Oh! Canada Road Trip! Part 5: Vancouver, BC

This Summer Oh! Canada is once again hitting the road across Canada, and will be reporting back on the shows and artists it meets along the way. The first stop on our road trip is Vancouver, a city which happens to be celebrating it’s 125th Anniversary. As such, there are plenty of events going on, many of them free, and all of them showcasing the prodigious talents the city has to offer. On arrival, we got word that former Ho! Ho! Ho! Canada featured artist T. Nile was playing a free lunchtime show outside the offices of the CBC Radio building in the downtown area. The reason for the free show? Lunchtime, apparently – a great way of getting people out to enjoy the fresh air and introducing them to new music. With fiddle and fine banjo picking backing up her rootsy sound, it wasn’t difficult to see why she was awarded the best emerging artists at the Canadian Folk Music awards.

Later that day, we headed over to Stanley Park for the Summer Series, a three day event playing host to a vast array of performances ranging from members of Vancouver’s First Nations community, The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, and established and rising stars of the local indie-rock community for good measure. Set with the sea to one, side and the city to the other, and in the shadows of the still snow-tipped mountains of the Sunshine Coast, there can be few more picturesque locations for a festival. We arrived just in time to catch local folk roots mainstays The Be Good Tanyas set, which saw them welcomed back with open arms after an extended hiatus since 2006’s Hello Love album. Clearly the time away had done little to dull the close harmonies and fusion of new and traditional that made their name in the first place, as they mixed up traditional songs, covers and originals. With nothing but the spruce of the forest to backdrop the stage, the combination of sounds and location seemed completely natural.

Over at the Trail’s Edge Stage, Fond of Tigers were proving once again to be a force to be reckoned with, their twin drummer attack laying down complex and layered rhythmic riffs for the rest of the bands members to build on, through and over with their melodic guitar runs or treated horns, then flipping for the guitars to take melodic control. Post-rock, post-jazz, call it what you will, it’s a captivating and powerful thing to behold.

From the open expanses of Stanley Park, we headed to Zoo Zhop, a tiny record store/gig space with a single lamp to light the stage to check out the single release party for long time Oh! Canada favourites Apollo Ghosts. If the crowds were busy for openers Duffy and The Doubters and Shotgun Jimmie (who will appear again later in this roadtrip), the crowd that piled in from the sidewalk in to the tiny space were like hot, sweaty sardines by the time Adrian Teacher and his band took the stage. The band have built quite a name for themselves locally on the back of their live show, and didn’t disappoint on this occasion, Teacher twitching and yelping his way through the set, leading the crowd through the sing along part of new free single ‘Money Has No Heart’, drums rumbling, guitars flailing and drummer Amanda Panda unleashing mighty roars that seem to take both the band and herself by surprise. While previous shows have been known for their crowdsurfing, the packed conditions lead to a rather more gentle version, band and audience members being held gentley aloft and passed from side to side in slow motion, which seemed fitting as Apollo Ghosts fluctuated beyond chaotic and sublime guitar lines. By the end of the frenetic set, even the sweat dripping from the walls was sweating, but happy. “Vancouver- Ultra Kool” indeed.

The rest of the weekend was spent back in Stanley Park, taking in accomplished performances by the likes of the energetic We Are The City, Aidan Knight, whose horn drenched, charming take on Canadian quickly won him plenty of new admirers amongst the crowds of picnicers, as well as a runthrough of ‘classic classical’ from the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. However, the weekend belonged to returning Vancouver heroes new and old. Saturday night saw Neko Case return to her old stomping ground with full band in tow, debuting a handful of new songs as well as selections from Middle Cyclone and Fox Confessor, the beautiful and familiar surroundings giving the set a gentle ease as her voice cut through the chill night air. She had little time to rest post-set however, as she joined hometown supergroup The New Pornographers to rip through a set that took in tracks from all of their records. Despite the huge crowds packed in to see the band, the show had the feeling of a big yard party, Case and Carl Newman exchanging easy banter between songs, introducing ‘My Descent in to Alcoholism’ as a song about Kathryn Calder’s forthcoming wedding reception, then stopping mid song to say “Do you know how hard it is to play when you all keep clapping?”. Although the abscence of Dan Bejar (just returned from his Euro tour with Destroyer) meant that certain songs were left from the set, each song was greeted by the crowd like a greatest hit, the only dissapointment being the lack of encore due to running over curfew.

While Saturdays headliners are long established city heroes, Sunday nights headline has seen a meteoric rise to prominence in his hometown. Just two years ago Dan Mangan was playing in the small town venues he frequently namechecks in his songs, yet now he stood on stage with a 15 piece band playing to 15,000, at least half of which sang back every word. With Vancouver still hurting from the bad publicity of the riots just a few weeks ago, it is fitting, as Mayor Gregor Robertson noted in his introduction of Mangan, that someone who has done much charity work, and become a musical ambassador for the town, should close the peaceful celebrations in the park. For his part, Mangan did everything that was asked of him, playing almost all of his Polaris shotlisted album Nice, Nice Very Nice to a rapturous reception, as well as debuting new tracks from the forthcoming Oh Fortune before inviting the mayor to join him in singing Happy Birthday to the city. After the weeks of soul-searching and questioning about what it meant to be a city it felt like a moment of catharsis shared amongst 15,000 people.

The advantage of having the mayor on side-stage is that he can sign off on an extension of the curfew, which is exactly what he did. As the Mayor left the stage, Mangan announced that the band would then play Dark Side of The Moon in it’s entirety, his band picking out the intro to ‘Money’ as he spoke. Though there was no Floyd cover, he did take the opportunity to play his cover of ‘Waltz Number’ by Elliot Smith before running to the side stage and bringing out a genuinely bemused looking Aidan Knight to perform his song ‘Jasper’, while Mangan gleefully ran around the stage bashing a tambourine. To close the set, Mangan invited all of the various bands who have played with him during his rapid rise to join him on stage to sing ‘Robots’- members of Said The Whale, Aidan Knight, Hey Ocean and more, Vancouver’s new rising stars joining forces with an overwhelming sense of positivity and community, a fitting and optimistic end to Vancouver’s 125th Anniversary Celebration.

Next stop on the Oh! Canada Road Trip: Dawson City Music Festival in the Yukon for Dawson City Music Festival

PART 1 | PART 2 | PART 3 | PART 4