The short walk from the Skytrain to the Rio Theatre was quick, but incredibly cold. By the time I reached the doors, almost everyone had already taken their seats for the first of four bands gracing the stage that evening, Alas, The Ocean. The remaining few were scrambling to get out of the cold, tucking their hands into their pockets and only removing them to hand over their tickets. As usual, a new stamp – this one reads URGENT! – was pressed onto my wrist and finally I got out of the cold and into the bustling lobby. Since the Rio’s recent troubles with liquor licensing, I hadn’t been to many shows at the venue – until last week, for the Zola’s, and now for the CD release show for Coquitlam band Community Trees. The show was nearly sold out, which was certainly expected, considering the line up also composed of local-ish favourites Good For Grapes and The Archers.
Following Alas, The Ocean, the standing room in front of the inconveniently high stage filled up quickly as The Archers found their places in front of the crowd. This was my second time seeing the Victoria natives, so I while I knew what to expect, they’re still a joy to watch. A show is never disappointing when the performers are happy to be there, and joy was splayed across everyone’s faces. Sitting with a friend of mine who was photographing the show and seeing the ear to ear grins on each member’s face on the back of the camera was hilarious and so indicative of the atmosphere that filled the theatre from the first chord strummed to the last. Trading instruments multiple times throughout their set, The Archers delivered an enthusiastic performance and their folk-rock sound had everyone at most, jumping rampantly and at the very least, tapping their feet. Without a shadow of a doubt, The Archers will be very successful in any musical endeavours they decide to pursue.
Similarly, when Good For Grapes took the stage afterwards, the ‘folk stomp’ ravaged the crowd. The septet have, in my experience, never failed to put on an excellent show and this occasion was no exception. One of the highlights of the entire evening was certainly the very well done cover of I Feel It All by the indie rock goddess Feist. After seeing this band so many times, the novelty has undoubtedly worn off. They’re still an outstanding band, but Sean MacKeigan’s theatrical nature and the amount of suspenders and jewellery worn by each male member of the band is no longer a selling point. I’m speaking strictly for myself, of course, as at any given moment, a girl somewhere in the theatre was fawning over Daniel’s voice or Alexa’s dress. The band exemplifies what we expect when we hear ‘indie rock’, and the momentum they’ve built recently will not slow until they’re climbing charts and gracing world stages.
Lastly, finally, as the night did seem to drag on, the headliners took to the stage. Adorned with war paint and a demure presence, the crowd in front of the stage shifted from the casual fans to the devout followers, whom were absolutely vibrating in anticipation. Their first song was also the track used to open their debut album flo. (aptly titled Intro), and summarized what would follow quite well. From front man Braeden Vanderzalm playing a conch shell to the floor tom disguised very well as a tree stump, Community Trees immediately set themselves apart from the other acts that night. Throughout the entire set but most notably starting with Winter Skies, the audience was treated to the incredible voice of female lead Gel Bernardo. While generally, in most bands, a few of the performers will be vocally gifted, Gel is far beyond that. It provided an unfortunate juxtaposition for some of the other acts as one could not avoid drawing comparisons. Between Gel, Braeden and some well used echoes, vocally, Community Trees has the talent and maturity far beyond their years. On sax, Corbin Vanderzalm punctuated each song and balanced out the earthiness prominent in every song – a necessary element.
Hailing from Coquitlam, BC, I can’t say I’m surprised that the sticks beyond Vancouver have brought forth such a group of minimalist hippies. I use that word with the most affection it can retain, and with the disclaimer that they – the musicians and the music they create – are not so simple. Somehow, they’ve managed to tend a unique and almost naïve perspective to accompany their originality in the cesspool of ‘indie folk rock’ bands that saturate the GVRD. Upon researching the band prior to the show, a friend of mine spoke to the ‘pretentiousness’ of the façade put forward by Community Trees. This same friend retracted her earlier statement upon seeing the true admiration for their fans, fellow performers and their beliefs, heavy behind each lyric sung. There was no pretentiousness, just really fantastic music.
Before closing out the evening, Braeden invited Daniel and Alexa of Good For Grapes back on stage. Joking about the amalgamation of names, Community Grapes or Good For Trees, the duo made nine bodies on stage and delivered a lovely performance of Lovin’s For Fools. It was another highlight of the night, the crowd swayed along, sang along and was certainly lost in the atmosphere. After thanking the crowd and leaving the stage for the mandatory retreat-before-encore, the seven sauntered back onto the stage and played two more songs that had the entire crowd dancing.
Exiting back into the cold, I didn’t envy the band at all as I left behind the screaming fans they’d have to face a few minutes later. After this show, I can say that Community Trees is not a band to watch. Because, quite frankly, given the time to grow and flourish, you won’t be able to walk through the streets of Vancouver without hearing the name, seeing a poster or hearing a raving fan on the phone. This is a band that will not be quietly sinking back into the forests of Coquitlam. While flo. is certainly worth purchasing and listening to for days on end, the album does not encapsulate everything that the band has to offer, or everything that is presented on stage. So, should their name show up on a marquee near you, make sure you get out to see them.