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Sia at the Commodore Ballroom, Vancouver, Aug 19 2011

Posted in music journalism, rock & roll, writing with tags , , , , , on August 20, 2011 by bex0r

Credit: Ash Tanasiychuk for The Snipe News

Aussie songstress Sia (not to be confused with American drumstep artist Ana Sia) along with two pals, Ximena Sarinana and Oh Land, impressed the sold-out Commodore Ballroom crowd Friday night with a show featuring all aspects of the feminine. From the cute and petite Spanish soul stylings of Ximena, to the waifish avant-garde posturing of Oh Land to the gutsy barroom growls and toilet bowl humor of Sia Furler, each female brought a distinctly different character and a sound for every palate.

Definitely the black-horse up ‘n’ comer Ximena stole the award for straight-up star quality, charisma and talent. Putting the insubstantial and at times inane Oh Land to shame, Ximena had a solid crowd gathered to worship her powerful voice and exotic lyrical stylings.  Seeing her on stage you would never guess the petite singer/songwriter was barely 5’2 – her voice projected in a manner of operatic divas three times her size.

Next up the theatrical Oh Land took the stage to treat the audiences to her latest rehash of late 2000’s electro-clash meets ’90s Euro house. This reviewer admired her costume, but that was about it.

Finally, the performer everyone had been waiting for appeared before us in a ruffled cape (which she joked was covered in vaginas) and cascading tiered skirt. “Quirky, extroverted and fun” pretty much sums up Sia’s onstage presence. Her stage set was decorated with custom carpets, crocheted blankets and every other stand and boom had been yarn-bombed in true East Van style.

Her witty, infectious banter won the crowd over in between her trademark gut-wrenching, pitch-perfect vocal performances. Bringing out material from all three of her major label releases, she also performed her crowd-pleasing cover of Madonna’s “You Can’t Hurt Me Now” – her unique homage to an ’80s pop inspiration and not ironic in the slightest. She left her two biggest hits, “Breathe Me” and “Clap Your Hands”, for the encore, which seemed fine with everyone. “And now for the two songs you all paid to see,” she snidely quipped. We didn’t mind at all.


Handsome Furs at the Rickshaw Theatre, Vancouver, July 22 2011

Posted in journal, music journalism, rock & roll, writing with tags , , , , on July 22, 2011 by bex0r

On Friday night, Handsome Furs made their much-anticipated return to Vancouver on a shared bill with Brooklyn post-hardcore band Les Savy Fav.

Originally slated for the larger Commodore Ballroom, the show was moved to the Rickshaw Theatre on East Hastings at the last minute. While Montreal-via-Vancouver husband/wife duo Handsome Furs did draw a big enough crowd to fill the Rickshaw adequately, it seemed that perhaps Les Savy Fav’s fan base was a little thin and the venue shuffle was probably a smart move.

Handsome Furs took the stage at about 10 o’clock to much anticipation and an overly aggressive smoke machine pumping out clouds of smelly dry ice. Through the haze came Dan Boeckner and Alexei Perry, the sexy, married couple-turned-international-indie-dance sensation, complete with multicolored lasers (they must have known I was coming).

Boeckner, formerly of Wolf Parade, truly shines as the musical backbone of this group. He played an amazing lead and rhythm guitar, in addition to intricate synth melodies and lead vocals reminiscent of Joy Division’s Ian Curtis. Partner Alexei Perry provided much of the energy and punchy back-up vocals along with cuing their drum and synth loops and playing some simpler synth lines. While Boeckner stands out for his musicality, Perry equally shines for sheer enthusiasm and stage presence.

The move from more traditional guitar-based indie-rock to electronic-based dance is a successful one for Handsome Furs. Although initial spins of their new album Sound Kapital left this reviewer underwhelmed, their live performance adds a dimension that is often missed on recordings. Performed live, the tunes highlighted their strong songwriting and arranging talents. While the album mostly feels flat and robotic, lacking the sonic texture, emotion and grit we’ve come to associate with Handsome Furs’ sound, their live performance truly is a robust and energizing spectacle with all the guts, balls and heart missing on the record.

The addition of two percussionists and back-up vocals/off-stage antics of Vancouver indie-folksters Basketball on “Serve The People” reinvigorated the crowd, and also tested the bouncer who tried to keep the band from climbing over the barricade onto the stage. Although not a totally spontaneous moment (Basketball had provided opening support for the Furs’ previous Canadian tour dates), it was nonetheless one of musical serendipity.

The Black Keys at Deer Lake Park, June 27, 2011

Posted in journal, music journalism, rock & roll, writing with tags , , , , , on June 28, 2011 by bex0r

Sure they’ve won a bucket of Grammy awards, have a platinum-selling album, have graced the cover of every major music publication in the civilized world, and probably scored more sexual favors than Stifler’s mom, but here are the real reasons why you should see The Black Keys live (if you weren’t among the 2000-odd folks at Deer Lake Park this evening).

•    You might get to rub shoulders with Danger Mouse (!!).
•    You may witness (as I did) eight security guards take down one hapless stoned hippie during the blazing finale to old school Keys track “I’m Busted” (oh the irony).
•    You’ll enjoy a refreshingly DIY-style stage and lighting design which oozed a unique, effortless cool and distinctly different character than the usual high-end LCD/smoke machine jazz (yawn).

•    You’ll hear throwbacks to early Black Keys years with the duo performing their songs as they were meant to be played (strictly two brothers, two instruments, and pure raw, unrestrained rock and roll magic on “thickfreakness” and “Girl is On My Mind”).
•    If you happen to hear Otis Redding’s version of “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” play before the show, you can glibly inform the clueless teenagers next to you that no, that’s not Mick Jagger.
•    You’re guaranteed to get a decent second-hand buzz from merely standing in the general vicinity of the mosh pit.
•    If the beer garden sells out of beer before the band even goes on, you can pay some chick $20 for the warm flat Granville Island Pale Ale she was triple fisting (but thanks Live Nation for capping beer sales—this is a responsible move more concert promoters need to ape).
•    While still a little awkward and disjointed at times, tracks like “Howlin For You”, “Long Gone” and “Everlasting Light” played with a full backing band sound MASSIVE, lush and pack a visceral punch. Having a backing band also means guitarist Dan Auerbach has the lead to pull out those amazing extended solos without having to hold down the rhythm guitar line.

•    You’ll get to see the largest disco ball to likely ever grace a rock & roll stage (I can imagine the bragging rights that go along with that but I’ll steer clear of the obvious “big balls” pun here).
•    You’ll be listening to one of the greatest rock and roll bands to come out of the States, well – pretty much ever.  And that’s something actually worth bragging about.

If you reside somewhere other than Vancouver, keep your eyes out for The Black Keys in your hometown as they journey across the country this summer!

Invasion Festival at Thunderbird Arena, Vancouver, June 25 2011

Posted in electronic music, music journalism, writing with tags , , , , , , on June 25, 2011 by bex0r

On Saturday, June 25, MSH Sessions hosted Invasion Festival at UBC Thunderbird Arena. The night boasted a 100,000 watt sound system, direct from the Village stage at Shambhala, and a lineup unheard of in Vancouver history – Datsik, Excision, Dieselboy and Crystal Method. Both old school techno/d&b fans and new school dubstep fans were in luck, as both sounds were well represented by these legendary artists.

The venue, perhaps not such an odd choice if class had in fact been in session, was quite a trek to reach. The hour-long bus ride, crammed with smelly old men and screaming babies put a bit of damper on the fun. The choice of using UBC’s brand new Thunderbird Arena was definitely strange, as classes at the university were out in April and the venue was only at half-capacity the entire night. Perhaps the lengthy distance from downtown and the ‘burbs, along with the $55 ticket price, early start time and lack of alcoholic concessions, contributed to a less-than-stellar turnout.

That said, the quality of talent and production value most definitely warranted a higher priced ticket. MSH Sessions booked a solid lineup of world-class talent and PK Sound brought the bass in a serious way, which for dubstep and D&B is a must. Those without the foresight to bring earplugs were no doubt ringing for days after. Sound quality overall was excellent, which is a feat for an arena show. With the exception of some technical difficulties during the switchover to Crystal Method’s gear, the musical part of the night went off without a hitch.

The visuals were impressive, with two large projection screens and a custom made lighting rig that resembled a huge spaceship hovering over the stage. The lighting and smoke were complementary for the most part and added an element of the theatric to the show. One major disappointment, however, was the distinct lack of lasers, which are to be expected in big arena shows catering to the “nu-rave” generation.

The standout act of the night was no doubt Excision, with his punishing blend of vocal-driven anthems and industrial-influenced dubstep. Bringing the energy levels up after a lukewarm reception to the Crystal Method (perhaps a little too old school for the majority of a 19-22 year old crowd), Excision blasted the crowd with more bass than they could handle. His style, while thoroughly modern, is perhaps not pushing any boundaries for musical innovation, but his crowd-pleasing anthems and engaging stage presence made it difficult not to enjoy his set.

Other points of note were the very professional and friendly event staff who did an excellent job of running the event smoothly. A minor police presence was noticeable, but they were mostly doing casual spot searches for contraband (which is to be expected at a dry event).

A distinct lack of strung-out zombies or excessively high dance floor causalities was a pleasant surprise for this reviewer, perhaps proving that you can throw alcohol-free 19+ electronic music events in the city without suffering from over-usage of other less legal substances. Massive props to MSH Sessions and PK Sound for another very successful event!

Y△CHT, Light Asylum at the Biltmore Cabaret, Vancouver, May 13 2011

Posted in electronic music, music journalism, writing with tags , , , , on May 14, 2011 by bex0r

Light Asylum brought a sound highly suitable for Friday the 13th to the Biltmore Cabaret this past weekend. Black-light neon and strobing metronome lights enhanced this aesthetic, with the Brooklyn-based duo’s goth-tinged, dark-wave electronica taking center stage.

Lead singer/percussionist Shannon Funchess dared the crowd not to dance, her aggressive laser-beam stare penetrating the darkness and making full eye contact with the pogo-ing fans in the front row. Punctuating her manic dance moves and furious beating on an electronic percussion pad was her art-house-punk style vocal delivery, sliding from guttural growls to high-octane raps to bittersweet soulful runs. Taking care of synth lines and backing drum loops was partner Bruno Coviello, a self-proclaimed NYC club kid raised on a diet of underground electronica and art rock.

Funchess, who is often described as the Seattle-born lovechild of Ian Curtis and Grace Jones, considers the duo part performance art, part musical powerhouse. And while Light Asylum did deliver a set that was theatrical at times, it was also extremely rich in texture, harmonically complex and highly focused in its precise rhythmic timing. No wonder their music has caught the attention of producer James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem, who is rumored to be producing Light Asylum’s next album. (Last month Light Asylum, who self-released their EP In Tension in 2010, signed to Brooklyn label Mexican Summer, which also boasts Best Coast, Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, Black Moth Super Rainbow on its roster). Definitely keep this group on your radar in the upcoming months.

Next up was headliner Y△CHT, a Portland-based duo who made good use of visual aides to both educate and titillate audience members (see Western American Utopian Triangle). Their name, which stems from a Portland Oregon alternative school called “Young Americans Challenging High Technology”, is a moniker highly suitable for a band that utilizes laser pointers, PowerPoint presentations and vintage synthesizers to support their highly theatrical brand of post-disco electropop. The official Yacht website describes the project as a “cross-disciplinary experiment… using technology to extend physical boundaries of communication, performance, and music.”

But don’t hasten to label them geek chic, as their sound Friday night broached as many genres imaginable in an hour-long set and featured more humor than pretentious posturing. Frontman Jona Bechtolt supplies the electronic production and shares lead vocals with fellow Portland, OR performance artist/vocalist Claire L. Evans, who was stunning in a platinum pixie cut and white Grecian-inspired dress.

Touring members Rob “Bobby Birdman” Kieswetter and Jeffrey Brodsky provided support on bass, drums, and backup vocals respectively. Y△CHT’s live show, which is impressive enough to be featured in performance projects for NYC’s Museum of Modern Art and the Rhizome forum, as well as the Media Archeology Festival in Houston, ranges from down-and-dirty disco to blazing funk to weirdo art-rock.

One unifying theme throughout the show was the band’s motivation to make as many people dance as wildly and unrestrainedly as possible, which I would say, without a doubt, they succeeded in doing. Light Asylum’s Shannon Funchess’ earlier warning to “get ready to sweat” did not fall on deaf ears, as the entire Biltmore erupted into a mad frenzy for the manic disco-punk electro of Y△CHT. Especially notable was their disco-fied version of Judas Priest’s “Breakin’ the Law” and new tracks from their upcoming release. Those lucky enough to have been at this show will no doubt be talking about it for years.

Atmosphere at the Vogue Theatre, Vancouver, May 10, 2011

Posted in music journalism, writing with tags , , , , on May 12, 2011 by bex0r

On Tuesday night the Vogue was completely sold-out for the first Canadian stop of Rhymesayers’ The Family Tour.

Featuring DJ Abilities, Grieves and Budo, Blueprint and Atmosphere, this was essentially a showcase night for the Minneapolis label. Even though this meant more artists and shorter sets, Atmosphere drew their usual massive and rowdy audience. The crowd was young, the bass was loud and the Jack Daniels lemonade was flowing (truly my favorite part of Vogue shows).

Atmosphere consists of emcee Slug (Sean Daley) and DJ/Producer Ant (Anthony Davis). Now in their third decade of writing and producing hip-hop together, it seems Atmosphere have finally crossed over into the mainstream and established themselves as one of the most successful independent hip-hop artists in the music industry today. Their last album, 2008’s When Life Gives You Lemons sold over 200,000 copies – a feat for any album, much less one without major label backing. Now in 2011, Atmosphere have produced The Family Sign, their most evocative and personal album to date.

It’s fitting that the Mill City has produced an artist with the kind of everyman, working class charm that Atmosphere emcee Slug seems to possess in spades. Despite his unfortunate moniker, he’s the kind of lovable underdog you can’t help but admire; the kind of guy you’d want for a friend or a dad, and the kind of guy who would help you change a flat tire if you were stuck on the side of the road. Slug is a likeable guy in person and on stage – a genuinely positive performer who seems to stretch for interpersonal connection.

Even when spewing vitriol out of frustration at life and its trials, he’s always relatable and never hostile or alienating to his audience. Maybe that’s because Slug’s lyrics seem tailor-made for our blunted post-adolescent worldview and those hungry for an anti-hero who is undeniably and unfailingly human. With so many fickle hip-hop artists out there, fans crave acts that are consistent, and Atmosphere is, if anything, consistent in what he delivers – both in quality and theme. One thing that struck me at the Vogue show was his effort to make a real connection with the audience as well as his eagerness to share the older hits as well as his new ones. He went way back to 1997 with “Scapegoat” and also brought out crowd favorites like “Guns and Cigarettes”, “Sunshine”, and “Puppets”.

Grieves and Budo were a hit with the crowd, and succeeded in getting everyone super hyped for the acts that followed. Grieves, now considered a Rhymesayers veteran, really knows how to work a stage. He used the entire space, playing right to the crowd and making eye contact with folks a few rows back. His charm and energy, not to mention his slick skills on the mic, left us wanting more. His partner producer/DJ Budo traded off on a drum machine, keyboard and electric guitar – providing funky riffs and synth lines to match Grives’ infectious hooks and melodies.

Blueprint provoked a deeper, more complex and rhythmically interesting set than the other performers Tuesday night. While definitely not indulging in straight-ahead bangers like Grieves or sympathetic anthems for the misunderstood like Atmosphere, there’s something catchy about Blueprint. His mood was heavier, the groove was deeper, it took a little effort to get into, but the reward for trying was great. And I’m pretty sure every ’80s child in the house secretly smiled when he busted out that key-tar.

Dessa, Sims & Lazerbeak @ the Biltmore

Posted in music journalism, reviews, writing with tags , , , , , on May 1, 2011 by bex0r

Wednesday evening the Biltmore Cabaret hosted three acts from the Doomtree hip-hop crew of Minneapolis, Minnesota. Their lone female MC, Dessa, is headlining her first solo international tour with support from MC Sims and DJ/producer Lazerbeak. Lazerbeak opened with a DJ set of downtempo and hip hop inspired tracks, providing a chill opening to the night. Second up was Sims, who got the crowd hyped with his high-energy vocal-based hip hop tunes and rowdy crowd-pleasing stage antics.Around 11:30 pm Dessa took the stage looking casual in a white button-down shirt, jeans and sneakers. Her relaxed demeanor stood in stark contrast to the screaming drunk girls in the front row, who had perhaps gotten lost on their way home from the Lil Wayne show happening earlier that night. Dessa took the borderline inappropriate fangrrls in stride and commenced to give what is probably one of the best performances by a female MC the Biltmore has even witnessed.

Although the crowd was small, (about 70 folks all told) those present were engaged, enthusiastic and obviously knowledgeable Doomtree fans, singing Dessa’s lyrics along with her and shouting out the hooks at all the drops. Lazerbeak provided deadly beats live from his drum machine, which he played more like a real drumset than a preprogrammed computer, and provided a lively counterpart for Dessa’s onstage banter. She jokingly elbowed her way in and repeatedly pushed what she defiantly proclaimed was “her button” on the drum machine.

Dessa’s vocal skills are akin to a cross between the hip hop flavor of Lauryn Hill, the smooth smoky soul of Eryka Badu, and the slick slam poet style of Ursula Rucker. She brought all this, plus her inimitably cheeky sense of humor and humble sense of self. While the women in the audience kept remarking on her stunning looks, I heard many of the men talking about her skill as an MC and performer. While she is definitely beautiful, what is really most striking about Dessa is her ability, both as a performer, MC and songwriter.

dessa – “children’s work”