On freezing cold Friday night, I was happy to have plans inside, spending my evening with Jon and Roy. As I made my way into the warmth of Sugar Nightclub, I checked four articles of clothing (which in August is only one) and hurried inside. A bit late, I came in the middle of the opening band’s set. The high energy indie folk rock warmed me up instantly. Carmanah, whom I’d never heard of, had the crowd captivated by their world of sound which surprisingly contained, a flute, electric violin, djembe and tenor sax along with the typical instruments. It also contained some pretty impressively grown mustaches from the lead vocalist Pat and the drummer Daniel. As the set went on it was clear that the “call and response” style between Laura, lead female vocalist and Pat, and Pat’s growling voice, gave Carmanah their unique sound. And songs like “Bula Vinaka” showcased their musical talent as the band shared a round of fours, a conversation style normally found in jazz. The crowd danced along to “Climbing Tree” and “Circles” as Carmanah kept the energy level up for their whole set. As they exited the stage the crowd roared. I was impressed.
After a quick break, Jon and Roy hit the stage. Contrasting to Carmanah’s five person multi-instrument band, the simplicity of Jon and Roy shone through on their first song, “Deep Steez”. I must admit, this was only my second time to a Jon and Roy concert so I could not name all the songs. However, I felt as impressed as my friend who had come along with me who has seen Jon and Roy probably 30 times (give or take). I stopped dancing several times throughout the show to watch Jon Middleton. His tightly shut eyes and his mumbly voice show off his concentration and passion for his music. During several of the songs, he would play a particular riff over and over, bent over a bit and facing Roy. This is why I come to shows. My favourite bands are the ones who play a riff over and over again together and instead of getting bored with the repetition you become lost in their obviously love for the music. They continued on with “It’s Gonna Be Fine” and “What I Need”. In the middle of the set Jon announced to the crowd that it was this birthday, to which an impromptu singing of “Happy Birthday” broke out over the intro to the next song. Jon humbly thanked everyone. He then continued with “To the Beach” and an instrumental song. They brought back Laura Mitic from Carmanah with her violin for a song and then jammed with Dave St. Jean from Current Swell/the Kiltlifters, who tore it up on the trombone. Again, I was impressed. Jon and Roy then closed the show with “A Little Bit of Love”, a crowd fave.
A three song encore saw the return of Dave St. Jean and featured Jon’s surprise wailing vocals of which had been that humbling, mumbling sound earlier in the night. Watching the crowd’s reaction to Jon’s inner Dave Grohl during the encore was the highlight of the night and was the perfect ending to a great show. After it was all over, we bought Carmanah’s CD and I made it back to the coat check to collect my things. We walked along Yates St. to the car, my toes began to numb again but my soul was warm.
ps. Props to Sugar for suspending their speakers from the ceiling instead of having them stacked on either side of the stage like they used to. They now fill every inch of the club with sound and it lets keeners like me get have some room at the front of the stage without getting blasted. Thanks.