I've been a gigging madman recently. Here's a roundup of the latest.
Red Sparowes, March 20, at Richard’s on Richards
I bought tickets to this show on a hunch. It’s not often that a band on the esteemed Neurot Recordings comes to town. The hunch paid off hugely, as Red Sparowes are one of the most impressive post-metal atmospheric bands I’ve ever seen. Having three guitarists in one band is often a redundant exercise (hello, Iron Maiden), but the Sparowes guys had obviously worked really hard at arranging and orchestrating their parts. The projections—showing what looked like old Chinese propaganda films—were also a nice touch. As Smash wrote afterwards, “I'd go see that band five nights a week.” A scintillating performance.
The Mingler, April 4 at The Cobalt
I don’t normally hang out at The Cobalt on a Wednesday night, but a) it was Fake Jazz Wednesday, an event I’d been wanting to check out, and b) improv jazz/noise/metal trio The Mingler were on the bill. I’d never seen them before (indeed, had they even gigged before?), but with a lineup consisting of musical genii Jeff Younger, Alvaro Rojas and Mike Magnusson it was sure bet. They’ve got about 79 ongoing projects between them, and I’ve always been blown away by the few I’ve witnessed. The brief samples on Younger’s site had me expecting something structured around pre-written bass riffs. In actuality, they flew from idea to idea really quickly, favouring chaos over groove. This suited the vibe of the event, really. Rojas churned away while Jeff freaked out with his pedals, mashing strings, bursting into speed metal passages, and dropping down for more conventional jazz soloing.
A Ghost to Kill Again with Karen Foster and Bend Sinister, April 6 at The Waldorf
I hyperventilated about AGTKA’s debut album here a little while ago, and this gig was their long-awaited record release party. I’d never been to the Waldorf before, though I remember it as the premiere venue for the lounge scene when that was big for 15 minutes 10 years ago. It’s a nice room, actually. The bands just set up at one end on the floor, punk rock style. Karen Foster/Foster Kare rocked really hard, reminding me of an older, wiser Squirrel Bait overall. Their incredible energy got everyone primed for AGTKA, who proceeded to lay down the kind of beautiful destruction that makes life worth living. It’s rare to see a band tackle such demanding material and do it with such joy. Dominant and flabbergasting. Bend Sinister closed off the evening. Maybe it was the shot in the arm that AGTKA had just administered, but BS seemed a bit frantic in their approach. I remember their set at Richard’s opening for Sleepytime Gorilla Museum being a little more composed. Still, I love this band to bits. Knowing there’s a band in Vancouver running Supertramp and Gentle Giant through an indie rock cheese grater makes me very happy.
Unexpect, Anonymus, April 7 at The Balmoral
The turnout was small and disproportionately cretinous for these two bands who’d come all the way from Quebec. Anonymus were thrashy and a little generic, reminding me of DRI at some points. They were ready to have a good time and intent on giving the audience a good time as well. Unexpect managed to arrange all seven members on the multi-tiered stage and pulled off their set of crazy stop-start circus-freak metal without anyone getting hurt. I started feeling a little bad for them as the evening progressed, though. Here’s a world-class act playing a supposedly world-class city and all we could offer them was a gig in the grimmest neighbourhood in North America with a dozen people actually listening and being excited about their music, while the rest of the crowd sat in the smoking room or play-fought like silly buggers. Unexpect deserved better. Do Make Say Think, an equally art-damaged act that perhaps has the advantage of more “hip” press coverage, managed to fill a pretty big place like Richard’s, and I think Unexpect have that potential as well.
Dark Tranquillity, The Haunted, Into Eternity, Scar Symmetry, April 9 at The Croatian Culture Centre
From Quebec metal night, we move to Swedish metal night. Four bands and an all-ages gig makes for an early start time, so I only caught the last two songs of Scar Symmetry’s set. What I heard sounded quite a bit like In Flames, a realization that didn’t bring on the pangs of regret for missing them. Despite their sound misfiring, with half the drum kit missing from the mix, Saskatchewan’s Into Eternity went over a storm. Stu Block’s a born heavy metal frontman—we spotted his proud parents by the merch table—and Tim Roth is pretty much the ultimate guitar shredder. Extreme progressive death metal from Canada…what’s not to like? The Haunted just keep at it year after year, despite (arguably) never surpassing their 1998 debut. It’s good to see both Bjorler brothers and vocalist Peter Dolving back in the band. Not having kept up with the band’s output, most of the set whizzed past me in a big thrashy blur. The slower numbers had a good groove; perhaps Anders Bjorler’s Trouble t-shirt hinted at a more doom-rock sensibility at work in their newer material. Dark Tranquillity sounded huge, and their twin guitar work was the classiest thing I’d heard all night. DT also have a great frontman in Mikael Stanne…if only the man could do anything but growl. They did well with the crowd on their first gig in Vancouver and seem to have a following almost equal to In Flames, who’ve played here fairly regularly. After 45 minutes, I was feeling gigged out so I headed home for a bit of peace and quiet.
That ought to hold me for a while.