Chad VanGaalen rocks out at the Mod Club

Chad VanGaalen

by Michael Thomas

When a highly respected musician rolls into Toronto, you know people will get excited. And that’s exactly what people did when the Calgary musician visited Toronto last night.

Having never been to the Mod Club before, I was a little taken aback by the strangeness of the venue. The “club” aspect of the venue is apparent right when you walk in- large open space, rotating lights that change colours in addition to a huge stage. There was some kind of thing happening one floor below- during all three sets I could feel music vibrating through the floorboards.

Venue gripes aside, the musicians who graced the stage made the best of it. The first act was Halifax duo Cousins. The group probably would have preferred to work with a smaller stage given their setup (a guitar and a drum set) but they still managed to make the room fill with sound. The energy of their songs was infectious, and they really got the room jumping with their last few songs.

Following them was Dusted, the new side project of Holy Fuck front man Brian Borcherdt. The last time I saw Dusted was at a very small venue in February, and the music has certainly grown since then. Borcherdt has added a drummer/programmer to his sound, which adds new layers to what has already existed. Borcherdt was his usual funny self and managed to be a great bridge into the evening’s main act.

At this point I must admit that Chad VanGaalen is a musical hero of mine. Therefore I will try to be careful not to gush too much.

Part of VanGaalen’s charm, I think, is how unassuming he is. He is one of Canada’s most respected musicians but he doesn’t have any air of pretension to him. In fact, he started playing opener “Cut My Hair/Shave My Pussy” before the house music even stopped playing. After the two-song medley, VanGaalen greeted Toronto warmly and talked about how great both Cousins and Dusted were. They would be most of the few words VanGaalen said during the night; the music spoke for itself.

With three backing band members, VanGaalen’s set took a very rock-and-roll edge. Had I not been paying attention, I might not have recognized “Bones of Man” played the way it was played last night. Still, the rocking out on guitar certainly energized the Mod Club that was basically packed by the time the main set started.

The weird highlight of the set came early on when VanGaalen and his band played about a minute of Weird Al Yankovic’s “Eat It.” A quick glance around showed that virtually everyone in the room either had a really big grin on their face or was just laughing.

The set was heavy on material from Diaper Island, featuring great renditions of songs like “Do Not Fear” or the extremely frantic “Freedom For a Policeman.” The crowd was particularly vocal in its love of “Sara,” the song VanGaalen wrote about his girlfriend.

As an encore, the first song was “Willow Tree.” The audience sang loudly along with VanGaalen, which set the stage further for a solo song that followed.

It’s difficult to type words that can completely describe the experience of seeing Chad VanGaalen live. All I can say is that it’s something you must do at least once and you’ll see what his massive appeal is.

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