by Michael Thomas
It’s truly a testament to how massive Canadian Music Week is that a brilliant showcase like last night’s bill at the Cameron House could be overlooked. The showcase was presented by Madic Records, the new label started by Dan Mangan, who also happened to be at the show to present the acts.
But it wasn’t just the fact that Mangan managed to get AroarA, Sandro Perri, Astral Swans and Veda Hille on the same bill. It was also the spirit of collaboration that ran through most of the sets.
Kicking off the night was AroarA, who just as easily could have been the headliner. The project from Andrew Whiteman and Ariel Engle transcends genres and is just pure duo magic. The two effortlessly traded vocals and guitar chords as they sailed through songs from their debut record In the Pines. Though guitar and drum machines was their thing, at one point they did a brilliant rendition of “#9” as Engle pulled a hood over her head and the two used just electronics and their vocals.
The two alone are dynamic enough, but partway through their set they brought on Don Kerr to play drums and Leslie Feist on vocals and guitar. Yes, that Feist. She was a natural fit for the group, her highlight being the emotional “#14” which she sang along with Engle. To see AroarA as a four-piece was an unexpected treat one can only hope will happen again.
Following that was the musical chameleon known as Sandro Perri. It’s tough to describe what he sounds like, because every one of his shows seems to be slightly different. With some sets he could fill an entire room with the musicians he plays with, but this time it was just him, his long-time collaborator Mike Smith and Blake Howard on drums. Perri said that many of these songs were new ones, with song titles like “Back on Love,” “God Blessed the Fool” and “Wrong About the Rain.” They were on the much lighter side of Perri, with just acoustic guitar, very subtle bass and equally subtle percussion. The name of the game for Perri seemed to be “calm” and even when he transitioned to an electric guitar his songs still held a quiet confidence. He ended the set with a cover, and Andrew Whiteman played guitar on it.
It was then time for the only Madic Records act, Astral Swans, to take the stage. Astral Swans is the new project from Matthew Swann of Extra Happy Ghost!!! and while his first 7-inch apparently has more going on, this set was just Swann and his guitar. As a result, his performance wasn’t as dynamic as the previous acts, but his descriptive lyrics kept him afloat. In between songs he spoke rapidly about being “really fucking nervous” going after two such amazing acts. A touching part of his act came when he dedicated a song to Chris Reimer, the member of Calgary band Women who died a few years ago. Perhaps with an extra band member or some electronics he could become a must-see.
To close out the night was Vancouver music scene bedrock Veda Hille, After receiving a glowing introduction, she brought the evening to a calm close with her piano-based songs. The pretty melodies are more than matched by her brilliant and wondrous lyrics, which she can partly say is due to her child — “I’m living with a five-year-old right now and he makes it really easy to write surrealist lyrics,” Hille said.
Some of her songs struck a special chord with people, perhaps those that grew up listening her (after all, she’s been an active musician for more than 20 years now). Most fun was the intro number to a musical called Peter Panties, though every song had some memorable lyrics. To end the set, Hille brought on none other than Dan Mangan himself, who exchanged some vocals for the final song.
That all these bands and Canadian rock royalty could gather in a room that held fewer than 100 people was nothing short of tremendous, and this translated into an unforgettable night of music.