This was my first outing to the Biltmore Cabaret off of Kingsway in Vancouver. The atmosphere was beautifully dark, from the bizarre objects dawning the walls to the obscure placement of mirrors, it was quite the location for a live show. The stage is that like any other small pub size venue, with the stag just a step up from the main dance floor. The whole place is about half the size of the Commodore Ballroom of similar size venues.
Opening the night was the local Surrey band The British Columbians, with a country roots, steel guitar blues that is suggestive of the Raconteurs. Their stage presence was amazing for a local band, they stole my vote on this fateful night with amazingly powerful vocals, the willingness the experiment and a tight but classically loose style. The show as so good in fact that I managed to get my hands on one of their CD’s and actually purchased it, which in this day and age is unheard of. After playing their 45 minutes set they had the crowd cheering for an impromptu encore, which was subsequently shot down by the house. Much to the dismay of the now somber mass, the opening act left the stage.
After about a 20 minute break the second act took the stage, The Waking Eyes. This obscure band is quite far from the normal parade of duo, trio or quartet bands. They had a stage with various instruments and contained 5 very out of place members. This mishmash of peers, was clearly the brain child of two leads. On one side you had the red headed, 70s suit wearing lead singer, with his Simply Red look. On the other side you have the dark, strung out, fedora wearing singer song writer. The red headed singer has a pop style reminiscent of 80s in its prime, where as the man sporting the fedora was more soulful and had a serious dark passion to his raspy style. This mix made for a mash up of songs that included both styles, but it was done with such a perfect balance. The band was so in tune with each other they would switch instruments with one another during the set, the basis would switch with the rhythm, the rhythm with the lead and so on. This strange occurrence showed the versatility of every member. Most of all the band was having a great time, which spread into the crowd. The songs all had very different sounds to them, some were very dark and some were very poppy, which showed many sides to this lesser known group. They made for a great time, and I encourage anyone who likes live events to seek these guys out and get a taste before they get to the big time. Because if its one member or the whole lot, someone in this band will make it big, their is way too much talent and passion for them to go missed for much longer.
Finally after a long 30 minutes break the main act hit the stage, these smaller venues are great, when the main act took the stage, their sound engineer had to run up and pull back the curtain, making for a nice little spectacle. The energy from the band before they even played their first note was amazing, the rapport with the audience was obvious from the first word out of the lead singers mouth. The sound and tightness of the group was superb, they resonated the small room with perfect harmony and exciting energy. The lead singer has a very identifiable sound, making them original, but when he screams at times he sounds like Dave Grohl. That may not be a bad thing, in this music day and age but it was definitely worth noting. The band was very exciting and played extremely solid. During a couple of the songs the dark brooding singer from The Waking Eyes made his way on to stage and accompanied a couple of songs with his trumpet, which made for a great sound. It wasn’t over the top it just added a little ambiance to the already stellar tracks. After the hits were played and the set list was done, they ended their set with a jam which ended up with them throwing all their instruments to the ground and leaving the stage. It wasnt for anything bad, they just did it to make for a great grand departure.
Then the mass started to chant for more, and they worked their way back on to the tiny stage. This time accompanied by The Waking Eyes and some other friends. Each person had an instrument, their were trumpets and tambourines and 4 guitars, it was a pure jam. The song started out as a jam, a medley of mixing sounds and then it formed into Don’t Let Me Down, a very tasty Beatles cover. The crowd ate it up, and I was entranced by this awesome jam session. The lyrics went back and forth between the Simply Red look a like lead singer from The Waking Eyes and the lead singer of The Arkells. This was a perfect ending to a perfect evening. I will never forget this show, it was one of my favorite performances in a long time. The pure talent in this room was astonishing and for $15 who can go wrong. There is no doubt in my mind that all three of the bands from this fateful night will go somewhere. They all have star sound, but if I have to pick my favorite the soulful sounds of The British Columbians were the stars of the evening and brought a great sound to the night. I will keep my eyes open for future shows by these gents, as they are surely to play many great ones from here on in. Until my next review.
The Arkells photos by Jamie Taylor (click to enlarge images)