Seeing Pickwick is an awe inspiring spectacle. They are a young band that have emerged from the Seattle music scene that have gradually honed a style that originated in folk and later mutated into a more soulful and expressive musical landscape, helping to set them apart from their many of their musical peers close to home. They have built their way up slowly on musical terms by playing constantly and touring voraciously and as such they have cultivated material that is as potent in terms of performance as it is rich in content. Their songs have become distilled and focused as a result of six strong and eclectic artists bringing their ideas to the table, juxtaposing their individual strengths, layering those ideas and then perfecting them. They allow their instincts as performers to charge to the forefront of their sound making them equal parts rough and polished and allowing the songs to come alive on record as plainly and forceful as they do onstage. You could hear it on their previously released collection of EP’s titled “Myths”, which compiled the band’s earliest original work. “Hacienda Motel”, “The Round”, and “Staged Names” all appear on there alongside other early classics such as “Limelight”, “When Rosa Speaks” and another fan favourite called “Blackout”. The sound was honest and rare because it showcased a group of six musicians sketching down their ideas in a basement raw and full of reverb, and because it demonstrated that the band had the audaciousness to lay their material down and keep it as dirty and true as possible. This is a notion often forgotten often dismissed in contemporary music where auto tuning and studio trickery can distort how a band really sounds. For Pickwick, however, the cleanliness of their sound is extracted and emerges through the poise and focus of their performances. Because of that, the grit is maintained, the rough edges and warmth that comes with recording to tape is preserved, and all of it is to add atmosphere, depth and mood to the songs. “Can’t Talk Medicine”, the band’s first full length album, does not stray from the system that has served the band so well previously, and yet astonishingly takes the band further forward with refined edginess. Their record is comprised of fresh and equally raw re-recordings of early fan favourites “The Round”, “Hacienda Motel”, and “Staged Names” with a strong offering of newer material that has found it’s life (just like the “Myths” recordings) by being performed and galvanized in a live setting to capture the heart of each song. Songs such as “Halls Of Columbia” with it’s pounding piano and thick bass, the garage rock stylings and stomp of “Window Sill” and the passionate organ and vocal delivery of “Brother Roland” add further diversity and texture to this new and wonderful debut record. Tracks old and new flow seamlessly together that also make the album as a collective as important as the individual tracks so that even newer offerings such as the vibraphone heavy “Well Well”, melodic “Letterbox” and the hauntingly atmospheric album closer “Santa Rosa” all stand on their own as easily settle into their snug placement in the track list. The back story of how this band came to forge these beautiful songs can be heard deep in the mix, so you can almost visualize the living room in which they were committed to tape. It’s no easy task for any artist to capture the immediacy that associates itself with the purity and spontaneity of a live performance, but Pickwick do it with poise and style.
That brings us to Pickwick’s amazing Rickshaw Theatre performance friday night. Anticipation was running high in the near sold-out crowd before the band took the stage but for the true keeners (such as this reviewer) it was a fantastic personal touch to see lead vocalist Galen Disston mingling with fans and bassist Garrett Parker working the merch table and being able to chat with them prior to their performance. Having been lucky enough to have seen the band previously in November 2012 at the Wild Buffalo in Bellingham (and being absolutely floored by their last performance), the excitement over the opportunity to see them again was palpable. If that wasn’t enough, the freshness of knowing that they would be playing songs from their debut LP added to that excitement even more. Additionally, in getting psyched to see Pickwick again live, listening to “Can’t Talk Medicine” endlessly since it’s March release, and seeing performances and interviews online broadcast from their local Seattle radio station KEXP, I was also stunned to learn that the band would likely be incorporating even newer material into their set that will likely appear on their second record. Moreover, personally I was excited for this particular show because I had many friends in tow that had never seen the band play live, were still absorbing the material, and many of whom (despite my hyping) seemed blissfully unaware of the experience they were in for. A casual listener could easily overlook the individual charm of Pickwick’s songs. The thoughtful yet not fussy arrangements, nuances and tones of the lyrical content and the sonically arresting production could be undervalued if the listener weren’t careful to pay closer attention to the album. On the stage, however, these ingredients and their delivery can not be disregarded or ignored. Personally, I couldn’t wait for those I encouraged to attend the show to be as bowled over as I was the first time I saw them perform. To drive this point home, I was always determined to introduce hopeful converts to their live performances online before suggesting they give “Myths” or “Can’t Talk Medicine a spin. Even with the magic of performances such as their stripped down acoustic set at The Doe Bay Sessions in 2011 or their rousing a cappella rendition of “Blackout” from the Suzzallo Reading Room under their belt as strong examples of their live potency, being at one of their shows is the best way to understand how great this band really is. One could even argue that to really “hear” and feel Pickwick, one need only “see” them perform.
The dull roar of the chattering Vancouver crowd was soon stolen away as the lights went dimmer, and band members Kory Kruckenberg (guitar, vibraphone, percussion and backup vocals) Alex Westcoat (percussion) and Cassidy Lillstrom (keyboards, organ, backup vocals) took the stage and opened the set with the instrumental suite “Myths”. Screams and cheers could be heard as the organ solo progressed and Garrett Parker (bass), Michael Parker (guitar, keyboard, percussion, and backup vocals) and lead singer Galen Disston finally took the stage and stepped up to the mic. You could hear a pin drop just proceeding the symbol crash, organ wash and superb vocal harmonies that ushered in “Brother Roland”. When Galen Disston’s vocals rang out from the speakers in slow runs and passionate delivery, the masses became transfixed. The song is a great sum of all the elements that make Pickwick so compelling. Equal parts soulful, heavy, textured and vocally and lyrically haunting. I looked around at those I roped into checking Pickwick out and they looked back at me wonderstruck as the honest sound that came from those wonderful recordings knocked them over in a flash of stirring musical brilliance. From shrieks to growls to soulful crooning, the opening song showcased how this band are much more than a soul throwback and more of a rock band with a soulful edge- full of passion, grit, rhythm, and thoughtful presentation. “The Round” followed in the set and got everyone moving with its slick bass line, thumping backbeat and soaring vocals. It wasn’t long either, before their newest, untitled material began to appear and I was not disappointed. All three numbers were quick, fiery and beat heavy and gave Mr. Disston the freedom to go for the jugular vocally while his fellow bandmates thrashed out their background vocals and instrumental duties with fervent and impressive delivery. The Richard Swift cover of “Lady Luck” showed off Galen Disston’s impressive vocal range as he sang in falsetto, while the mostly-instrumental track “The Shadow” kept the crowd on its feet with subtle tempo changes and well crafted guitar hooks before segueing into the album closer “Santa Rosa” with it’s intimate vocals and sleepy organ tone. It’s always difficult to pick a highlight at a Pickwick show, but among the many standouts, “Hacienda Motel” is definitely a contender. With it’s dark opening lyrics: “Well that whore she left you bloody on the Motel lobby floor/ Even though she took your money, you know she needed more”, its gospel flourishes, bass hook, spirited vocals, chugging rhythm guitar and lively crescendo, it’s impossible not to be swept up. “Staged Names” and “Halls Of Columbia” also made the crowd bounce with their tough piano and keyboard posturing, inventive and slow-building climbs and excellent use of bass muscular drumming. The band closed their set with the playful Lou Reed number “The Ostrich” and wrapped it all up with one of “Can’t Talk Medicine’s” most exciting tracks “Window Sill”. Watching the band perform both these numbers is fun and engaging and the perfect way to end the show on a high note. One could sense, when you are in the room watching them play, what it would be like to hang out with the the band in their practice space, tearing these numbers out and being a ball of sweat when it’s all over. Between meeting the band, seeing the new material, getting a preview of things to come for album two, and getting some friends hooked into this fantastic band, it was a night I will not soon forget. Thank you, Pickwick, for continuing to inspire and impress me. We’ll look forward to your return to Vancouver in the future.
Photos of Pickwick & Jordan Klassen at Lucky Bar, Victoria © Rob Porter