Vancouver’s hipsters were across the street at the Commodore on Sunday, May 26, which left the Venue the ideal place for ‘the rest of us’ to listen to promising up-and-comers. An audience of about 150 to 200 people were already there in time for the first opening band’s half-hour set. They were called “The Colourist” and are a 4-piece from ‘southern’ California. This was their first trip to Vancouver (and they really like it here), their last gig on the Atlas Genius tour, and they are so new as a band, they just finished recording their first CD, but it hasn’t been pressed yet. A free download of their song “Little Games” is available on their website and inside the Venue itself, their merch table offered T-shirts and other swag designed by their guitarist (and bassist on a few songs) Colin. His bass-playing counterpart (and guitar on the few songs Colin plays bass on) is Justin, and the other two are the lead singers Adam (if I caught the name correctly, who also plays guitar) and Mai (their kick-butt drummer). I would guess all four of them are firmly in their 20s in terms of age and in the crowd, I see their age demographic reflected – right up to people looking like they’re somewhere in their 50s. I see a lot of heads bobbing in time to the music for their first song and before the band could start the second song, everyone who had been hanging back on the back half of the dance floor was now in the front half – without any coaxing whatsoever, I might add. The Colourist play modern rock and I liked it a lot. There are far too few female vocalists in modern rock and this one is as engaging to watch (she is the drummer, after all) as she is to listen to. Her voice reminds me a bit of the singer in Great Northern. There was a really good level of applause following each of their songs and also at the end of the 8-song set. Every time one of the band members walked by, people let them know how good they were and how much they enjoyed the music. I wish I could tell you that this band was going to make it – many deserving bands never get the recognition. I genuinely liked their music. I liked their interaction with the audience. Maybe some final ‘polish’, as it were, and a physical CD to support, and I’m looking forward to seeing what happens for them. Next time they’re here, I’m getting that CD.
The second band were also a 4-piece, but all male (three of them with beards in various stages of growth) and from New York City. They were called The Postelles and their style is southern-tinged rock, but they incorporate chord progressions reminiscent of the ‘50s and rock ‘n’ roll’s Golden Age. Their first song ends rather awkwardly but the lead singer’s vocals are nice and strong, even if his enunciation tends towards the same region as their musical style (the American South). The third song was performed for the first time live and is introduced with the disclaimer “if we f*** up, go to the bar, let’s get wasted, and pretend it never happened”. Thankfully, things didn’t get bad at all – they played really close attention to one another and it sounded good. For one song, the lead singer put his guitar aside offering the opportunity to show what he can do as a frontman: unless he was gripping the microphone stand, he seemed to be a little at a loss of what to do with his hands – he was playing guitar for 8 of the 9 songs in their 30-minute set, so this hands-free thing is probably still a little unfamiliar. Their seventh song was a cover of the Rolling Stones’ “This Could Be The Last Time” and this one got some hoots from the audience. Good applause at the end of their set and I’d say we’re almost at capacity at this time. As with the previous band, this one didn’t have CDs either, but David (the guitarist and only clean-shaven band member (it’s not a critique but a way to identify them because only two band members were ever introduced and he was one of them) said they left them at home. Why? Customs? Duty? Left the box in the garage when they were packing up the van? Needed room for the bong? They had other merchandise on offer and the one-time, and likely not binding, offer of free shipping if you got in touch by email and bought a CD.
At 5 to 11pm the house lights go out, and the volume of the crowd goes up substantially. When Atlas Genius come on stage, the ‘polish’ that I missed in the other bands (especially the previous one – looking like those were the clothes they rolled out of bed wearing) is immediately apparent – visible effort: a hat here, a turned-up collar there, and collared shirts. We’re not talking GQ here, or ‘outfits’, just presence, effort, a modicum of professionalism.
Back to the music, and the balance of vocals to instruments is a bit off or there’s a bit too much distortion. I can hear everything, but I cannot understand much of the lyrics, even ones I know. They start off with “Symptoms” which is a good high energy song to get the crowd started. Vocalist Keith Jeffery greets the audience saying it’s the band’s second time in Vancouver (amongst other things). The next song is “On A Day” and I see a lot of heads bobbing along with the songs. Very few people know lyrics but everyone appears to be involved to some degree. This song has a lovely extended instrumental bit for a big finish with a final sustained note as a segue into the next song: “If So”. This one has received a little airplay on radio stations. The bassist encourages clapping along and the audience is quick to respond. The keyboard functions as the grounding to this song below the eighth note movement on guitar. More clapping for the bridge for which the keyboard now drives the song forward. Biggest applause thus far.
The next song was introduced as the title track to the album “When It Was Now” and live it has that distinct guitar rhythm that almost seems to foreshadow “Trojans” – but not on the album, and not yet. There is syncopated clapping in the bridge. Keith thanks both openers (says something nice about each of them) and also thanks them for “coming on the road with us”. “Centred on You” has a nice long instrumental introduction against a backlit set. I get the impression that these four guys would happily play an entire set of instrumentals – they just seem that much into just playing and I very much like how they subtly (and organically) change things up. It doesn’t seem forced, it just is. The bridge amps up in energy and volume and that level is maintained to just shy of the end. Similar in a way to “Back Seat”, which has another long-ish intro (after it was introduced as being from their first EP “Through the Glass” and that they were last here in September of last year in support of Silversun Pickups). Lots of staccato that makes it sound borderline funk in a live setting. There’s a GREAT instrumental build-up to the latter 1/3 of the song, with wonderful drive and tension. The crowd gets right into it, clapping without being asked to. Just when you think it’s going to some big finish, the tempo and volume are turned way down to ‘resolve’ the tension.
“Last Nite”is a cover of the song by The Strokes and it absolutely suits them stylistically. As far as covers go, it’s decent, as it’s marred by the fact that the words are slightly less intelligible than when Julian Casablancas sings it. Atlas Genius get a good number of hoots and applause for it. I can’t remember if it’s at this point when someone yells out “Trojans” – really? You’ve heard 7 or so really good songs and all you want is the big radio single? Sux to be you.
The next song was introduced as “All These Girls” which ironically is only about one girl. Fittingly, Keith Jeffery is alone on stage, drummer Michael Jeffery and the other two band members (sorry, they weren’t introduced and technically Atlas Genius is a duo) have slipped off the stage unnoticed. Keith has no trouble filling in the space while he tunes his other guitar with talking. He’s got multi-tasking down to an art. For this song I finally understand every word and it’s a lovely song done acoustically. It’s not quite a ballad this way – the tempo is too quick that, but across the floor many couple couples have begun to try and slow dance or to ‘nibble’.
Poof! The band are suddenly back (how do they DO that?) – taking the title of the next song to heart perhaps? “Don’t Make A Scene” has another clappy bridge for the audience before we hear a percussion solo (poor guy was already dripping wet, this didn’t help), followed by the bass player’s turn in the spotlight with only the drums and then they layer the song back up. It was extended a bit for some quick retuning. I LOVE how they forego power chords etc for actual instrumental playing. While that is going on, Keith goes for a walk. Into the empty VIP section on the house left side right close to where I am perched (because no one in their right mind sits in that area if you actually want to see anything of the show) – next up to the mezzanine walking around the entire horseshoe-shaped level before coming down the stairs on the house right side – whilst that is going on, crowd on the floor goes almost mental – the folks upstairs were probably a bit confused.
For “Through the Glass” there’s a guitar change (more tuning, must be warm). There’s a ‘noodling around’ kind of intro because when the song stars for real, the tune changes completely, as does the beat. If that’s just a different way of making sure you’re in tune – I like it. The audience does too, they clap along until the vocals begin. The guitar bridge is done virtually solo then the keyboards take over. Once they’re all ‘back together’, the drums provide the drive until a tiny bit of an awkward ending as the song just peters out, in a way. It offers some quiet moments to thank the audience again for coming out. They consider it “quite the farewell”.
A long-ish musical intro is teased longer before it becomes “Trojans”. Now there’s singing along from virtually everyone on the dance floor. In the live setting it is amped up in sound and ever so slightly quicker than the recording everyone is used to. They play with levels in the bridge – using the full volume of all the instruments – scaled down to virtually just the guitar – back up to full volume and, I’ve said it before, I LOVE how they just play!
In under a minute, the band were back for a one-song encore of “Electric”. There’s some very quick tuning and the next noise assault begins (and I mean this in a nice way – why these guys aren’t at least playing the Commodore is beyond me. Soon, I hope). The instruments are almost a little too loud (did the sound guy start taking things apart already?) and they almost drown out the vocals until they settle back down to their previous ‘accompaniment’ volume. The audience immediately begin clapping when they’re bid to. This one seems heavily syncopated, it’s like the drummer is riding the backbeat and it’s all kind of awesome.
I was ready to have my mind blown at this show tonight. While that technically didn’t happen, I got to discover some brand-new bands and thanks to the wonderful headliner, have yet another CD on my ‘must buy’ list. My collection thanks you all in advance for your brilliant contributions.
Photos of Atlas Genius © Pavel Boiko