A musical endurance challenge for the ages
//JJ Brewis

M83 - Photo by Tom Nugent

For those who go to music festivals, three days in the hot pouring sun combined with as much drinking and live bands as possible is an easy formula because you're removed from your day-to-day life. For those who can't take the time off to go to such things as Coachella, we stay in town and work our jobs, letting those touring bands come through Vancouver on their way back from the festival and taking in as much music as we can on top of our 9-to-5s. And in my case, I challenged myself to take in six shows in a row, waking up at 7:00 AM each day, going to work, and heading to a show afterwards, on repeat all week, just because I thought I could. Results varied. It was like my own mini music festival week.

Apr. 23 at Fortune Sound Club

It's nearly midnight, and Tanlines still haven't hit the stage of the packed Fortune Sound Club. The New York City electro-rock duo, supporting their brand new debut LP, are also embarking on their first major tour. Following the group on Twitter has been a funny journey, watching as they inquire about where exactly the magic spot is to get a night's rest between Portland and San Francisco. Working out the kinks seems natural, and the band's debut Vancouver appearance was a surprising display of an ironed-out set, for the most part. After a live pre-show soundcheck, the group immediately just began their set without the usual over-the-top MC hyped intro that comes along with the average Fortune show. Drummer Jesse Cohen met the crowd with "Boy is my every thing possible that could be tired is tired. We drove from Minnesota, and we just got here." Opening their set with the Vancouver-appropriate "Rain Delay" was a good choice: the slow, bare bones track was an introduction to a set which would accelerate quickly. 

The set featured a tropical-infused blend of indie rock and electronic dance pop that had the room busting a move despite the late set time. Vocalist/guitarist Eric Emm's slightly pitchy vocals have found a nice groove placed among Cohen's computer bleeps and Frankenstein drum kit made of both regular percussion instruments and fancy computerized ones. Cohen does seem to do most of the legwork, including the in-between song banter, awkwardly addressing the crowd, "This is the part of the show where I mention Stephen Harper." A loud response of booing prodded Cohen to continue. "Not because I like him, but because I want you to know that some of us down in the United States know who your Prime Minister is!" The crowd's chanting of "USA!" prodded the duo to laugh and loosen up onstage. 

Tanlines are far catchier and dance-friendly as a live act, with Cohen looping drum beats and keys to sound like the duo is actually a full rock band, mixing hip hop, jungle, and tribal sounds. Ending their set with 'tour exclusive' "Board Slipping", the group even threw a touch of surf into the set. "We get to wake up with the knowledge that hip-hop was born in our city 30 years before hand," Cohen said. "You get to wake up in this beautiful city and look at that beautiful mountain.” Here's hoping the group will be back to stare at our mountains and pound out another set sometime soon.

Apr. 24 at The Electric Owl

For those who missed out on the heyday of the '80s Industrial and goth music scene, School of Seven Bells are heavy in the renaissance of that era, capitalizing on the music which was a lifestyle to a generation of music fans. Clearly lovers of synth pioneers Depeche Mode and other similar artists, School of Seven Bells fuse pivotal aspects such as dreamy piano looping and hypnotic echo-heavy vocals into a dramatic blend that translates magically onstage. 

The ethereal stage show features band members Benjamin Curtis on guitar and Alejandra Hedeza on vocals, backed by some guest touring musicians. The result is a moody and introverted concoction, with a heavy percussion exo-skeleton that provides warmth to the tunes that may otherwise be a hazy blur of chamber choir melodies. In their all-black ensembles, the group look the part, with lace-up Doc Martins and flowy witch-like gowns adding a visual affirmation to the musical base. The songs are stylised perfectly as to solidify that everything is in place for a reason. There were no bells and whistles, and the minimal core works well for the group. Like a more focused Ladytron, the songs leave room for dancing, but have a hearty lyrical core, particularly in the aggressive "Low Times", in which Curtis wails on a crunchy guitar solo, and Hedeza spells out the word "predator" on repeat. It's slightly jarring to watch the crowd bopping along to a track that has such dark lyrical content, but the shift between the band's material and the social context is aside from the point. The eerie undertones are accompanied by grins all over the stage, though, a testament to the band's creation of the music as a sincere art piece, not a gloomy set of individuals. Sadly for the group, just as the set reached its pique, the show had come to a halt. "That's it," Curtis told the crowd. "Our songs just keep getting longer."

Apr. 25 at The Commodore Ballroom

The first of two back-to-back performances at the esteemed Commodore Ballroom saw Auckland, New Zealand favourites The Naked and Famous completely overwhelmed by the response. After all, the first performance sold out in mere weeks, prompting the promoters to add a second date. Co-vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Thom Powers gushed to his adoring audience, thanking them: "We've been [on the road] for a long time. We don't have houses. We're homeless!" It's apparent why the group have continued their roadbound lifestyle, with the crowd faithfully bouncing to their songs, professing each lyric as if they were their own words. 

Powers' bandmate Alisa Xayalith shares vocal duty creating an interesting dynamic to their songs. In concert, the Naked and Famous are far more potent than on record. The group shines best during their pop-heavy tracks, like the MGMT-eque "Young Blood" with its catchy choruses. Deep album cuts are a lot different than the band's singles suggest, showing a less accessible, more post-punk side, like encore "Da Da Da". Accompanied by a flashy yet complimentary light show, the entire production was top notch. In total, the experience is a colourful one that has a little something for everyone. On "Punching in a Dream", Xayalith knocks it out of the park, and even the super-fans singing along halt in their tracks for a moment to hear her sing the lyrics. 

The Commodore's floor ripples with bass on the heavier tracks, causing the floor to get those legs moving, and they hardly stop for the rest of the night. When they slow it down for a moment on "The Sun", the speaking of the crowd takes away from the sharp intimate moment onstage. The performing continues to be passionate though, and when they bring it back to full blast on finale "Young Blood", the Phil Collins-esque drumming and snazzed LED lights are the perfect backdrop for both vocalists to belt this one out: a perfect middle point of aggression, passion, and chemistry. The Naked and Famous have done what they came for.

Apr. 25 at The PNE Forum

Justice - Photo by Melissa Dex Guzman
"Justice are over," balked a friend who had seen their grandiose stage show back in 2007 at their 'peak'. But for those ready to write something off just because it's not brand new, I challenge you to check out even five minutes of Justice's present live show to make up your mind. Much of their set will look and sound familiar to anyone who saw them back when-- the massive light-up cross sandwiched between a too-tall stack of Marshall speakers, with the two French electro-DJs, Gaspard Augé and Xavier de Rosnay, perched up top, nodding their heads. Yes, some things are best left untouched. They salute their fans like pilots before take-off, placed among a two foot storey high LED light setup, half of which is taken up by the speaker stack.  But the boys aren't content to just lay low. They'll have you think nothing has changed whatsoever-- but halfway through the set, during the group's biggest single to date, "D.A.N.C.E.", Augé leaves the massive podium for the first time, and as he enters the front of the stage, the cross slides to the right as the set splits to reveal a shockingly white-bright lit up piano and bench, leaving him to sit down and plunk out the tune's melody on the keys. 

The light production of the whole show drew from religious ceremonials, with rays of light shining down on the pair at opportune times. The set was a perfect mix of the genre-bending debut "†" and their tough follow-up, last year's surprisingly guitar heavy "Audio, Video, Disco". Just as the songs got more intense, the production matched it, like the speakers performing spiral light pulsations, then bleeding down like the brightest waterfall you've ever seen. On "Civilization", the sound goes quiet for just a few seconds-- long enough to make you scratch your head, and then like a tin can radio, it slowly creeps back in, and the hook blasts through those Marshalls louder than it was in the first place. 

Justice are not lazy. The show was like an ultimate mega-mix, and with too many songs to fit into one set, other tracks were not discarded, but used as sample loops to rile up the crowd like club favourite "We Are Your Friends" and the sing-along-friendly "DVNO" used as the lead-in for "Horsepower". While it's a bummer to not see the whole track live, it's nice to see it pave the way for something new.  In "STRESS", spinning red police lights act as an impromptu interrogation squad. As a finale, it is no shocker that the big guns come out: light-up organ pipes emerge from atop the speaker system, and the two musicians freeze for several minutes, letting the screams and cheers of fanfare wash over them. In this state, a minute feels like forever, and it's hard to wonder just what they're doing next. It's like a symbolic baby being birthed night after night for the whole tour. In the finale, for the title track from their new album, the solid light walls go dark for the first time and a combusting galaxy motif takes its place. We have arrived. It was elaborate as hell, but totally worth it. Not bad for two dudes who don't say a single word the entire time they're on stage.


Apr. 26 at The Vogue Theatre

Last fall when Anthony Gonzales and his band of electro-oddball music makers brought the M83 stage show to town, the small stage of Venue felt nice and intimate for everyone in the room. But the songs may have been too anthemic for such a performance, and their comeback performance, this time at the much larger Vogue Theatre, gave a lot of breathing room for the group. Filling the space with lasers, neon tube lights, and some of the greatest electronic indie pop to sneak its way into the top 40 charts, M83 left a major mark on the Granville Street crowd. 

There were plenty of theatrics, such as the demon-masked mutant who dons the group's merchandise and music videos, reaching his hands out over the crowd like a weird prophet of misfits, foretelling the bizarre yet wonderful music about to fill the walls in mere moments. On top of sounding so intricately wonderful, M83 make it look good while they're at it, spastically beating drums from every angle, fiddling with knobs, and Gonzales getting down on his knees to slam through his guitar solos like a classic rock veteran. Amazingly, all of this happened with flailing pulsating lights commanding the stage like a Hollywood masterpiece. For "Let's have a party on this one", Gonzales professed to the crowd, before standout single "Midnight City" had everyone in the theatre, including those in the overstuffed aisles, hooting and hollering mere seconds into the song's intro. 

M83 have perfected an exact formula combining electro and rock elements. On "We Own The Sky", Gonzales and keyboardist/vocalist Morgan Kibby's voices create a unique sound together. The encore began with "Skin Of The Night", which focused on Kibby's outrageous vocal register, a testament to unique voices leaving their mark. On closer "Coulers", the entire band, including a special appearance by the saxophone player, showed a playful whimsy, as the track ends up a ten-minute long jam session, with everyone onstage smiling and laughing right until the last note.


Apr. 27 at Venue

Saturday nights are interesting for club shows, because bands have to be on and off stage by the curfew. For Neon Indian frontman Alan Palomo, this is an excuse to squeeze in as much singing and dancing time as possible. In fact, he even left out the whole formulaic 'leave the stage for the encore' thing that has become a routine for literally every single show I've witnessed. "We only have about ten minutes left," he told the crowd. "We're not gonna leave and come back. We have a couple more tunes for you." The gesture was much appreciated as the clock raced against the chillwave act to the finish line. 

Most of the set blended together, but managed to sound quite good in spite of that. Many of the songs are quite samey, but as a live show, the group creates a whimsical and fun presence. Palomo thanked the "lively and spirited" crowd, dancing his feet-shuffling dance through the entire set, playing in front of a light up hexagon which blew smoke on-stage. In between sips of his Red Stripe, Palomo and his band managed to pack most of their sophomore "Era Extraña" into the set, encouraging the crowd to dance, cheekily asking them "It is Saturday night, right?" I mean this in the nicest way possible: Neon Indian were the perfect comedown for a week of so many musical highs. Ending their set with the Pitchfork favourite, single "Polish Girl", the band's electro-savvy grooves were on their best foot, with the crowd hanging on every beat, swaying in pure bliss.

It surprised me that no matter how much I enjoyed myself, it was completely draining to just sit through these shows. Being the spectator is somehow tiring. 

I won't lie. My ears are ringing non-stop with tinnitus, the bags under my eyes are heavy, and I feel like I've been hit in the face with a brick. But would I do it again? Absolutely.

//JJ Brewis, Editor-in-Chief
//Photos by Melissa Dex Guzman and Tom Nugent

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