Noah And The Whale © Pavel Boiko

Live Review: Noah And The Whale @ The Vogue Theatre, Vancouver – September 28th 2013

For the second night in a row, I was at Vancouver’s Vogue Theatre, this time to see Noah & the Whale, whose 2011 show at the Biltmore Cabaret I recapped on my blog then: link. Now we are in September of 2013 and the band are promoting their latest release Heart of Nowhere.

Their support act was supposed to have been LP who were unable to be there, instead the local band No Sinner filled in. I arrived just before 9 pm (the ticket and website said it was meant to have begun at 9:30 pm, good thing I came ‘early’) and the band were already playing. A four-piece (drums, bass, guitar, & vocalist in a cute summer dress that I am now on the lookout for) was rocking out but the singer’s voice was the stand-out element. People ask where the women of rock are these days and I think I’m looking at one. She has a set of pipes that remind me of the singers of Nico Vega and Cold War Kids – a powerful voice that comes from emotion rather than effort. They have a good rapport with the audience, mention more than once the name of the band, their gratitude at being called for this last-minute gig and to Noah & the Whale. The audience is also told the guitarist, Aaron, is the guitarist and lead singer of his own band The Dirt. The other two band members are introduced as well, but I’m afraid I didn’t catch their names. The singer’s name, I think was Colleen, and I thought it different how after her part was complete in the last song (their 8th perhaps), she left the stage (very conscious of the length of her skirt, holding it down as she jogged off, leaving the remaining three to see the song home instrumentally. Bass and drums watched the guitarist like a hawk as he showcased his skills, in part in the noodling tradition of Eddie Van Halen. Stylistically, they are definitely rock, a little bluesy in parts, a little Motown in others, but most definitely rock. They were done and packing up by 9:30 pm while the audience cheered enthusiastically.

The ground floor of the theatre looked fairly full, the first level of the mezzanine was about 2/3 full with a handful of people in the upper half. I wasn’t expecting the sold-out house that Jake Bugg had enjoyed the night before, but I would’ve anticipated more people in the audience. Irrespective of size, they do sound enthusiastic during the show. When the lights dim at just after 10 pm, slightly spooky music comes on over the speakers and I think it ends up being the theme to 2001: Space Odyssey, but jazzed up a bit.

The first song of the night is Tonight’s the Kind of Night and I’d just like to say it’s nice to see the lead singer Charlie on his acoustic guitar be able to move around the stage. By comparison, the Biltmore Cabaret must have felt claustrophobic (there are five of them and keyboardist Tom also plays the violin elsewhere so essentially has two marks on-stage). As before, they dress for the occasion – a couple of suits, a couple of ties, collared shirts – not dressed the same, but snazzy (do people still say that?) nonetheless. The title track of the CD is nextHeart of Nowhere and the violin lovers, or violinist lovers, rejoiced. Every time that instrument is featured, the screams increase. I liked the song a lot – it has a really nice dynamic to it. The band continue right away with Waiting for a Chance to Come from the previous CD Last Night on Earth. I enjoy the easy pace of this song. For the first time this evening, the band’s sound seem to fill the theatre and it sounds warm and rich. Next was a new song for me All Through the Night and it struck me how this song could be sooooooo incredibly radio-friendly, especially since the ‘80s are back in vogue, and this song has a touch of that. Much of this band’s music is very radio-friendly, but it gets played so rarely, which is a shame.

Give it all Back is the next song. I love the piano keyboard part in it – to a degree it reminds me a little of Schroeder from the Peanuts cartoon. It’s a great upbeat number and gets a big finish at the end. Clearly a favourite? There’s an instrument shuffle for the next one: if I remember correctly, guitarist Fred moves to keyboard, Tom moves to violin, and bassist Matt switches to guitar. It’s L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N. and it’s got a bit of opportunity for audience participation for the chorus and I could hear very little from below and even less around me. Perhaps much of the audience are newbies? Not to worry, a different tactic was coming.

The introduction of Give a little Love got a number of “yaay”s from the audience. The band did a lovely atmospheric build during the instrumental part at the end with keyboard and guitar working to try and blow the lid off the place and then, in an instant, the song is done. Loudest applause of the night here, someone even yells for a repeat. Charlie has a bit of a chat to the audience instead. Throughout the day in Vancouver, we had some monsoon-quality rain. Charlie had had to purchase an umbrella to get around and in only 5 minutes, he felt his $10 had been well spent. No sights seen, they just went to see a film – can’t blame them, not much else to do when it’s raining so hard the raindrops are bouncing to meet your knees. Ironically (intentionally), this served as a great segue way to Blue Skies. It’s a little quieter but only marginally. The entire rest of the band, even the as yet unnamed drummer Michael, provide backing vocals for it. I don’t think it sounded familiar to my ears, but I thought it a really nice one. For Old Joy the audience is invited to sing along to function as a gospel choir. This time Charlie provides a lesson for the “day by day old joy comes back to me” line. He purports Vancouver puts the Seattle audience to shame, but he did also say “a lot of soul can compensate for pretty much anything”, so, unless you were in that audience, who’s to know?

My Door is Always Open according to Charlie doesn’t get played a lot. It is a rather quiet song that skirts the periphery of country in genre. During the still moments, shouts of “I love you” ring out – some for Charlie, some for Tom (well, they do have the best hair), but there’s also really annoying chatter going on upstairs and below. Well timed – it had to be the quietest song you had to talk through. Fortunately, it does pick up in speed and volume so the talkers were drowned out. The multi-part harmony of the band sees them through to the end of the song and the ring of the final chord. My choir director at the VSO School of Music would’ve called it a ‘heaven chord’, I’m sure.

There will come a time is all poppy and peppy at the same time, even during a bit that mainly features drums and vocals. I remember Rocks and Daggers as being the song with the fun syncopation with percussion and violins. It also flirts a little with the country genre and despite my dislike of that type of music, the song remains vocally and musically/rhythmically interesting. Love of an Orchestra has Tom plucking and bowing his violin strings, and Fred takes over on keyboards. It’s a toe-tapper from start to finish and the audience are really into it as well.

Still after all these years is introduced by way of a guitar-off. Charlie describes how the film they saw was about an intense rivalry in F1 racing (the film was Rush) but it’s nothing in comparison to Fred and Matt. While the latter two do their funk guitar parts, Charlie provides the basslines and Tom is on keyboards. The rivalry, of course, was exaggerated – there was a smile on everyone’s face and they look so comfortable and happy just playing together. As Charlie put it so nicely,“despite the rivalry, the only real winner is music”. Well, and the audience.

Lifetime has a good steady rhythm, again with the toe-tapping and head-nodding. The violin carries the theme of the verse melody through the chorus. It’s catchy enough, it won’t be one of my favourites, but it’s on the CD, so who knows, it might find an audience as a single. Speaking of singles, the one that turned me onto this band Five Years Time, their first one, as it happens, was the final song before the encore, and I felt a bit lonely singing Laura Marling’s part by myself. I wasn’t alone in clamouring for an encore though – I was cheering and clapping as loudly as anyone else in the house – and we did not wait long. They probably took only enough time to wipe their faces and take a swig of a chilled beverage of their choice. I didn’t know this one: it starts off with mallets on cymbals and drums, has a plaintive and wistful violin part to accompany the drums during the introduction. The band have a wonderful use of dynamic – mezzopiano to forte and right back down to somewhere around mezzopiano just before the end of a phrase – and it is gorgeous. Independent of what’s going on in the vocals, they act as a kind of foreshadowing to all the richness of the instrumental parts. It’s a great choice for a one and only encore song as it runs a gamut of emotions, none of them ‘spring-like’, more like spring on the calendar with winter hanging about having worn out its welcome, but there’s a hint at what’s to come.

At about half past 11 the lights come back on. Up until then for a few minutes I could sense the audience was hopeful there might be a second encore. After all, it was only one song, even if it was about 5 minutes long, but no joy.

I do enjoy this band a lot. They don’t often make it on a playlist for me; I tend to binge on Noah & the Whale’s music. I need to be in the mood, but then I’ll listen to my CD from start to finish. Plural now, I boughtHeart of Nowhere before I left and I like it.

Tonight’s the Kind of Night
Heart of Nowhere
Waiting for a Chance to Come
All Through the Night
Give it all Back
Give a little Love
Blue Skies
Old Joy
My Door is Always Open
There will come a time
Rocks and Daggers
Still after all these years
Five Years Time

First Days of Spring

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