Sasquatch…Vancouver?

by Aaron Vanimere on June 2, 2012

 

Spiritualized, taken with my crappy phone camera then post-processed until it was faintly respectable...

As many of you know, my passion for music is equally matched by my distaste for camping. Why someone would intentionally forgo the ability to shower, cook, sleep under a roof, etc. in the name of fun is beyond me, but that’s a whole other issue. The point is, it means that attending the Sasquatch Music Festival (which had a pretty good lineup this year, as it usually does) is pretty much a non-option for me, Luckily, I’ve found a way around this. Often bands will play Vancouver on their way to or from Sasquatch, and in years when acts I really want to see do this (R.E.M. & The Cure in 2008, for example), I just head to Vancouver and see them there. This allows me to see the bands I love while still enjoying the amenities of 21st Century Western living that I’ve come to rely on. As well, while in Vancouver I can spend my time catching up with friends, shopping for records, taking photos, and visiting art galleries; doing just enough to qualify the trip as “work-related”. Anyway, without further adieu, here is a day-by-day breakdown of the concerts I attended (or, in some cases, almost attended):

Wednesday: I arrived in Vancouver just in time to head to the Biltmore Cabaret to see Best Coast. I unfortunately didn’t get there in time to catch the first opener, local act NĂ¼ Sensae, but was able to see the Portland-based indie-pysch band Unknown Mortal Orchestra. I wasn’t a huge fan of their 2011 self-titled debut, but the songs sounded much better live, and while it wasn’t spectacular, it was much better than I was expecting. Best Coast, however, was less than impressive. For all of the poppiness and sheen that her new album has, her live show was pretty much devoid of energy, and was about as interesting as you’d expect from 4 musicians seemingly going through the motions. I love the idea of Best Coast as a lo-fi/indie Patsy Cline or Skeeter Davis, but right now, her songs and charisma are nowhere near that of those icons that she is often compared to.

Thursday: I would have liked to have gone to the release show for the new White Lung record Sorry, but I found out about the event too late, and had already made plans for the night. I regret this, especially considering how great the album is (you can stream it here). Going to Best Coast but missing this show is definitely something I regret, and I will hang my head in shame while feeling silently judged about this by my collection of punk 7″s.

Friday: Again, no show because of other plans, but unlike Thursday night, my no-show decision likely didn’t come at the expense of my credibility.

Saturday: Spiritualized was easily the band I was looking forward to the most, and ultimately, the main reason for the trip. They’ve been one of my favorite bands for years now, but their North American tours aren’t terribly frequent, and don’t extend to places like our lovely remote northern town. So I jumped on the chance to see them at the Rickshaw Theatre, a venue I love. Thankfully, my first Spiritualized live experience lived up to the immense expectations I had for it. Their current album, Sweet Heart, Sweet Light has been very well received (as a side note, it’s easily my favorite record of the year so far), and as a result, the new songs went over really well. There are few bands who could make the same claim 20+ years into their career. If there was any lag in the 2+ hour set, it was during their more spacey, down-tempo instrumental parts (on the other hand, the psychedelic, aggressive instrumental parts, namely on Ladies And Gentleman We Are Floating In Space tracks “Come Together” and “Cop Shoot Cop”, were incredible). Ultimately, gospel-tinged anthems like “Lord Let It Rain On Me” and “Soul On Fire” are the reason why I’m such a fan of this band, and the performance of these songs carried all of the emotion and intensity that have come to expect from the band. Opening act Nikki Lane, whose alt-country set was split between ballads and more uptempo numbers, was a pleasant surprise, though the opening act could have been a recent 604 Records signing with the nuanced lyrics of Toby Keith and the catchy melodies of tUnE-yArDs and it still wouldn’t have put a damper on my evening.

Sunday: I’m a few years removed from my White Stripes superfandom, and though I liked Jack White‘s recent solo debut, I never liked the Raconteurs and find The Dead Weather to be fairly hit-and-miss. All of this to say that I didn’t expect to be enthralled by Jack White’s show. On the long list of things that Gwen Stefani would be lampooned for but Jack White can somehow get away with, he is touring with two different backing bands, one all-female and one all-male, who are reportedly not allowed to interact with one another, lest one be influenced by the other. My understanding is that the male band is more blues-y and polished than their raw, garage-y leaning female counterparts, so I was glad when 5 or 6 women in similar baby-blue, white, and black vintage dresses walked on to the Queen Elizabeth Theatre stage. Whatever skepticism I had was gone when Jack White picked up his guitar and opened with the familiar chords of “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground”. What followed was 90+ minutes of songs spanning all White’s respective projects, all played in that classic De Stijl/White Blood Cells era White Stripes sound. I was reminded of just how absolutely unfuckwithable those White Stripes classics are; songs that I had heard countless times hit me with the same punch that they did when I first listened to the band over a decade ago. I even enjoyed the Raconteurs songs, a sentence I never thought that I would write. Finishing with an incredible audience sing along during “Seven Nation Army” (not to mention a shout-out to Calgary early in the set) bumped the concert up from really great to something truly phenomenal and special. As much as I loved The White Stripes show at the Shaw in 2007, this was much better, something that I never would have guessed when I bought the ticket.

Monday: Xiu Xiu are a polarizing band amongst some in our club, and I land on the side of devoted fan. In contrast to their infamous 2005 Edmonton Show, the band’s setup was pretty straightforward, with frontman Jamie Stewart joined by only one bandmate (Angela Seo), and both using fairly traditional instruments (at least by Xiu Xiu standards…no rocks in sight, @nicolecreates). The band played a blistering set, with Stewart’s voice alternating between faint whisper and blood-curdling scream, but never in between. The main set was bookended by two Fabulous Muscles songs (the title track and “I Luv The Valley OH!”, possibly the closest thing they have to a “hit”), and capped off by an encore featuring a cover of Suicide’s “Frankie Teardrop”, a song that likely no other contemporary band could cover as intensely or definitively. Needless to say, I absolutely loved it. The night started out great with Father Murphy, a band that I have described as “really interesting but possibly unlistenable”. Thankfully, in this context, the haunting, cavernous vocals came to the forefront (possibly because the Biltmore could also be described as “cavernous” thanks to the low turnout) and were complimented well by the band’s experimental music. I still can’t say whether I’ll throw this album on when I’m sitting in my studio working on photos or whatever, but I’d definitely go to a Father Murphy show again. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for YAMANTAKA // SONIC TITAN. I’m a fan of their debut album but oh man, did they ever seem to be taking themselves way too seriously. Dressed all in black with KISS-style makeup, the bulk of the set had them standing still while seemingly looking at the audience with contempt. In this recent article, writer Matthew Maaskant mentioned the band’s use of “massive cardboard sets to create intense imagery” while drummer Alaska B talks of their “violent acts on-stage”. Those elements were not present during this show, and it suffered from it. I still fucking love their record, which you can find here. I see that they’re opening for Thurston Moore at Sled next month; hopefully there will be more to the show at that performance. (update: Looking back, my original tone seemed a little too snide and unfair, so I cleaned up and focused my criticism a little more. I also made a comment about a stage move that seemed out of place that turns out to be a traditional cultural practice. This was not clear to me at the time and I apologize for my error. ).

Tuesday: Mogwai had to cancel their Sasquatch appearance due to last-minute travel issues, but thankfully were still able to play their show at the Commodore Ballroom. Chad VanGaalen opened the show, which, despite how much I like his music, seemed like a really random and odd fit. Fortunately, I discounted just how versatile he and his band are. This was easily the loudest and most droning (in a good way) show I’ve seen from VanGaalen, which lined up quite well with Mogwai without seeing disingenuous. As a side note, this is the 3rd time I’ve seen Chad VanGaalen in the past year, all in completely different contexts and each show was radically different. I guess the lesson is that, if you’re going to see an act multiple times, you can do much, much worse than VanGaalen. Mogwai were pretty much what I expected them to be in relation to their post-rock peers: less serious than Explosions In The Sky, less conceptual than Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and more loud than Do Make Say Think. It was a great show, but probably would have been more powerful if I hadn’t been blown away by the aforementioned EITS and Godspeed less than two months prior at Coachella.

Wednesday: I had planned to see Deer Tick, but thanks to a venue change, the show was sold out by the time I got to the Biltmore. I’m sure there were good reasons for moving it from the bigger Commodore Ballroom, but I definitely wasn’t the only one who was looking to buy tickets but ended up turned away at the door. This marks the third time in the last year that I’ve planned to see Deer Tick only to be foiled at the last minute. Hopefully the Ghost Throats Festival on June 2 wraps up in time for me to make it over to the Starlite Room to catch them. I’d hate to miss them a fourth time.

So, that was what I saw in Vancouver. The disappointments were few and minor and paled in comparison to the highlights, which is the mark of any successful music-focused trip. To my fellow #yegmusicclubbers who are able to brave the living conditions for four days at Sasquatch, I salute you, but hopefully I can continue to make this “Sasquatch Vancouver” outing in years to come.

 

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