the buttless chaps with Aaron booth at Rancho Relaxo, October 2. Tickets: $7. Attendance: 35. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
The change of seasons can be a tricky time for live music. Not only do all the outdoor shows suddenly shut down, but it can seem a lot less appealing to layer up and brave the evening chill than to crank up the stereo and zone out under a duvet. That's the only explanation I can find for the sparsely attended Buttless Chaps show at Rancho Relaxo last Thursday. The super-eclectic Victoria band has a healthy cult following, and their superb new Love This Time (Mint) album is proof that they're crafting some of the most interesting indie music in this country.
It saddens me to think how few people discovered that during their rare live set in this city, though.
I didn't feel quite as bad for opener Aaron Booth . The sweet singer/songwriter bleated out some melancholic autumnal songs that staggered between folkie rock and country pop but remained fairly tame.
To be fair, a shoddy sound set-up didn't help his cause. I'm sure his vocals would've been decent if I could've heard them. Too-thick bass buzz and overpowering guitar chords drowned out the few wisps of sighing lyrics I could catch. Still, Booth seems to have talent, and he's got the sexiest guitar I've seen - so shiny and blue I almost wanted to jump onstage and make love to it.
The Buttless Chaps managed to overcome any technical difficulties to deliver a dead-on set. Frontman Dave Gowans had the front half of the room captivated as he whipped from acoustic guitar to sit-down banjo, switching from mournful crooning to hardcore yowls to a sweet cowpunk lilt. Keysman Morgan McDonald was a manic vision flailing away at his vintage synths.
The Chaps are a marvel of genre-jumping prowess, flipping from lonesome range-riding twang ballads to icy 80s New Wave synth pop to thrashing tunes that hint at the members' punk rock pasts.
What was particularly cool about their Rancho gig was the sequencing, moving logically from seasonal moody indie rock through the rollicking country tunes all the way to robotic electro. There was something almost novelistic about the lovely trajectory, and the way they tied all the styles together was definitely impressive.
They even managed to maintain focus when hometown pal Carolyn Mark sailed through the door midway through the set with accordion nut Geoff Berner in tow, fresh from their gig over at Hugh's Room .
Always keen to be the centre of attention, Mark caused a brief lull when she rushed the stage, laughing raucously and blowing air kisses, but the Chaps settled back into a fine groove by the time she was headed straight for the bar at the back with a big grin on her face.