Sunday, April 6, 2008

Black Mountain, Ladyhawk, The Commodore, Vancouver, April 5

If there's one topic I'm not at all qualified to write about, it's local Vancouver bands. I've been in this town for less than 2 years, and for reasons beyond my control, I've only been gig-active for about a year. Having said that, the fact that so many touring bands come through town means I only occasionally end up seeing local bands in small venues.

In good old Auckland town, local bands are pretty much the only option you have, and luckily there's a bunch of good ones to see. In any given weekend you've got a choice of 4 or 5 excellent bands, that you listen to on the radio all week. The other perk is that there's about 100 people that go to shows and clubnights regularly, many of whom are in bands themselves, so you become intimately familiar with the love lives, habitual substance abuse, and tendencies for self-harm of the members of all your favourite bands.

It took me seven or eight years of gig attendance to obtain that level of familiarity with the scene and it's key players, and in Vancouver, I just don't possess the knowledge of the history of the scene to write with any real authority on the subject, when others cover it so much better than I can. Having said that, because I'm an obstinate ass, I'm going to try, regardless.

So after a most enjoyable art opening, where I got to see some fine people, some fine art, a couple of tasty beverages, and some parking lot frustration, we got to the Commodore just as Ladyhawk were kicking off their set.

When I first got to Vancouver, I was quite enamoured with the Commodore, it's a great space, and when you're as tall as I am, you can get a great view from anywhere. I've got friends that don't like it that much, and while it's not as intimate as somewhere like Richards, for a larger venue, it still has a great feel, and it's got 4 (count 'em) bars, which speaks to me in a way that few other venue features do.

As we walked in, the sold-out Commodore was pretty full. Since I last saw Ladyhawk I've been dabbling with some of their stuff, and I'm quite taken with it. I was reading a story in the local free streetmag on them while waiting for my burger this evening, and the story made much of their Neil Young grungey tendencies, which are certainly prevalent, but like the godfather of flannel, their songs also have the same melodic backbone that is such a feature of Young's material.

The band's set was snappy and sharp, and the bassist unleashed a waterfall of hair with such ferocity that I wager he was nursing a remarkably sore neck the next morning.

Right now is where I admit that I've never listened to a Black Mountain song all the way through before. While I like to listen to as much music as I can, I'm also (especially at this point in time) an impatient listener with the attention span of a gnat. If I haven't heard a pop hook in the first 90 seconds, I'll normally give up on it. As most Black Mountain embody the very definition of "slow-burning", that's normally where I tap out. I also like to go to shows where I'm not familiar with the band with an open mind - if I'm going to hear their stuff for the first time, I'd rather hear it live at the show, than indulge in a pre-show cram session to try and force myself to become familiar beforehand.

However, I appreciate that Black Mountain and their assorted offshoots/side projects have a long and storied history in the Vancouver musical landscape, and while I have assimilated an idea of what I was in store for from conversations with friends and magazines. Also, there was idle chatter (and it was incredibly idle) with a filmmaking friend about filming a Black Mountain video in my orange, sponge-painted kitchen.

So as Black Mountain walked out to a psychadelic light show and a wall of smoke (most of which seemed to be British Columbia's finest and generated by the crowd), I was a picture of curiosity. Black Mountain consist of a bearded guitarist with a penchant for Zeppelin licks, a keyboardist, who stands in a console surrounded by a keyboard, an organ, and a Moog, a drummer, and a cute female singer with a maracas, a floppy fringe, and a cute dress (and yes, I realize I used the "c" word twice in that sentence).

They specialise in dense, loud, dark jam rock that inspires communal synchronised head-nodding, and for the forty minutes or so of the band's set, I was having a pretty good time (although not nearly as good the guy who pumped his fists, enthusiastically through the entire show - I don't think there was a single beat that wasn't marked with a shake of this man's forearm). The crowd was incredibly stylish, the wall of tall people in front of me was proving my tall-person/musical taste hypothesis true, and the other outlandish claim I'd made earlier in the day was also proving true (which will remain undefined).

So, in short, Black Mountain were enjoyable, if a little prog for my taste. That was, until the encore. After a blissfully short pre-encore break, the band picked up tools again, and launched into a 12 minute bass jam, which was at least 11 minutes too long. When the singer in the band starts looking bored, and most of the audience is looking around for something else to do, you know it's probably time to start playing another instrument, or drop into a chorus of some fashion.

However, all told, my first Black Mountain experience was a good one, I think I'll just quietly slip out pre-encore next time. Which also has the advantage of making the coat-check line so much easier.

So I went home, and listened to a series of sub-2 minute pop songs, just to recalibrate, and I went to sleep satisfied with my weekend's activities.

PS - In pre-set conversation a friend and I were unable to name the 4th character in the village people lineup - we had the indian, the construction worker, and the policeman, but the fourth was eluding us. After asking the internet, it turns out there's six of them, and we missed the moustachioed motorcyclist, the GI and the cowboy.

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