The Mocking Bird @ The Media Club -- 05/18/12

One of the first shows I saw this year was the CD release show from The Mocking Bird, the new project from Vancouver's Bob Kemmis, and turned out to be an excellent show. So given the opportunity to not only see them again, but also a redhead with an amazing voice as one of the opening acts, I had to take it.

The lovely Ali Milner was started off the night, with just herself behind the keys for "According to the New York Times", before the rest of the band kicked in half way through the song. Her upbeat, jazzy sound was driven by her incredible & soulful voice, and Ali was a natural performing, with an effortless charm and great stage presence.
Highlights included "Don't Forget To Call Me" and "I Want To Be Loved By You", as well as a few brand new songs, one of which, the high energy "Waiting", was my favourite of the set, and a couple covers; Shania Twain's "Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under" and the final song, a fantastic version of the Rolling Stones' "Gimmer Shelter", which ending with each member leaving the stage one by one until only drummer Richard Brown was left.

Next up was The Never Surprise,  the duo of David Gaudet and Nick Eakins joined by a few familiar faces; Niko Friesen on drums, Robbie Driscoll on bass and Andrew Braun on keys. Starting off with the catchy "Sun Goes Down", the set was full of their smooth, indie-folk sound. I have seen them a few times before, but this was the first time where they added keys to the mix, and it helped flesh out their sound exponentially. The band also had a great presence, though there wasn't much between songs -- though David did joke at one point they were working on their banter.

And finally, The Mocking Bird hit the stage, a little after midnight. Joining Bob Kemmis -- all in matching shirts -- was a great assembly of talent, including Erik P.H. Nielsen on bass (who also played with Ali earlier), Pat Steward on drums and Shaun Verreault on guitar. There was also a small horn section on a few songs, packing the small stage at the Media Club with nearly a dozen musicians.
The set started off with "Grace", the first song off of No Good Deed Goes Unpunished, which immediately set the tone for the ridiculously catchy, roots-rock, with great and clever lyrics. Other highlights were the insanely catchy "Where's Your Get Up?" and the dark "Love You Hated Him" which built to a huge ending.
Once again, Kemmis was a great stage presence, with a charm and sense of humour that was evident in both the songs and banter, and the combined talent and experience on stage came together for a fantastic band.

Unfortunately, due to the set starting after midnight and transit cutting off at 1, I had to run and miss the tail end of the set, which I hate, but aside from my pet peeve of shows where the headliner ends up going on at almost 12:30, it was a pretty great show; a night full of excellent local musicians.

Peak Performance Project Showcase #1 @ Red Room -- 09/08/11

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. The first year was won by We Are The City, and last year, Kyprios, 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 where industry pros helped 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. In the last two years, the bands would all have to learn and play a cover of a classic Canadian song, but this year they will all be playing the songs they wrote about Vancouver for the Vancouver125 celebrations. Honestly, I am a bit disappointed about that, because one of my favourite aspects of the showcase series last year was seeing which song they picked and how they interpreted it. But I am sure their Vancouver songs will be great.

Kicking off the whole series was The Never Surprise, joined by drummer Neko Friesen and Robbie Driscoll on bass -- both of which have played with just about all the bands in Vancouver. They started the set with some slow, folk-y songs, but as the set went on they picked up the energy a little. There wasn't too much banter, aside from some gratuitous "thank yous", but they all seemed confident from the start, which just grew as the set went on. A little bit of feedback struck them early on -- that actually persisted throughout the night -- but it was played it off quite well. They wrapped up the set with their Vancouver 125 song, which was probably the most energetic one they had. They were the crowd into it and clapping along, and it was definitely a good ending song.

Hilary Grist was up next, keeping the mood somewhat mellow with her singer/songwriter folk-pop style. Musically, I thought she was okay; a nice voice and catchy songs, but nothing that really stood out or that I hadn't heard before. But she did have a fantastic energy and stage presence. Coming out from behind the keyboard, singing at the front of the stage, she was great and getting the crowd into it. As the set went on there was a couple of nice moments, with the whole band came up to the front for a soft, cute song and one song consisting of a good sized brass section. She ended her set with a song that started off with just her, then the band joined in, then her large brass section came in as well, for a big ending with the crowd singing and clapping along.

Following her was Jasper Sloan Yip, who I had heard a few songs from, but for whatever reason had never seen him live or delved deeper into his work. But that will have to change, because he put on a thoroughly enjoyable set with a bit more rock in his folk, and a nice balance of slower songs and fun, catchy upbeat ones. Yip had an effortless charm to him, and he & his band all had a good presence on stage, and great chemistry, playing off each other really well. I also loved the addition of the strings, especially violin, to the songs, giving them a nice depth. He, too, ended with a big, grand, clap-along song -- which was a fun song, but had me wondering a little if someone told all the bands at bootcamp that was a good way to end a show.

Wrapping up the night was The Belle Game. I've had the chance to see their big, chamber pop sound a few times in the last couple months, and this was probably their best show I have seen them play. While they have never been lacking energy, this set had an abundance of it, with the members moving around more, being more dynamic. Members of the band would come up front and centre to show off, notably Alex Andrew on guitar and trumpetite Andrew Lee (on loan from The Ruffled Feathers) blowing his heart out for a couple trumpet solos, and a really good intensity from singer Andrea Lo.
And they also had a big, bombastic ending to their set, wrapping up the first night of the showcase shows with a bang.

Definitely a fun night, and a great start to the showcase series, which runs for the next four Thursdays at the Red Room. Next week we'll hear from Avairis, Fields of Green, Acres of Lion and Current of Swell

The Never Surprise CD Release w/ Portage & Main @ Railway -- 05/05/11

Maybe it's because I keep seeing these types of shows there, but the Railway Club is becoming more and more synonymous with good folk and roots music, for me. Last night was a pretty good example with three Vancouver bands out for The Never Surprise CD Release.

First up was The Geese -- or rather two fifths of the band. An acoustic, folky sound driven by guitar and keys, the pair had good chemistry when talking to each other, but it didn't really extend off the stage. They had songs about a variety of things, from robots to death to a cover of "Little Arguments With Myself" by Low, but they all seemed to blend together; none of the songs really stood out. Well, except for the lyrics of the last song, which was the hierarchy of Rock, Paper, Scissors... but that stood out for the wrong reasons. They were by no means bad, they were just kind of... there.

Next up was the band celebrating the release of their CD, The Never Surprise, who were joined by a couple familiar faces, Niko Friesen on drums and Robbie Driscoll on bass. They also had a more folky sound going on, but were a bit too mellow. The songs were good, and there were definitely some talented musicians on stage, they just lacked a punch, or a draw. I fully admit, though, it could have just been because I was tired, so that could have tainted my perspective. I wouldn't mind seeing them again when in a better mindset, maybe be able to fully get into it.
After they wrapped up their set, they were back for an encore with a cover of Cohen's "Suzanne" which was... okay. At least it wasn't "Hallelujah".

And rounding out the night was Portage & Main. Both front men for the band, John Sponarski and Harold Donnelly, were a bit under the weather, but while it was a little noticeable (even if they hadn't kept talking about it) it wasn't detrimental to the set; they still put on a really fun show. Even if the vocals were a bit off, which really only happened a couple times, they were still an incredibly tight band. With more of a roots-y edge than the previous two bands, highlights were the rambunctious "Tonight pt 2", the slower, more country-bent "The Morning After" and "I'd Never Climbed a Mountain" which starts slow, then builds to a great climax.
They ended the night with Savannah Wellman of Redbird joining them on vocals for a second time, and "Carolina", a great sing-along song to end the set with, which even saw a broken string from John.

Nothing (Take What You Need), What Have I Done, The Morning After, Rocky Mountain Wanderer, When You're Gone, Tonight pt 2, I'd Never Climbed a Mountain, Follow Me My Love, Carolina.