last minute additions, played about a half hour each for a long, but amazing, night of spotlighting BC's finest music.

Chris Ho started off the night, and was a good choice to open, easing the gathering crowd into the night with his upbeat, folk rock. His catchy songs had people stomping and clapping along, and while I wasn't as wowed by his stuff as some other bands on the train, I think he definitely has a great potential as he grows as an artist. (But that isn't to diminish Chris in any way, but rather a note on the sheer talent the Tracks on Tracks train held)

I hadn't heard much of Shred Kelly before the train trip, and they definitely won me over on the train with their self-described "Stoke Folk". And which I got a sense of it from their shows on the train, I didn't get the full scope of how amazing Sage McBride's voice is until seeing them in a proper venue. They've got a great energy, especially Tim Newton, whose fingers are a blur when playing the banjo, and had everyone singing along to the all-too-relatable "I Hate Work" and ended off with "Tornado Alley", which sweeps up into an intense ending.

Portage & Main kept the folk/roots rock going, backed by The Matinee's Peter Lemon and Mike Young on drums & bass. John Sponarski and Harold Donnelly, both on guitar and vocals, mesh together so well, and even though they've only been a band for a year, the fact that they've played together on and off for years is a definite credit. Their train themed, absolute rocking "Sweet Darling" filled the room with energy and they ended, as they usually do, with the giant sing along "Oh Carolina" -- even pulling Grant Lawrence on stage with them to belt out the chorus.

And it would only make sense for the folk rocking The Matinee to be up next. The first time I saw them, I was impressed and an instant fan, and they have somehow managed to get even better; with an unparalleled energy and amazing charisma from the whole band, especially frontman Matt Layzell, and the brilliant guitar work from Matt Rose, I think this show may have been the best I've seen them play. They were on top of their game with new song "Young and Lazy" - and if this song doesn't become a huge hit for them, something is wrong in the world -- and ended off with "The Road", that at one point had each member surrounding Peter Lemon on the drum kit for a great drum breakdown.

That could have already been a stellar show, but we were not even half way done, with Maurice up next. He brought the mood down a little, but not in a bad way, with his alt-pop singer/songwriter vibe. In the spirit of Tracks on Tracks collaboration, Maurice had Marcus from the Belle Game on bass and TLGLTP's drummer filling out his lineup. The set was full of JP Maurice's heartfelt songs, as he oozed raw emotion, with songs like "All I Ever Wanted" and the undeniably catchy "Mistake".

Next we transitioned to the "dancey" part of the night, with the electro-pop of Adaline. The driving beat of "Wasted Time" got everyone moving, as did her amazing and seductive voice. Her set seemed a little short, as she got the five minute warning only three songs in, but managed to fit in a couple more; "Stereo" and ended off with "Rebels of Love"

Then was time for the grand sounds of The Belle Game. Their set also felt a bit short, but they still filled the room with their orchestral pop. The set featured mostly new songs from the band, which sounded amazing, and they also brought up Zach from The Zolas to help out on vocals for a song. They ended with the majestic "Sleep to Grow" building to a huge, climactic ending.

Sidney York almost wasn't going to be able to play the showcase, due to another show that night, but they were able to come back for a quick set. They always put on a fun show, and even with only three songs they packed them with enough energy for a full set. Getting people to sing along to "Roll With Me" and the insanely catchy "Mile High Love" ended off the set.
And it should be noted that Mike Young from The Matinee was filling in for their sick bass player, so in one night he ended up playing fours sets with three bands in two venues.

And then, it was a Topless Gay Love Tekno Party. Dressed up in giant silver shoulderpads and covered head to toe in glitter, the band made their way through the crowd, glittering people as they went by, throwing handfuls in the air. They took the stage and launched into their brand of insanely fun, self-deprecating tongue in cheek dance pop. With songs that had ridiculously catchy and easily sing-along-able songs, the entire crowd was singing along -- even those hiding from the glitter in the back. They had balloons and glitter flying through the air the entire set, as well as a large inflatable... phallus... that was kept up through half the set, and they ended off with the self titled "Top Less Gay Love Tekno Party", again getting the whole crowd to sing along.

And yet again, that would be a great ending, but there was still one more band to go, side project from TLGLTP's bass player Ian Bevis, Bear Mountain. The trio was joined by Luke Cyca on drums, and keep the dance party going with some synth looping and catchy beats. At this point half the crowd was filtering out, as it was around 2am, and half the crowd still dancing, as well as some heartfelt goodbyes from all the people on the train saying goodbye. Since Friday night, it felt like the party would never end, but this was the last hurrah.

And what a hurrah it was.

Tracks on Tracks: The Third Day

We pull in (and out) of Saskatoon as day three began with more bustle in the morning, until the next stop in the small town of Melville, Saskatchewan where there was to be a platform show. The train was running late, however, so there wasn’t chance of a full show, but they opened one of the doors on a baggage car for newly acquired Shred Kelly to play a whirlwind set for nearly the whole town, including The Mayor!

The afternoon saw more cabin shows with Portage & Main and The Matinee, both stripped down. Portage took advantage of the setting and played some of their slower songs, like “Rocky Mountain Wanderer” (despite being in the middle of the prairies) and The Matinee crammed into the back of the Park Car, at the very end of the train. They had some assistance from Kiana Brasset on violin (and Grant Lawrence on woos) as they serenaded the car in front of the vast prairie landscape disappearing behind them.

The scheduled show at the Forks in Winnipeg didn’t quite go as planed. The train rolled in late making a much more rushed than anticipated; instead of the two-hour show, we were only in town for less than half an hour.

Chris Ho played a few songs, followed by an obligatory set from the appropriately named Portage & Main, including their rocking (and train themed) newer song “Sweet Darlin” 
It was then a game of hurry up and wait as we rushed back to the station but the train still wasn’t quite ready, so there were a few impromptu songs in the station; first Zach & Adrian, then Maurice and finally Lindsey Bryan.

We pulled out of The Peg and it was right back to the music with Shred Kelly rocking their self proclaimed “stoke folk”. Their great energy and enthusiasm was bolstered by co-vocals from the lovely Sage McBride and the blurry fingers of Tim Newton’s banjo picking, breaking a string in the middle of the set – which was immediately re-strung as the drummer and bassist filled the potential awkward pause. The wrapped up their set with “Tornado Alley”, which built to a huge, amazing ending.

Portage and Main was up next for another full out rock set, backed by Pete and Mike from The Matinee on drums and bass respectively. The banter between John and Harold was their usual self-deprecating joking; playing off each other well and the aforementioned train-themed “Sweet Darling” nearly blew the roof off the train car. They ended with a massive sing along to “Oh Caorlina” with the entire car belting out the chorus.

And The Matinee closed out the night in a way only they could, with another all out rocking set. They shook the train car as everyone stomped along to “L’Absinthe” and  “The Road”, using the walls of the train and random instruments for the usual drum breakdown, but they were urged back for one more, a cover (their third of the night) of Tom Petty’s “Running Down A Dream”

There were a few more scheduling glitches and some miscommunication the third day, and an illness that may have sidelined Sidney York from the rest of the train, but beyond that, it's still been one heck of a trip!