New albums come alive
// JJ Brewis

As the year rounds to a close, touring bands head home to spend time with their families. With the roads too dangerous to tread from city to city, the end of fall also coincides with a lack of live concerts. Luckily, before they packed it in, a handful of the artists who released some of the best new music in 2011 stopped through Vancouver to give us a taste of their live material.


For French indie electro pop, it doesn’t come any better than M83, the five-piece group named after a nearby galaxy, whose foundation is vocalist and writer Anthony Gonzales. On the heels of their recent double album, the acclaimed 2011 Hurry Up I'm Dreaming, the group are seeing a wave of popularity after being featured in a string of ad spots, including Victoria’s Secret.

Gonzalez gave the crowd exactly what they were looking for, and used the rest of his stage time to wail about freely in guitar solos and extended versions of instrumental tracks, such as closer "Couleurs", which singularly took up a quarter of the band's set. Fittingly opening with "Intro" from Dreaming, it was clear that these songs are meant to be heard live. On breakout single "Kim and Jessie", the synths and keys did all the heavy lifting, only moments before moving into "Year One, One UFO", which had the group pounding heavily on percussion.

Gonzalez began the evening by entering the stage wearing the monster mask seen on the cover of their sample-heavy single, "Midnight City”, lifting his arms triumphantly, as the crowd stood snapping photos of the spectacle. As he re-emerged with his band sans mask, it was hard not to question if the performance was Gonzales' way of personifying the creature within the album's melancholy.


Promoting their debut album Let It Break, Toronto act Austra gave their fans a lot to take in during a late show at The Electric Owl. The group, named after lead singer Katie Stelmanis' middle name, proved both their musical chops and dramatic eccentricities early on.

Like a detached lovechild of Kate Bush and Peter Gabriel, Stelmanis lets her classically trained pipes literally do all the talking, as her beautiful voice flies miles above the drum and synth heavy sounds her bandmates create. Outfitted in a showy glittered cape, she was only given a run for her money by her male keyboardists' scandalously short-shorts and the backup singer's Cleopatra-channelling beaded bra. Stelmanis was certainly in her zone, performing interpretive hand motions the entire set. Near the end of the night, the group invited an attentionseeking pal on-stage to perform a dance that momentarily captured the audience just out of sheer confusion. But in the end, Stelmanis and her voice really made everyone question if Austra is actually a band, or just an expanded solo project.


At a modest 24 years old, Canadian radio favourite Lights has already traveled the world with both of her albums, and she certainly gave her young fans at The Vogue their money's worth. The former Valerie Poxleitner humbly thanked the crowd, including her parents who live in town, expressing a genuine gratitude for where she is today.

With her recent sophomore Siberia cutting a more mature cloth for the singer, the slightly crunchier tracks made a more layered set list, including a pair of songs that saw guest-starring rapper Shad join her on stage. Straddling halfway between alternative pop and stadium capabilities, she seems perfectly comfortable at these medium sized venues, making her way around the stage from a cappella piano ballads like "Pretend" to the synth and keytar-driven tracks like newest single "Toes". But when she leaves her instruments behind, like on set closer "The Last Thing On Your Mind" she works the crowd with high-fives and Avril-style energy.

Multi-faceted as she is as a performer, Lights has a great batch of pop tunes, and it's fair to see why her fans show up in droves. Between-song banter had the chanteuse sharing inside jokes with the crowd, creating a friendly back-andforth that will have her fans tweeting for days.

WU LYF (World Unite Lucifer Youth Foundation)

In one of the strangest live music experiences of the season, Manchester, England's WU LYF made a chaotic Vancouver debut at The Electric Owl. Sporting only a pair of too-big dress pants and a too-tight torn denim jacket with the band's logo across the back, singer Elle Jaie (Ellery Roberts) made an impression right away. Halfway through the band's opening track, he started replacing lyrics with messages to the sound mixer. "I would really appreciate it if I could hear myself in my mother fucking monitor," he sang, while his band marched off without batting an eyelash.

The rest of the set was much of the same. With Roberts' snide attitude flying off the walls, the crowd soon became a massive shirtless, sweaty mess, with a literal fist fight breaking out halfway, glasses breaking, and crowd members pushed onto stage knocking over and unplugging the electrical equipment.

It's hard to discern between passion and indignance, yet when the raspy singer slapped down his microphone stand, it seemed out of sheer spontaneity in the moment, not a preconceived move of rebellion. The group, well known for their lack of press appearances, are in a way saying "fuck you" to the industry, just as much as Roberts did to the people in the front row who asked for a fist bump and got a middle finger. When he does hunker down, Roberts and his group make a great blend of loud indie pop, but onstage, his wild approach distracts from the music.


As a polar opposite, Toronto orchestral pop ensemble Ohbijou warmed the hearts of a packed Biltmore, with a crowd so thick it was hard to see the string section sitting down with their instruments. Vocalist Casey Mecija holds all of the endearing charm necessary to front such a large group, telling road stories in between tracks, such as the innocent tale of confusing a sack of vegetables for a "bag of green" across the US border.

In action, every band member looked completely enraptured with their own performance, as if part of a bar-sized symphony, complete with cello and violin. The interesting facet in their set is how each song tells a different story musically, showing that they're not really content staying in one place too long in terms of tone.

The mellow tracks feel unexpectedly emotional, with so many interweaving threads combining together to one feeling. When Mecija sings "Give me some loving, 'cause I've been thinking about dying under heavy snow" from "Thunderlove", it's easy to see everyone in the room tearing at the seams as much as she was when she wrote it. The entire show felt like the perfect precursor to the first day of snow, blending comforting melodies with the feeling of a change in season.

//JJ Brewis, Art Director
//Illustration by Stefan Tosheff

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© 2011 The Capilano Courier. phone: 604.984.4949 fax: 604.984.1787 email: editor@capilanocourier.com