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.

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.

String Fling w/ Four on the Floor String Quartet @ Rio Theatre -- 12/13/12

Even if you don't know them by name, there's a good chance you've seen some members of the Four on the Floor String Quartet playing live. As a group or individually, they've been a part of the Vancouver music scene for a while, playing with local artists like Adaline, The Belle Game, Kyprios, The Matinee, and many others, as well as having members of the quartet taking place in every Peak Performance Project as a part of various backing bands.
But they've decided to step into the spotlight and put on the first (of what I hope is many) String Fling, which saw members Hannah Epperson, Michelle Faehrmann, Tony Kastelic and Dougal McLean inviting some local acts to the Rio Theatre to play some of their own songs, with string accompaniment. And as someone who has always had a soft spot for strings in music, I was definitely interested to see how they came together with some of Vancouver's finest.

The show was broken into two halves, with each the performers playing a few songs and a steady flow of music with Four on the Floor performing between acts, with songs from their members or spoken word poetry over top of some strings arrangements. They opened the show with a songs before being joined by the first performer of the night, Ali Milner. With her gorgeous voice and jazzy piano, the strings blended really well with upbeat songs like the catchy "Waiting" and the dynamic "Fly".

After a spoken word interlude, they showcased a couple of their own solo projects, first Dougal Bain McLean with a could laid back, singer-songwriter-type songs, followed by the looping violin and lovely voice of Hannah Epperson, joined by Ajay Bhattacharyya on a drum machine for the aptly named "We Will Host A Party".

Ajay stayed on stage, joined by his bandmate Amy Kirkpatrick as Data Romance was up next. There was a bit of technical difficulties before they started, but Hannah covered fairly smoothly and they soon launched into their dark and moody, synth-infused electronic vibes. They played a couple new songs, teasing a new album in February, but I think they meshed with the string quartet least well -- which isn't to say it was bad in the slightest, just a clash of styles. That is, until their last song which was a bit more low key with Amy's ethereal voice soaring with the strings to close out the first half of the show.

After a short break, the second half opened with a spoken word piece from the quartet before Dominique Fricot took the stage. He is definitely no stranger to playing with Four on the Floor -- they helped him land third place in this year's Peak Performance Project -- and so he meshed the best with the quartet of all the performers. The acerbically charming Fricot talked and joked with the crowd, taking advantage of their relaxed atmosphere to play a couple slower, quieter songs from his repertoire, including the title track to his recent EP If Baby Could Walk. 

The next interlude, featured another spoken word piece, this time it segueing into the quartet playing the epic Game of Thrones theme, which was as fantastic as it sounds.

Of all the acts of the night, I was most interested to see how Shaun Verreault's bluesy sound mixed with the strings, and he introduced his first song as one least likely to be backed by a string quartet; Wide Mouth Mason's "Love Not Loving You". Originally a raw, distorted blues-rock song, it was turned into an absolutely gorgeous and heartbreaking number that ended up being my favourite of the night. His next couple songs were from his own solo albums, both a little more suited for the strings accompaniment, giving his amazing guitar playing and powerful voice an extra kick.

After one last Four on the Floor interlude, The Gay Nineties hit the stage to close out the night with their energetic and infectious rock. The first song had guest vocals from the powerful Colleen Rennison of No Sinner, and their raw energy was enough to get people up and dancing at the front of the stage. They sounded pretty much exactly like themselves, but with the addition of strings, which wasn't a bad thing at all, and they were definitely a good choice in closing out the night.

The pacing of the show was fantastic, with it never dragging on or seeming long, and for the most part everything ran like clockwork. It was a great night of music with a fantastic premise, and at the end of the show, they hinted at already planning a second one, and I already can't wait to see who Four on the Floor will be collaborating with for another.