Matthew Good @ Rio Theatre -- 11/27/14

When the ticket website StubHub announced that their "Next Stage" concert series would include an acoustic Matthew Good at the Rio Theatre, I knew there was no way I could miss it. Good has long been a favourite of mine, and his solo acoustic shows are among the best shows I have seen, especially when in a relatively intimate venue.

Toronto's Dani Jean (also of Mickey Loves Mallory) started things off for the night, behind the keys with a stripped down, soulful pop sound. Her breathy vocals drove haunting songs, many of which seemed to be about various stages of love.
Mid-way through her short set she swapped to an acoustic guitar for a song called "Broken Angels"
and a cover of "Habits" by Tove Lo (which I had never actually heard before, but from the lyrics could tell it was more of a pop song than her gentle interpretation) before going back to hey keyboard for one last one, a song called "Hurts Like Hell".
She put on an enjoyable set, and I would be interested to hear what she's like with a full band, or as part of the Mickey Loves Mallory project.

Matthew Good took the stage armed with his guitar, launching right into "Strange Days" from one of my favourite albums of all time, Beautiful Midnight for a two-hour set that spanned nearly his entire career. He reached as far back as the hidden track on his debut Last of the Ghetto Astronauts -- and what may have been the first popular use of the phrase "first world problems" -- "Omissions of the Omen" where he broke a string on his guitar; had the entire crowd singing along in a hushed choir for "Symbolistic White Walls"; played a few older favourites like "So Long Ms Smith" and a re-worked "Truffle Pigs" all from the Matt Good Band days.

The set also included a few personal favourites, like "Prime Time Deliverance" a powerful song that never fails to give me chills; the intense "A Boy And His Machine Gun", which I don't think I had ever heard live before; and the usually-symphonic "While We Were Hunting Rabbits" simplified to a cool acoustic version while Good's voice soared and filled the theatre.

There were a few songs that were completely re-worked to fit the acoustic format. The frantic and thumping "Load Me Up" was turned into a slower, almost alt-country flavoured song. "Alert Status Red" into a classic protest song. He even mentioned that more songs would probably be given acoustic versions, as he will be embarking on an acoustic tour next April, following his new album in March.

As is the case with most of his acoustic shows, the atmosphere was very relaxed and candid. There were a few small flubs during songs, but when he admitted to screwing something up, or not remembering lyrics to songs he hadn't played in 15 years, it didn't come across as "bad". His proclivity to banter with the crowd between songs made it feel less like a show, and more like some friends sitting around someone's living room. He even occasionally chatted to people one-on-one as he recognised longtime fans in the crowd, or people from his past.

During the set he talked about everything from behind-the-scenes jokes, and why he changed some songs and couldn't play others -- at one point he just let people yell song titled and explaining why he couldn't play each (sometimes sincerely, sometimes glibly). He went from the absurd (don't get into music, get into washroom fixtures) to political (who exactly declares that there is a "war" on Christmas?) and everything in between (Lamb's Rum) as the show was about three quarters music and one quarter storytelling.

After a sold hour and a half, he brought the main set to an end with "Apparitions" -- which, when someone yelled it out earlier he joked of course he was going to play it, they day that he didn't would be the day he was beaten to death by fans -- before he was obviously back out for a few more including a song that his record label deemed "too country", "Hopeless", and the absolutely gorgeous and heartwrenching "Sort of a Protest Song", before finally ending the night on a positive note, his fantastic cover of Daniel Johnston's "True Love Will Find You In The End".

I've said countless times before on this very blog that Matthew Good ranks among my all time favourite musicians, and it's shows like this that cements that position. How he can effortlessly shift from light-hearted banter to heavy, dark songs. His powerful voice that, even if it can't still hit the highs, can blast you right in the chest and rip open your heart. He played for two hours, and I probably still could have stayed for more. 

Strange Days, Tripoli, Born Losers, A Boy And His Machine Gun,  99% Of Us is Failure, Truffle Pigs, Symbolistic White Walls, Prime Time Deliverance, So Long Ms. Smith, Metal Airplanes, While We Were Hunting Rabbits, Omissions of the Omen, Load Me Up, Apparitions. 
(encore) Alert Status Red, Silent Army in the Trees, Empty Road, Hopeless, Sort of a Protest Song, True Love Will Find You In The End.

String Fling II w/ Four on the Floor String Quartet @ Rio Theatre -- 02/06/14

A little over a year ago, the Four on the Floor String Quartet -- who have provided strings for virtually every band in Vancouver -- had the chance shine on their own with the first String Fling at the Rio Theatre. It was a great show melding local indie rock with gorgeous, classical strings. Now they are back for a second year, for the second annual String Fling.

The members of the quartet for the night were Michelle Faehrmann on cello, Elliott Vaughan on viola, and violinists Stephanie Chatman and Emily Bach -- with Hannah Epperson on violin and Megan Bradfield on stand up bass also rotating in for a few songs.

They opened with a strings instrumental, and live visuals projected on the screen from an old school overhead projector that ran throughout the show, done by Mind of a Snail Puppet Co. Each artist got three songs, with the Quartet playing segues between each, and the first artist up was Brandon Scott from Yukon Blonde. His own songs were more laid back with a folky singer/songwriter vibe, compared to Yukon Blonde's high energy rock, with the strings punctuating the introspective feeling.

After an amazing and frantically dissonant viola piece by Elliott Vaughn called Nine Fingers, Tonye Aganaba took the stage. There were some technical problems with her guitar for the first song, but the focus of her set was definitely her powerful and soulful voice, which shone through her own songs, as well as a cover of Rihanna's "Diamond".

Another piece from the Quartet called "I Spell Your Name With Other Letters" (or, "Other Letters" for short, or "O.L." for shorter) segued into Jay Malinowski. Admittedly, I have never really liked Bedouin Soundclash, or his solo material, which he was featuring. His new project, called Jay Malinowski & The Deadcoast, also includes Elliott Vaughan, and he brought out the piano for one of the songs from the new album. Aside from his own songs, he also included a cover of Krief's "Forever Goodnight", before wrapping up the first half of the evening.

There was a brief intermission, before the show started back up with Michelle on cello, backed by Ali Sidat of Mother Mother on drums, for a really cool number -- starting off with kind of a dark, almost post-rock sound before spinning into a more dancey piece; it was one of my favourite pieces of the night.

Continuing the second half was one of the two leads of Rococode, Laura Smith. Rococode's songs have always had a bit of an eerie or haunting quality to them, and the addition of the strings drove that feeling home. She played a couple new songs, one with Ali and Ryan joining her, before finishing off with a haunting version of "Empire", which may have been my favourite interpretation of the night.

The Quartet went a little more contemporary and covered some Daft Punk before the next act, Ryan Guldemond. He said he wanted to juxtapose the beautiful strings with blasphemous songs, one of which spun into a spoken word monologue about a failed breakup with an ex. The songs were as catchy and sharp as you would expect from the Mother Mother frontman, but a lot less grounded; more surreal, but definitely interesting.

And finally, the night wrapped up with Fur Trade. The Quartet did a version of one of their songs instrumentally before Steve Bays and Parker Bosley were out for the band's very first live show. The two were members of Hot Hot Heat together, and while I was never much of a fan of that band, I have liked Fur Trade's singles, and their live performance was definitely impressive. Their pair of songs, "Kids These Days" and "Same Temptation", got the theatre crowd up to the stage and dancing, for a perfect ending to the main set.

But of course, the members of Four on the Floor were back out for an encore, for one last song, joined by Tonye and Laura on vocals to perform an awesome cover of R. Kelly's ridiculous song "Genius".

The night ran fairly smooth, with near seamless transitioning from one band to the next. I've always enjoyed strings in music, and the best moments from both this year -- and last -- were with acts that you might not consider adding strings to. There seemed to be a lot more synergy between the bands and the quartet this year, and I can only hope the tradition continues, as it is bound to become one of the most anticipated annual events.

Basia Bulat w/ Evening Hymns @ Rio Theatre -- 12/05/13

Aside from an all-too short solo set opening for Nick Cave earlier this year, it had been over three years since the last time I saw Basia Bulat perform live. But she was back at a packed Rio Theatre to support her latest album, Tall Tall Shadow with her band. Plus, she was touring with longtime friend Evening Hymns -- who had already put on one of my favourite shows of the year, a couple months prior -- so I was more than a little excited for the show.

The night started with Evening Hymns, which is to say, Jonas Bonnetta taking the stage alone. After starting off with "Spirit In The Sky", which teased a bit of looping, he explained the concept of his latest album Spectral Dusk, written about his father's passing after years of illness and the deeply personal & heartfelt songs that were born. He told a couple stories about his father and brother, but also had some levity to his banter, joking around.

Half way through the set, Basia Bulat joined him on stage for a duet for an older song "Dead Deer", their voices blending perfectly together, and he fully exploited his looping pedal as he ran around building "Mtn. Song", his self professed dance number.
Jonas ended the set with the title track "Spectral Dusk", a heart wrenching song that surely caused more than a few teary eyes in the silent theatre. Not only was it his last song of the set, and his last live show of the year, but the last song for the Spectral Dusk "album cycle", and seemed noticeably cathartic for him as he ended that chapter.

Spirit In The Sky; Arrows; You and Jake; Dead Deer; Mtn. Song; Spectral Dusk.

It wasn't long after before Basia Bulat took the stage. Joined by bassist Ben Whitely and percussionist Ian MacKay, they started with "The City With No Rivers", and Bulat playing a charango; the first of several instruments she would cycle through over the course of the set. From the charango to the pianoette, the more conventional acoustic guitar to the keyboard, and of course the autoharp, she transitioned effortlessly from instrument to instrument. And her small stature -- which she joked about a few times -- gave way to a huge voice and presence. It was hard not to be entranced as her voice soared during songs like "Five, Four" and "Heart Of My Own".

There were a couple technical difficulties in the set, but nothing that took away from it; even when having keyboard or mic stand troubles, Basia was unfazed, joking and charming the crowd before getting it right rather than slipping into an awkward silence. Other highlights of the set included the soft and gorgeous "Paris or Amsterdam", the building intensity of "Gold Rush", and the incredibly catchy "Tall Tall Shadow", which saw Bonnetta coming out to join on backup vocals and staying for the final song of the set, "Never Let Me Go"

Basia came back out, visibly overwhelmed by the crowd's reaction, and went for a more loose and seemingly unplanned encore taking suggestions from the audience. "In The Night" again showed off her world class autoharp playing, and she did a beautiful cover of Daniel Johnston's "True Love Will Find You In The End", before she bookended the set by again bringing out the charango and finishing with her voice once again soaring for "It Can't Be You".

Basia Bulat is a fantastic musician and performer, and she had the entire theatre captivated throughout the show. I just hope it's not another three years before she's back.

The City With No Rivers; Promise Not To Think About Love; Gold Rush; Heart Of My Own; Run; I Was A Daughter; Five, Four; Paris or Amsterdam; Little Waltz; The Shore; If It Rains; Wires; Someone; Tall Tall Shadow; Never Let Me Go. 
(encore) Before I Knew; In The Night; True Love Will Find You In The End [Daniel Johnston cover]; It Can't Be You.

Aidan Knight & Justin Rutledge @ Rio Theatre -- 11/15/13

It's been a little over a year since Aidan Knight's Small Reveal was released, and he's been touring almost non-stop in support of it. But the Victoria singer/songwriter is finally coming home for a rest, and the penultimate stop on the tour was a venue he was familiar with, Vancouver's Rio Theatre.

With him was Justin Rutledge, who was on stage armed only with his guitar. Luckily, it was a "listening crowd", as he put it, and Rutledge's strong voice & songwriting had the crowd hushed. Taking the opportunity to play some slower and quieter songs, the soft spoken singer/songwriter also joked around with the crowd between sets (I, for one, would go see a movie called "Twentysomething Santa").
Highlights from the set included "Out of the Woods", from his new album Valleyheart, and "Be A Man", which even acoustically built to a strong and passionate ending.
Sadly, he did not play his big, rousing sing along song "Jellybean", but it was still a strong set, and no doubt the Toronto troubadour won over more than a few fans.

Then at 9:15 sharp, Aidan Knight took the stage with his Friendly Friends. "You Will See The Good In Everyone" started off the set, beginning soft and building to a huge climax, a trait shared by a few of Aidan's songs. A few of the older songs had variations on then, different arrangements or slight adjustments; nothing to make the songs unrecognizable, but just a natural progression, and punching them up a little.
Part way through the set the band took a break for Aidan Knight Story Time; in true Aidan fashion a bit of a rambling, but entertaining tale of their current tour, and flipping their van, to past tours and Dan Mangan and car sickness. 
He then followed the story with the utterly devastating and heartbreaking "Margaret Downe", before the band came back for a few more including the lesser known "Lambics", building to an intense ending, and "Knitting Something Nice", which ended the set with a cacophony of swirling guitars and crashing drums.
They came back out shortly after for a couple more, including "Skip" from the new album, which Aidan mentioned had never been played in Vancouver before, and of course wrapping up with the big group sing along to "Jasper".

Aidan & his Friendly Friends always put on a great show, and a lot of the songs in the set sounded bigger, more grandiose; as if Knight was stretching his sonic wings more and more. If that was the case, then I am very interested to see what comes next.

You Will See The Good In Everyone, A Mirror, Land's End, Singer/Songwriter, Margaret Downe, Dream Team, Lambics, Altar Boys, Knitting Something Nice.
(encore) Skip, Jasper.

Hannah Georgas with The Belle Game @ The Rio Theatre -- 04/26/13

It's been three years since the last time Hannah Georgas headlined her own show in Vancouver. Sure, the Ontario-born singer who now calls Vancouver home has played here plenty in the intervening time, but it's always been supporting someone else, part of a larger bill. But fresh off her recent Juno nominations -- and performance at the award ceremony -- Georgas returns home for a pair of sold out shows at the Rio Theatre, with The Belle Game along for the ride.

On the heels of the release of their debut LP, Ritual Tradition Habit, Vancouver's The Belle Game started off the night with their rich and lush indie pop. The six piece launched right in to the first song on the album, the haunting "Ritual" before getting shoulders shimmying to "Wasted Light".

Their sound went from the upbeat and bouncy "Keeps Me Up At Night" to the sexy slow-jam of "Bruised to Ash", with Andrea Lo's powerful vocals being the focal point -- which was never more apparent than on "River", the small singer's voice filling the room. They wrapped up the set with "Sleep To Grow" and "Wait Up For You", both of which building to explosive endings, the fantastic guitar work of both Adam Nanji and Alex Andrew on display.

While the sound was a bit bass-heavy at the start, it evened out a couple songs in, and the band proved why they fit right in at a place like the Rio; their grand sound fits the theatre venue nicely, and I can't wait for the day they play a somewhere like the Vogue.

Ritual, Wasted Light, Keeps Me Up At Night, Blame Fiction, Bruised to Ash, River, Sleep to Grow, Wait Up For You.

Then, with throbbing bass and pulsing lights, Hannah Georgas took the stage with her backing band, starting off with "Elephant", the first track on her newest, self titled album. The set continued to focus on the new album, the poppy-rocker "Robotic" and the acerbic, unrequited-love-song "Somebody", leading into a cover of Jesus & Mary Chain's "Just Like Honey" -- though the vocals seemed a little low for just that song, Hannah's voice getting drowned out.

Midway through the set the band took a break and Hannah performed "The Beat Stuff" on her own, just her gorgeous voice and a guitar, before she was rejoined not only by the band, but also a surprise guest, Ryan Guldemond from Mother Mother out to do backup vocals on "Fantasize"

After a few more, including the super upbeat and danceable "Shortie", Hannah ended off the set with the heartfelt "Ode to Mom", and the last song on the album, "Waiting Game", with another guest out for backup vocals, this time rapper Shad.

But of course, there was the encore as Hannah came out alone and took a seat behind the keys for the absolutely gorgeous and heartbreaking "Shine" before she was joined by the band for "All I Need", a perfect song to wrap up the night with, starting soft and building to an intense grand finale.

With a great stage presence -- Hannah chatted and joked throughout the set -- and a fantastic voice backing up her gritty songs, "Gorgeous" Hannah Georgas put on one hell of a show, captivating the sold out theatre. She's come a long way since the first time I saw her, at the intimate St. James Hall, and it won't be long before she's selling out bigger and bigger venues. I just hope that we won't have to wait another three years for the next headlining show!

Elephant, Enemies, Robotic, Somebody, Just Like Honey [Jesus & Mary Chain cover], Thick Skin, Chit Chat, Lover's Breakdown, The Beat Stuff, Fantasize, Deep End, What You Do To Me, Shortie, Millions, Dancefloor, The National, Ode to Mom, Waiting Game.
(encore) Shine, All I Need.