Saturday, November 18, 2006


"Terraforming Mars won't be easy..."

You know when you hear songs with opening lyrics like those, that you are not listening to a musician who follows a formula. And you know when you see Chad VanGaalen perform that you will experience a weird and wonderful blend of music and art and odd stories. But when you attend a Chad VanGaalen cd release party in the hometown you share, you are intimately drawn into the strange and quirky world that must exist inside this multi-faceted artist/musician's head.
Thursday's sold-out cd release party at the old Uptown Theatre was exactly that, an intimate evening of music and stories and an art amongst family and friends and fans. We were expecting a standing-only show, and were a little surprised to be ushered into the actual theatre itself. And did we ever score ourselves some sweet seats! Not quite central, but three rows back and in the first row of the elevated section, so we had lots of leg room and a place to drape our coats. (Hey these things are important in Calgary in the winter.)
The stage was festooned with 6 foot tall cutouts of an elephant, a husky, a couple of frogs (one huddled over a brain), and some kind of gopher or badger ("is that a marmot?" somebody called out later in the evening. "No, but I'm glad you're thinking in that direction," was the response, "I was afraid someone would think it was polar bear.") Turns out they were all created by the musician specifically for the concert, and if we are to believe him, he plans to turn them into a nativity scene along his fence. Unless he can quickly create about 40 more elephants, in which case he will attach those in a line along his fence to make an elephant parade.
We had no idea who was going to open and we tremendously pleased to find out that it was the Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir, a motley bearded and be-touqued quartet whom I had heard once before featured on CBC.. They played a mix of gospel-inspired blues and some of the noisiest, stomping, growling, howling Delta blues I have ever heard. They were glorious.
In a few weeks I will let you hear some of their music, but right now I can't even tell you why I can't share it with you at this time, that's how much mystery we still maintain in our relationship.
And then Chad took the stage, resplendent in a bright fucschia shirt draped on his lanky 6'7" frame. He folded himself into a chair, huddled himself over his guitar and started in on the first song, only to almost immediately interupt himself with a story about going to Devonian Gardens after supper and having the bass player spit at the security guard. And then that story was interupted when Chad remembered that he had 13 Big Mac certificates in his pocket (which he proceeded to fan out on his little beat box) which his girlfriend's brother had given him and which he was going to give away in a contest later. "But there's one condition, you have to buy them all at the same time. And that guy over there in the white shirt? He's got about 20 more, you can have those too".
It was like watching an over-grown 8-year-old boy who had way too many exciting things on his mind that he was dying to tell you about.
We heard about how the dog cutout was a representation of his dog: "well, not my dog, my girlfriend's and my dog, well no, she's not anybody's dog, she's just Lila".
We heard about a trip to an aquarium where he accidentally dropped his ring inside a sea anemone and had to fish it back out ("those things are about 50 times bigger on the inside than they are on the outside!"), which morphed into a fantastical tale about his finger being then fitted for a tuxedo and that finger visiting the lost-and-found booth inside the anemone. You can almost picture how his strange art, which is featured on all his videos, comes to life.
After a solo set, featuring some of his homemade instruments, some beats that he recorded "down in my basment - that's how pathetic my life is", and a lovely guitar piece played over a recording of a couple of 12-year-old girls viciously dissing their friend Natalie, his band joined him onstage and rocked the rest of the night away.
At that point, Chad remembered that he had some of his art videos on a loop that he had meant to project at the back of the stage. However the bass player became so totally immersed in these fantastical drawings that he faced the back of the stage the whole time, which of course reminded me of Allison's comment about the spaced out look that bass players always seem to sport. He was a perfect example and it made me giggle to think of what Allison would have to say if she was there. Of couse we all giggled when the tooth guy started humping the toothbrush, causing Chad to groan "I knew this was going to happen, I would be playing some really introspective piece and the tooth man would start having sex with the toothbrush".
But despite the multimedia aspect of the evening, the music of course was what really shone. We heard old stuff, stuff from the new cd, brand new stuff, even a Sonic Youth cover ("but I've forgotten how to do the Kim Gordon part").
Chad VanGaalen's unusual and tender voice, at times reminiscent of Neil Young, his beautiful and often disturbing songs, his unwavering determination to play his unique music in his own unique style, make him a treasure that I am proud to call a local gem.
Here are a few samples:

26 comments:

scarlet woundsmile said...

my favorite so far of his, is Echo Train...it's a gem.

Anonymous said...

Great post. I really do like how you review music and events. The guitar piece overplaying a vicious snark attack by 12 year olds sounds terribly intriguing. 12 year old girls are the worst and so hot and cold in their likes and dislikes.

I would have liked to have seen the homemade instruments. What were they like?

Allison said...

"The stage was festooned with 6 foot tall cutouts of an elephant, a husky, a couple of frogs (one huddled over a brain), and some kind of gopher or badger...
Now I want to go to more concerts like that! And the man himself is 6'7...

The finger tuxedo story is sublime.

On the bassist:
The fantastical world of Chad lets no one free! It seems to be a relative 'Magic Eye' drawing that you can't quite let go of. The steadfast bassist typically looses himself in the wonders of that 'space' no one can define, I see this as an improvement to the regular spaced-outness.

This was an fantasitc review Barb, one of my favs I think. I felt like I was there as your writing made his somewhat distorted humour seep through. I really enjoyed those tracks as well, I'm going to have to come back and listen again. His sound is comforting in a very odd way.

Karen said...

Wow that was quite the evening. Sounds like it was a good time and he was very entertaining. Not your standard CD release party.

I'm looking forward to hearing this agnostic choir's blues music. Sounds bitchin.

phlegmfatale said...

I love love LURVE Clincally Dead. This sounds like it was an incredible event. I suspect that like myself, he's hypomanic. Going in a million different directions at once, chasing rabbits, too many talents to settle on just one, often misunderstood. Good for him for wrangling a constructive direction out of all that energy and a meteor shower of ideers.

Good shit. Encouraging for all the little nobody hypomanics in the world.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone have any pictures from this show???

phlegmfatale said...

OH, and I adore your loving description of the entire event. You have an appreciation for the nutty energy that inspired the performance, and no one could have given a better recounting of it.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Echo Train is a great song, Scarlet Woundsmile! There are almost too many to choose from, which is why I have an unprecidented 4 samples up. You are obviously a fan as well. He's wonderful, isn't he?

Why, thank you, Toccata! As you are in education, I'm not surprised that you could relate to the fury of a pair of adolescent girls; it made an intriguing counterpart against the guitar.
That night he really only had the beat box with him, on which he had recorded some sounds, but I know that he does make a lot of instruments, which is probably why it takes him so long to produce his albums.

Thanks Allison, that is high praise! He really does have a very weird, yet endearing, sense of humour (no poop stories that night, though!)
And yes, he's a tall one - I read that he claims he grew an inch last year (and he's in his mid 20s).
The Magic Eye drawing is an excellent analogy. One really does tend to view this guy and his world with a sort of fascination that is hard to look away from. Obviously the bass player is a prime candidate to be taken prisoner. (I love how you've analysed band roles!)

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Karen, it was beyond my expectations and I was really looking forward to it. Around mid-December, I will play some Agnostics for you.

I think you could very well be onto something there, Phlegmfatale. Hypomania would certainly go a long way to explaining his weird energy and his otherworldly ideas.
And thanks for the kudos - I just write em as I sees em.

I didn't notice a single camera/cell phone there, Anony. I would have been great to get some pictures of the stage though. And that bright pink shirt!

mellowlee said...

Im listening to After the Afterlife as I type this. He totally does sound like Neil Young doesnt he? But prettier/sweeter!! Oh Barb, I LOVE IT! What a terrific review :) As usual it made me feel like I was there. I wish I HAD been there. I'm glad it turned out so wonderful.

mellowlee said...

Oh yes, the bright pink shirt.. I love a man who will wear pink! He has my undying affection now *G*

kees said...

Wow, it sounds like the best concert ever. Wow. He sounds utterly adorable and I'm big fat in love with Wind Driving Dogs. I guess you rarely get the chance to see someone that unique and special - I'm WELL jealous.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I wish you had been there too, Mel. I think you would have loved it. I agree that the vocal comparisons wiht Neil Young are inevitable, but Chad VanGaalen is much cuter. (But then again, so am I.)
He rocked that pink shirt - really suited him.

You gotta love the handclaps on Wind Driving Dogs, Kees!
I have actually seen him in concert before, but he was opening then. Having him as the main attraction really made an enormous difference. He owned the place.

mellowlee said...

I keep going back to the song 1000 lb eyelids! I heart it so much!

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Isn't that a strange song, Mel? I love it too, but it's so disturbing. Do you think he's dead?

mellowlee said...

Im trying to figure it out! I think so! It's making me think of a friend I lost in my mid 20s
Its a beautiful song though

scarlet woundsmile said...

yes - I quite like him. yet i have still to figure out why on his "myspace" it says he's from "Calgary Alberta USA"....(I didn't think we'd been "officially" co-opted by the United States...yet. sigh. (laugh) thanks again for your review...stellar, as always.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I think maybe that's the power of it, Mel, besides the immediacy of someone in a car crash, is that most of us have had a personal connection with something like that.

Scarlet Woundsmile, you are so right! I never noticed that - hahaha, somebody needs an editor. Good spotting!

Ben said...

I'd like to see his home made instruments, nothing like Do It Yourself Quirk Rock.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I'd love to check out his basement, Ben. I'll bet it's a completely strange world.

Will said...

great review ... I really do feel as though I was there. And it sounds like the kind of place I would have liked to have been. I didn't know about Chad beyond the music, but it's always nice where there is a complete artistic experience to be had.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I think you would have loved it, Will. It was a complete experience, something for all the senses. Well, except smell maybe.

mellowlee said...

Yea, its one of those things that makes your heart ache, but almost in a good way, because you are at least remembering

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I know exactly what you mean, Mel.

Flemish Eye said...

here are a couple of photos from the event!

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Hye, thanks so much for the photo link, folks at Flemish Eye! There are a lot of folks who now wish they had been at the show who will love to take a look at these.