The New Pornographers @ WISE Hall -- 12/11/14

To promote Google Play Music, Google Canada hosted a series of Home for the Holiday shows around the country this month. Last week Toronto got City & Colour, next week Montreal gets Coeur de Pirate, and last night Vancouver got their very own New Pornographers. The "secret" intimate show took place at Wise Hall, quite the change of scene from the last few times I saw them; at a sold out Commodore and in front of thousands of people in Stanley Park.

(And not to sound like a pitchman, but I've always been an Android guy and have been using Google Play -- not the streaming service, but the app itself -- on my phone since before it was available in Canada. It's pretty great.)

But on to the show. I had caught The New Pornographers at the start of their tour, a few months back, and I was actually a little disappointed by it, so I was eager to see them again, especially in a venue so intimate. It was the first time the Vancouver group had ever played the Wise Hall, and the venue sounded great. They started off with all seven members present -- minus Neko Case -- with the title track to the new album Brill Bruisers and into one of my favourites, the Bejar-fronted "Myriad Harbour". From there the set ran the gamut from the old, going back to their first album for the eponymous "Mass Romantic" to the the frantic "War on the East Coast", and all the hits in between.

Dan was on and off stage, there when he was needed, in a trench coat and often with a glass of red wine in hand, in a way that only Dan Bejar can pull off. And Carl Newman was in fine form joking between songs, thanking their Google sponsors (then being shocked that no one could name the inventor of Google) and ringing in every holiday until the end of the year, since it was their last show of 2014.

Other highlights included the softer "A Drug Deal of the Heart", "Testament To Youth in Verse" with its chorus of nos at the end, and a couple songs that really showed off Kathryn Calder's powerful vocals, "The Laws Have Changed" and "Born With A Sound".
After a good hour, they came to a close with one of my absolute favourites -- not just of New Pornos -- "The Bleeding Heart Show", a perfect song, building to a chest-busting ending of intertwined vocals and powerful drums. Though it may have been the only song of the set where their new drummer, Joe Seiders, wasn't quite up to par with Kurt Dahle. But that's not a knock on Joe, he just had some big shoes to fill.
And of course, they were back out for one more, Carl jokingly insisting that the word "encore" came from the Latin for "more", not from the French, before wrapping the night up by singing us Spanish Techno.

With their previous show this year, I couldn't quite place what was "off" about it. But whatever it was, was gone for this show. Maybe it was because they are wrapping up a tour, having just got home from Europe, but they were on top of their game and put on a strong show in a great, intimate venue. And I hope this is going to turn into an ongoing series from Google Canada.

Brill Bruisers; Myriad Harbour; Moves; Dancehall Domine; War on the East Coast; Use It; All The Old Showstoppers; Jackie, Dressed in Cobras; A Drug Deal of the Heart; The Laws Have Changed; Fantasy Fools; Testament to Youth in Verse; Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk; Backstairs; Silver Jenny Dollar; Champions of Red Wine; Born With A Sound; Mass Romantic; Ballad of a Comeback Kid; The Bleeding Heart Show. 
(encore) Sing Me Spanish Techno.

Then & Now @ Wise Hall -- 10/10/14

Now in its third year, Then and Now is a simple concept; take a handful of local artists, and get them to play a brand new song & an old song -- their newest, shiniest song, and one of their first songs -- and tell stories about both. Put on by Altered By Mom's Devon Lougheed, and Leigh Eldridge, the night was also a fundraiser for Megaphone Magazine, a local publication that is sold by the homeless or low income people, who get to keep the profits of their sales.

Even though Devon was absent from the event, the night was hosted by Caitlin Howden (The Sunday Service) and Stu Popp (SADCAST, Fat Kids On Basketball), who kept things rolling along and even started an impromptu auction of things they took out of the musicians pockets. Such wondrous items included a guitar pick, an unused bus pass, an american $10 bill, and a partially used Earl's gift card, all of which helped earn over $40 more for Megaphone.

Each of the eight acts was slotted two songs, so even with a little bit of setup in-between a few of them, the night never seemed to drag on.

The night started with the husband & wife duo The Wild Romantics and the first song they sang together, a cover of "Valley of Decision" by The Horse Thieves. Their 'now' was a new one called "Memphis, TN", fitting of the duo's alt-country twang, as they ended the song forehead-to-forehead, sharing the microphone, their voices blending together beautifully.

Badgerchild made some of the crowd feel old as she told the story about her then-song, the first song she put up on YouTube as a teenager, Vince Vaccaro's "Costa Rica" after being inspired to pick up the guitar after a breakup. She followed that up with breathy vocals on a new song called "Out of my Head".

Next was CityReal, supported by Tonye Aganaba on guitar, for some acoustic hip hop. He said it was the first time he had ever performed his songs acoustically, as he played on a djembe with Tonye's voice mixing quite well with his rapping.

The first half of the night wrapped up with Hot Panda. Lead singer Chris Connely came out alone on guitar, singing a cover of the first song he ever performed live, "Steak For Chicken" by The Moldy Peaches. Their 'now' turned into a hilarious performance art piece, after Chris claimed guitars were done, and technology was the future. First he pulled out his phone to get Siri to play the sick beat they made, then once that failed, he went to the tablet... which was out of power. And finally just went to the laptop for some (acceptable) backing tracks and brought out the other two band members in their DJ personas, on "synth" and "instagram video". No text description can live up to the performance, but the song itself was ridiculously catchy.

After the intermission, the second half began with CAST, a really interesting and unique performance by the jazzy drum & vocal duo, with Ben Brown on drums, who were accompanied by a tap dancer.

Tonye Aganaba returned to the stage next, taking the concept to heart with her first song being how she felt about love then -- raw and unbridled emotions -- and her now being how she more currently felt, her amazingly impressive voice silencing the hall.

Going to the very extremes of "then and now" Wide Mouth Mason singer Shaun Verreault -- like a few others during the night -- played the very first song he ever performed in front of people, Black Crowes' "She Talks to Angels" while his 'now' was the most 'now' he could have gotten, a brand new song which he had just finished writing while at the show itself, as he silenced the hall with his effortless and amazing guitar playing.

And finally, after one more short break to set up her gear, the night came to a close with Chersea. The singer/songwriter/looper went back to the very first song she wrote on a loop station, a gorgeous a capella song called "Classy" that showed off her own incredible voice, and her new was also the newest song she had in her arsenal, an upbeat and high energy dancy song.

Like the first two iterations, the night was fun and eclectic, zipping through genres with stories about why each performer chose the songs they did. It's always interesting hearing the change in artists over time, or seeing some of the influences of their work, and I hop it'll be back again for a fourth year.