Zerbin with Ali Milner, and Acres of Lions @ Joe’s Apartment – March 28th 2013

Oh, the drama! Getting to this show (102.7 The Peak’s most recent “Almost Famous” showcase) was a little nerve-wracking. When I had originally put my request in for this show I had the right city but the wrong date. And I got a confirmation – by the time I noticed my error, it was the night of the show…did I have a pass for March 27 (Victoria) or the Vancouver show on March 28? Not wanting to risk it (it could’ve sold out!), I called the venue, Joe’s Apartment. Randy suggested I send an email, which I did. Half an hour later he texted me to ask if I’d sent it. I texted back to say yes and sent it again…finally, I just sent in my details by phone and he promised to leave my name at the door. True to his word, my name was there. Yay! Randy, you’re a star. Thank you! I’m sorry for what follows.

I arrived during Ali Milner’s set and heard about 8 songs. If there were more, I’m sorry to have missed them. She seems like a real sweetie: upbeat and bubbly personality, really friendly and sincere sounding when she’s speaking, looks part pixie / part sultry songstress. Musically, I can hear a bit of jazz, soul / r&b, ‘70s folk. Vocally, I compare her to Sara Bareilles or Lily Allen – usually light, clear-as-a-bell, likes to use a ‘catch’ in her voice and can hit the throaty lower notes too. She accompanies herself with a sturdy and reliable Korg keyboard (a baby grand wouldn’t travel well, I imagine). She was accompanied by her good friend Erik who played bass guitar and tambourine/snare effects with his feet. Amongst the songs Ali chose (that I could figure out the titles to) were “Pieces” (which is lovely and probably my favourite), “Did You Forget To Call Me”, “Can’t Wait Forever”(nice lilting rhythm to it – 3/4 or 6/8 maybe? – I liked the tempo changes), “I Wanna Be Loved By You” (cute little plays on words, kind of a fun song, had a vaguely Caribbean rhythm to it), “The Portrait of Dorian Gray” (written by her uncle back in the 1970s and could easily have been done as a country number. I’m glad she chose not to, especially with the literary references), and “Fly” (which has a persuasive groove to it, radio-friendly too. Little scat bit in the middle). All in all, a very enjoyable set. Although the room was sparsely filled for the majority of her set, the people near front of the stage were very supportive with their spontaneous clapping-along to some of her songs. From what I’ve heard, Ali participated in the radio station’s “Peak Performance Project” (industry boot camp for artists) and went as far as placing in the Top 20. For this particular show, she’d run out of CDs but her website offers a free download or two. Check her out at www.alimilner.com.

Ali’s set ended at 9:30 pm and within 10 minutes Victoria’s Acres of Lions were performing mic checks. Props to both for efficiency. By 9:45 pm they were ready to begin and they started with the song that begins their current CD “Home(s)”: “Bright Lights”. They certainly brought the rock with them and a lot of energy. I thought the sound mix was off. Everything that came from the stage bounced off the exposed brick. Sound guy eventually got it under control but it was distracting. The second song was “Old Town” which has a grounded rock feel to it. It’s totally a ‘volume-up-and-the-windows-down kind of song, as you’re stuck in summer traffic on Cornwall Avenue (or is it just me?). It did rather trail off at the end. Next was “Prairie Fire” which has some good drive to it. I really like the piano bit in it. They tease the audience a little by holding a rest longer than they anticipated in the bridge before getting back into it. This song has softer bits and rock bits to it and it’s all good. We detour from the CD order with “Home(s)” which has a rather predictable structure to it, but it’s a nice enough song in a power-ballad sort of way. To illustrate: “may all roads lead you home” wait for it “to me”. Hey, it just might be what makes this song popular for the punters.

For “Reaction”, a song that I know has had a lot of airplay on Victoria’s The Zone (91.3, available in some parts of Vancouver over airwaves without having to resort to streaming), I expected more crowd participation. There was sporadic bopping/bouncing in the audience but the familiarity just isn’t there (yet?). I think I prefer it live to the recorded version.

“Great Escape” starts out quiet and picks up in volume for the final chorus repeats before it goes down to that softer level. “Miserable Together” – lyrically not the most uplifting of songs and yet it has this great upbeat energy together with a solid rhythmic underpinning. By “Never Let Me Go” the mix was off again: the music was almost overpowering the vocals here. It has a good rock ‘n’ roll vibe to it. Sound guy must’ve thrown in the towel by the time the last song “Signs and Wonders” came on because the balance was about as bad as it was in the beginning. Too bad; this was their big finish number. I’m glad I bought the CD so I could listen to the song properly and I thought it was great!

Vancouver was the 1st stop on Acres of Lions’s cross-Canada tour and they’re going as far east as Moncton, Halifax, and Charlottetown (Dudes: St John’s – you won’t regret it!!!). I truly hope their tour goes well – they’re a tight little four-piece who play some solid alt-rock and visibly and genuinely enjoy performing – and they’re good at it. The baby boomers in the house left corner were rocking out from beginning to end. Tour details and more at www.acresoflions.com.

The efficiency fairies continued to assist for the switch-over between Acres of Lions and Zerbin. Good teamwork! The band were doing guitar checks within 10 minutes and while they’re waiting to begin the band is dancing along to the house music. The venue looks like they’re at capacity now and at just before quarter to 11 the 5-piece band begin with “Hear Me”, I think. It’s a little hard to understand the lyrics; hard to understand anything, really. I know Zerbin had trouble hearing themselves throughout their set. There’s ocean in the lyrics, so…maybe? It has a solid beginning and the audience is encouraged to raise their arms and sway them back and forth.

The next song could be “Take Your Heart”. It has good energy to it and nice syncopation, and buzz from the monitors. All in all, a fun song. Peppy, even, you might say. A brand-new song came next, it’s only a couple of days old, and Jason wasn’t quite at the microphone when he said the name as he was turning his head….sounded something like, I don’t know, ‘shoulder’ ‘older’? I really liked it though.

“I Want You” almost has an ‘80s vibe to it in the guitar parts but it doesn’t sound dated. Comes to a bit of an abrupt ending considering the build-up to it. It was introduced as an ‘action song’. The audience was taught the hand motions for the lyric “I want you more than life itself …” (stage whisper: you know the thing with lifting the leg up that you ask people to do: it is an arabesque (at half height), not a pirouette. A pirouette is a one-legged, full 360 degree turn – you don’t want that.).

The song that followed I enjoyed so very much I completely forgot to write down anything that could help me figure out the name of it. Something to do with colours? Your eyes? I don’t know. But, man, was it ever fully engrossing. Speaking of which, can I just mention how much I like Jason’s glasses? It takes a certain humility to pull those ‘look-at-me’ frames off without looking like a poser. Good thing he’s got an easy manner with the audience, can make a good connection and just seems so normal: friendly and chatty all at the same time.

The next song seemed very familiar in the phrasing but I couldn’t put my finger on it. “My heart is….” there’s a light….something about darkness. Could be “Lift”?

The next song is introduced as having some whistling in it. Awesome! Like I don’t know what song this is (for those who don’t, it’s “New Earth”). And there was zero blend of instruments in the mix. It seriously sounded like every instrument was in it for itself and vocals were weirdly affected. In a word: Bugger (because it could’ve been sooo much more and they were really playing their hearts out).

Jason tries to switch to ukulele and bassist pulls out a small hand-held keyboard (maybe 2 and a half octaves) that would be powered by a tube he blows into and sits at the drum kit. Drummer is on stand-by with a harmonica. There are some tuning issues, abandon the uke, and give it a go and it’s lovely. But for the beat-boxing I think it’s supposed to be “Chicago” originally recorded by Sufjan Stevens. Like Jason said when they called it quits: “you know it’s a party when everything falls apart”. What the folks at Lucky Bar in Victoria heard the day before was probably better, but Vancouver will have its own memories. Memories like ‘string theory’ – did you know that guitar (and ukulele) strings expand in heat causing them to go out of tune? Well, you do now and come to think of it, Joe’s Apartment was rather nice and toasty without being in the spotlight.

The balance finally was spot-on for “In Your Arms”. Yes! I think this one is single material. It ends almost unaccompanied showcasing Jason’s voice nicely. Not that the audience noticed much, many were already talking (where the drummer’s family/friends held court, they were so excited, they rarely stopped.). Nice echoey effect at the end and it trails off. What I’m noticing is that this kind of song doesn’t necessarily work at a club gig when so few people know it. The average audience doesn’t have that kind of attention span. There was going to be one final song but the band were told they were out of time, so it was a rather unceremonious end. No sour grapes on the band’s part in the least, but the DJ had to start playing a remix of C & C Music Factory’s “Everybody Dance Now” promptly at 11:35 pm, so guess who has priority. Hmmm, I swear the Wet Ape Productions page I checked earlier that day said they were on until 12:15 am. If I were Zerbin, I’d try for a Mulligan and book another show in Vancouver pronto somewhere else. I’d love to give them a proper review. I want to say “Now that’s more like it!”. I own the CD – I’ve listened to it twice since the show and I still couldn’t tell you what songs I heard off that album more than I have already (I even resorted to tweeting the band for a setlist because I didn’t want this review to suck as much as it does). Do give them a try at www.zerbinmusic.com.

You know how there are songs that are instant mood lifters? They bring a smile to your heart, your spirit, your face. When I first heard Zerbin’s “New Earth” last year (or was it the year before?), that’s exactly what it did. Still does, if you’re wondering. I had wanted to see them play live since then which is why I jumped at the chance to review them when I found out about this showcase. Sound mix is definitely an issue at this venue, and it’s SO disappointing when you have SUCH great bands who work their butts off, are at vulnerable points in their careers, and are let down by the acoustics in this place. It works fine for canned music, but it was iffy at best for Jets Overhead last November and it was just bad this evening. Hang some baffles, get it looked at, hire a real techie, read what Overmined Entertainment has to say about the venue, you’re lovely people at Joe’s: please, I implore you, do something. Zerbin, and to some degree Acres of Lions, do not deserve to be remembered like this.

Check out photos of Zerbin in Victoria – here.

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