Reviews

Zerbin + Skye Wallace and The Oceanographers @ The Media Club – December 5th 2013

It was a dark and chilly night in early December. Vancouver doesn’t normally see temperatures in the minus 8-10 (Celsius) range, so perhaps people elected not to venture out. Their loss, the Media Club was nice and toasty, and the music was pretty sweet as well.

Skye Wallace started the crowd of 50ish people off. She has a different ‘take’ on the usual singer/songwriter ensemble. Accompanied by a violin and a cello, they provided a really pleasant sound, not veering into country or Celtic stylistically, staying nicely in that ‘folk’ or ‘indie folk’ range of song-type. CBC would LOVE her! Skye is very likable and comfortable on the microphone talking to the audience in an easy conversational manner and showed good vocal control throughout. Her high notes tend towards sounding tight, not shrill, but not embracing them either. The people on the dance floor were definitely interested – she had their full attention. The folks on the sides, on benches and at tables, not so much. Their conversations continued pretty much unabated, which was unfortunate. She has a lovely voice and the music she played and sang over her 30-minute (6-song) set was of a slightly more energetic variety than your traditional folk artist does, I’d say.

The Oceanographers – I really liked the singer’s voice, the wife beater, not so much, but that’s just me. They played to a house of 80ish people over the course of their half-hour set, covering about 7 or so songs. They began playing as soon as they were ready and assembled, ‘hello’s came later, and they appear to have already engendered a small and enthusiastic following through their participation with local radio station contests, such as the one by Vancouver’s CFOX, the Fox Seeds competition, in which this band placed in the top three just this year. Their style is an indie pop-rock, reminiscent of Atlas Genius (minus the latter’s ‘80s influence) and the band complement is similar: drums, bass, lead guitar, rhythm guitar and sometimes keyboard. As the person playing guitar and keyboards is also the person singing, his multi-tasking was good! As an ensemble, they have to work on their endings. You can’t just trail off into haphazardness at the end. Why? A) it sounds like you don’t know how the bleedin’ thing ends and B) it confuses the audience who’d like to show their appreciation. Either end the song properly, cueing applause or segue into the next song. They did this again and again. Also, they had a guest vocalist join them for one of the songs, who, quite frankly didn’t add anything except volume. He sang the exact same part as the singer for verses and chorus. I therefore query what the point of it was, other than to have two guys sing the exact same thing (was there ANY harmony at ANY stage?), one of whom looked like he was very much under the influence of something, or maybe that’s what he always looks like on stage. It’s not like I actually know Charlie. One more thing, and I say this with kindness, you may want to rework the piano part to Northern Lights – the chord progression is perhaps a little close to Benny and the Jets to my ears. Here endeth the lesson. As you perhaps can tell, I’m not really standing up taking notice of these guys just yet, but I do like what I’m hearing overall, especially their livelier songs; they sound and ‘feel’ a lot tighter. And the rest may just come with experience and savvy management. I do wish them luck.

Zerbin. Bias alert: I like these guys. I reviewed their March show, also presented by CKPK The Peak, and this one sounded so much better (read my review at Concert Addicts here – link). Zerbin was just great, then as tonight, but I think the Media Club is kitted out better/differently, plus heat wasn’t so much a factor to affect ukulele strings (we got uke!), and so the 100ish people here tonight got a treat of a show. Plus, as it turns out, Zerbin are on the home stretch of a cross-Canada tour before they take a bit of a break to get some more writing & recording done to augment the recently released EP Touch withanother full-length release to follow 2010’s Of Fools and Gold.

To the set – we (they) began as a four-piece with what I think is a new song. According to the setlist, it’s called C’est la vie and it has a nice upbeat beginning and continues at a good, bouncy clip and is definitely danceable (or agreeable to head nodding for the more reluctant). The energy keeps up for Touch and I adore this song. Every time I hear it on my favourite station (CJZN The Zone 91.3, Victoria), right from the anthemic guitar riff that begins it, the volume goes up, up, up. I love the drive the rhythm supplies, propelling it ever forward and I especially like the vocal run to end the chorus “dark places inside”. Full voice and smiles all around. Shoulder still counts as a new song and features the entire band rocking out. The audience to a degree as well, I definitely saw some rhythmic swaying from the folks sitting at tables across from me. Seamless flow to the next (also new?) song; Don’t let me, was written on the setlist. Jason played a handheld keyboard (maybe 2½ or 3 octaves?) for it and there’s not much to say about it. It was my first time hearing it and I did enjoy it very much. I look forward to getting better acquainted with it when the CD comes out. For the next song the audience was encouraged to do the arm motions if they knew them. I’m sure people did, they were just doing them really surreptitiously. Jason had better luck getting the audience to clap along to I Want You. The instrumental ending is much more rocked-up than I remember, but I like it. Go, Pete, go!

Tour memories were next, or at least a particular memory from Quebec City, and I cannot remember how exactly they got to Pete imitating a French-speaking/mooing(?) cow. Blimey, it was funny, and for the remainder of the show, if he had any further opportunity to do that, he took advantage. I know this probably doesn’t sound like it makes a lot of sense, I guess you just had to be there. J

Let Go starts off ballad-like, in other words, cue for people to resume conversations again, but it picks up nicely both in volume and tempo and then we have hands in the air and clappy-clappiness and yay for the drum solo! It ends as it began; audience began applause before the song quite finishes, but once they realise what was happening, they let the band continue and the applause was just as loud then as it had been a minute before.

We have a bit of a comedy interlude next: first Jason excuses himself for almost disrobing himself before the audience. He confesses he made a mistake by not wearing a tank top this evening (but then he did start the set wearing a flannelly lumberjack-type jacket and I guess losing that layer earlier made little difference) , and also for getting fat on tour. Laughs and chuckles. Then ‘one of the favourite songs from the new record Touch’, ukulele comes out and we go all seasonal with Frosty the Snowman. Lyrically, it had been awhile. Random lyrics from the song put in wherever, made-up stuff, the audience couldn’t help Jason out, because they didn’t know the words either, but who cares, and it just dissipated into this hilarious chaos. Not to give up on the holiday theme, Pete gives Feliz Navidad a go and that goes a lot better for them all. When Jason joins in, it becomes more of a reggae number and it’s just a lot of fun.

Okay, serious time now, back to the set. It might be called Chasing the Light, but I’m not sure…it’s new and I LOVED how the roll on the cymbal with the mallets sounded below Jason’s ukulele. There’s a minimal bass and guitar part until around the 3rd verse or so when there’s a quick build. Very cool.

At this point, Jason announces there are 2 songs left – somebody in the crowd tries to negotiate and tries for 3 more, but he misheard thinking someone requested Freebird. They went with it good-naturedly. Pete starts playing, and it’s the intro to Sweet Home Alabama. He stops and they both laugh – they haven’t a clue how it goes, and Pete does a bit more of the intro to Sweet Home Alabama, cuz he likes it, and he can. Maybe the French cow comes out again here. And we’re back to the set: Take Your Heart is introduced as a ‘little bit country’ and, no kidding, this was Take Your Heart like it doesn’t appear on Touch. My country-senses are tingling (I do NOT like this music genre. Sorry, boys from Alberta) and I genuinely, honestly don’t hate it. Pete and Jason’s voices blend ever so nicely this way, so it’s got something to say for itself. You know I like the other way better, right? False ending (good level of applause), and the song is virtually a capella at the end but for the occasional strummed chord. The audience can contain its appreciation and is enthusiastic when it actually ends.

The last song of the night – Jason thanks everyone for coming, Skye Wallace, The Oceanographers, The Peak for their support, particularly for the next song which did “really well” for them, and to Live Nation for “taking a chance on a little band like us” (yes, thank you). The song of which he spake is New Earth – Jason teaches/demonstrates the “oh-oooh” part of the chorus to the crowd, Pete demonstrates the whistling bit and off we go. Big high start-to-finish, also from the audience, the seated people are even dancing in their seats a bit and the band give it their all saving a little bit for a pull-out-all-the-stops finish, which ends up with Jason in the back stage right on a speaker or monitor (I couldn’t see), almost hitting his head on the low-ish ceiling playing the cymbals and whatever drum he can reach – Pete has moved (out of harm’s way?) over to far stage left to keep an eye on what his partner was up to, waiting for him to jump off so he can time his part. Maybe for reasons relating to (lack of) head room, he didn’t have to wait too long. Dum-da-da-duuuum. Done. It’s just after quarter to 11, they’ve been on stage less than an hour. Le sigh. Short but FUN!!!!!!!

What more can I say? I so wish more people knew this band. They write really catchy music, their lyrics have some great imagery and depth to them, and as a band are just in general really talented, not to mention personable. The crowd was friendly and genuine in their enjoyment of the show and I hope that never changes. Career-wise, I very much hope Zerbin is on an upward trajectory and that their next CD just blows everyone out of the water – if Touch only represents a taster of what’s to come, bon appétit to us all when it is released.

In the meantime, you can stream a tune or two when you check them out online at zerbinmusic.com.

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