by Chris Matei
For bands, the process of metamorphosis is always an interesting one. It can come from fragmentation, dissolution, reformation, from shocks of insight or gradual retooling of ideas and ideologies. The night of June 4 at the Biltmore Cabaret featured The Belle Game and David Vertesi, two familiar Vancouver-local names whose approaches to metamorphosis have made for some very interesting and promising developments.
Vertesi is perhaps best known as the bassist for upbeat, energetic poppers Hey Ocean! – a role he has played since 2002. In 2010, he released Cardiography, a solo record with a distinct voice all his own. Vertesi introduced the themes of his set with a couple of wry monikers as he took to the Biltmore stage: “Sad Dad Cruise Ship Music” and “#crooncore” (make this hashtag happen, people.) It’s a more stripped-down sound than that of Hey Ocean!, maintaining some pop-inflected arrangements and tropicalia but mixing them with countrified-rock and ballad elements as well as crafting a broader palette of moments with a wider, more personal and self-reflective tone and space and an innate vulnerability.
The Biltmore proved to be an ideal venue for Vertesi’s stylistic variations, showcasing both a highly personal, open-book lyrical style, deep, warm vocal delivery, and a penchant for bursts of unbridled fun and energy. His set was a blend of material from Cardiography as well as some newer cuts, like the darker-edged “Waterways” and “Loud Talker.” Whether settling into a raw and honest place within himself, or jumping about and clambering down from the stage to shred, mid-crowd, at the apex of the set (or, as the case may be, covering the Spice Girls’ “Say You’ll Be There” in a manic moment of 90s-nostalgic rockin’ out that stirred the crowd to genuine palpitations) Vertesi was a force all his own. I look forward to hearing more of his new material as it arrives!
If David Vertesi’s creative processes have evolved through his temporary fission from Hey Ocean!, spitting off energized particles in all sorts of directions, The Belle Game’s might be better described as fusion. The last time I saw the band live, it was at the close of Vancouver’s TD International Jazz Festival last summer, in the blissful surroundings of David Lam Park. After whirling through a shifting galaxy of songs from their Ritual Tradition Habit full-length, tempest-voiced frontwoman Andrea Lo acknowledged that the evening was a bittersweet one: they would be bidding adieu to their home city for a while to hole up, tinker away, and hopefully emerge sometime later with new and wonderful things to show us all.
Thursday night marked the emergence of that new creative energy from within the superheated Belle Game reactor into the wider world. Certain elements were, par for the course with any high-energy transformation, consumed and rearranged: the group has parted ways with Rob Chursinoff, while Alex Andrew took up position behind the drum kit rather than his usual spot on rhythm guitar. From her station behind a rack of synth gear, Katrina Jones now commanded a thunderous set of bass patches as well as the textured pads and ambient washes that flavour many of the band’s highly ambitious soundscapes, blending with Adam Nanji’s skilled fretwork and post-rocking pedalboard manipulations.
The set consisted almost entirely and unapologetically of new material: Lo thanked the Thursday-night crowd profusely for coming to watch them shake out their legs and bring the fruits of their woodshedding labours into the light for what was practically the first time, with the promise of a new record sometime in the coming year. The band maintained their intriguing balance of dark pop, ambient and swirling neo-folk, adding in new flavours with a distinct R&B and electronic groove – songs that, much like their previous work, bubble and build with sultry tension, boil over into frothing reverb and modulation, and crest on the rather phenomenal vocal energy that seems to pour straight out of Andrea Lo. “River,” from Ritual Tradition Habit, was the only antediluvian track amid the flood of new material, and even it possessed a darker tint, glinting menacingly around the edges of its soaring choruses.
I’ll certainly be looking for new work from the Belle Game as well as David Vertesi through the rest of 2015. This double set was proof that elements of the Vancouver music scene are going through changes that have made them more mature, introspective, daring and exciting all at once.