Thu, Apr 12
CHRIS HILLMAN and HERB PEDERSON at Hugh's Room
There was clearly a lot of love in the room for Chris Hillman as fans of the Byrds and Flying Burrito Brothers packed Hugh's Room for two nights of the legendary singer/songwriter's sweet harmonizing and mandolin picking with long-time sidekick Herb Pederson on acoustic guitar. The yappy audience problem was solved early on when Hillman abruptly halted a song intro mid-sentence and brusquely suggested that those who wished to keep talking "take their conversations outside." No more Chatty Cathys.
Hillman delivered his best-loved songs, covering both Byrds classics and Burritos faves with heartfelt passion, prefacing tunes with entertaining anecdotes. The one about the Byrds not wanting to record Mr. Tambourine Man because they thought "it was stupid" and David Crosby's short-lived British accent were particularly hilarious. When it was over, the joint erupted with cheers and two standing ovations - not a typical send-off from the usually reserved Hugh's Room crowd.
Xiu Xiu’s Caralee McElroy (left) and Jamie Stewart rocked a harmonium at Lee’s.
Sat, Apr 14
CLAP YOUR HANDS SAY YEAH and ELVIS PERKINS IN DEARLAND at the Kool Haus
Apparently, harmoniums are the new beards? That's the impression we got after seeing diverse artists rock the 19th-century reed organ at not one, not two, but three different shows last week. As trends go, it makes more sense as a hipster accessory than white belts or porn star moustaches, and it's way more aesthetically appealing. The first harmonium sighting happened during Thursday night's heart-stopping Xiu Xiu throwdown at Lee's Palace, where Caralee McElroy feverishly pumped a gorgeous (and reportedly valuable antique) cherry-red version while shrieking into a mic. Unfortunately, the better part of the Vice-styled fashionista crowd, most of whom were clearly there for disappointing openers Sunset Rubdown, had cleared out by the time Xiu Xiu took the stage. Sucks for them - the set, which included an unrelentingly aggressive Boy Soprano and a gorgeous cover of New Order's Age Of Consent, was stellar in spite of technical difficulties.
Harmonium numero dos appeared at Great Lake Swimmers' Saturday soirée at the acoustically stunning Church of the Redeemer. Erik Arneson pumped the parlour organ to great effect, creating a beautifully ambient counterpoint for Tony Dekker's haunted, echoing vocals.
Perhaps the most incongruous harmonium moment, however, was suddenly recognizing the arcane instrument onstage at the cavernous Kool Haus later Saturday night, when Clap Your Hands Say Yeah warm-up act Elvis Perkins (son of Anthony) tried to rile the audience of all-ages indie rock nerds into a frenzy with his pleasant but forgettable set of drinkin' tunes. Heavily influenced by the triumvirate of Dylan, Cohen and MacGowan, Perkins fleshed out his galumphing guitar ballads by coaxing his band (which included an upright bass in addition to the harmonium) to break out into bar-friendly extenda-jams.
The kids in the crowd applauded politely but were clearly jonesing for the frenetic new wave drone of CYHSY, who, for the record, did not incorporate any members of the reed organ family into their set. What a difference a year makes. When the headliners played the Opera House last spring, their set was bland, shaky and dissonant, suggesting the insane Internet hype was heaped on too early. This time around, Alec Ounsworth toned down the nasal whine and kept his vocal Verlaineisms in check, though you might not have noticed, since the sound at the Kool Haus was so shitty. Though the band was consistently tight, the live setting made it hard to overlook the fact that their older tunes, from 05's self-titled breakout disc, are way stronger than the material on this year's Some Loud Thunder.
Sun, Apr 15
Run Chico Run and OAK ISLAND at Sneaky Dee's
Walked into the Dee's Sunday to see a well-dressed individual crouched on the stage floor twisting knobs on an FX board and torturously screaming into a mic over a haze of muted noise. Welcome to Wavelength.
That artist was Oak Island putting on a brave solo display of emotional breakdown noise to open the show. We're not suggesting that the indelible music series is a continuous affair with the esoteric and difficult, and Victoria synth-pop buddies Run Chico Run later proved the point.
The precision of their interaction makes it obvious that Thomas Shields and Matt Skillings have been together almost eight years. If you spend that kind of time making music with another individual, you kind of become a single workmanlike unit.
As they began to play with Kraftwerkian efficiency, the sparsely attended room mysteriously filled with indies to more than respectable proportions. It was clear they were unreservedly digging the duo. Shields and Skillings, rotating between Korgs and guitars, played their jagged, programmed-beat pop with such earnest focus, you knew this was a band that hadn't driven thousands of kilometres to waste time.