Friday, June 27, 2008

they blinded me with science - going Sledding 2.0

Calgary Science Centre Planetarium
Thursday, June 26/08

lineup: Portico, Young and Sexy, Octoberman, Chad VanGaalen

Whoever had the brainstorm to have Chad VanGaalen play his Sled Island set in the planetarium of the Calgary Science Centre is a bloody visionary. If you can think of a better place to have this mad genius play his highly original music, while projecting his bizarre and beautiful animations on the ceiling, I would like to hear about it.

The evening began with Portico, a three-piece band (guitar, bass, and drums) from Vancouver and it began very early in the evening for the indie crowd (7:00 pm) , so there were only a handful of people in attendance. Which is a shame, because we all really liked them.

They sort of set the tone for an evening of glitches, though, as they were playing on borrowed gear, as their stuff was with the band Octoberman, who had gone missing somewhere en route from BC. There were a few issues with sound check and even throughout the set, but Portico were such an appealing trio and they handled the gaffes with such innate charm that we would have been happy to listen to their tales of historic Canadiana for much longer. The frontwoman had a lovely clear voice and the bassist had such a sassy stage presence, with her deep knee bends in her school teacherly skirt, that we were sorry to see the end of the set.

Particularly as we were then informed that Octoberman has still not arrived and that the show would be suspended until 9:00 (over an hour away). As we were all encouraged to go shopping or something, we left, stopping to play with the science toys in the lobby, and wandered the streets for a while.

When we arrived back at 8:30, we were a little discombobulated to discover that the next performance has already begun, and there was considerable confusion as people tried to find seats in the suddenly full theatre in the pitch dark. We sat on the stairs for a while until somebody thought to turn the house lights up a bit so that we could find some seats, and by that time I was grumpy and had a grudge going against the band, whom I assumed was the lost and next in the lineup, Octoberman.

I was mistaken. In actuality, it was Young and Sexy, who had magnanimously agreed to play next whilst everyone waited for Octoberman to arrive. Young and Sexy are a five-piece band, heavy on the boy-girl harmonies and a little reminiscent of the New Pornographers. The boy frontman even had a Carl Newman haircut.

At some point during Young and Sexy's set, the long-lost Octoberman arrived and they then took the stage after god knows how many hours in the van. Maybe it was road weariness, maybe it was my own begrudgement at losing my awesome seat (although there are no bad seats at the Planetarium, really), but I was a little
underwhelmed with Octoberman. I did think the violinist kicked all kinds of ass, and she played her heart out full bore the whole set. The songs were energetic enough, but lyrically were on the pedestrian side, and I could not get past how utterly bored the backup singer and the bassist looked. I got a little tired just looking at them, but then I didn't just come off a 12-hour road trip, so I shouldn't judge. And their violinist can shred!

But really, weren't we all waiting for Chad VanGaalen anyway? Calgary's unofficial mayor? Of course we were, especially as we were promised a background show of his wonderful and bizarre animations. And since we never did get the laser Kenny Loggins show that we were all naturally anticipating we would be seeing at the plane-arium, we were more than ready for a much needed dose of Chad's own brand of unparalleled creativity.

But alas, poor Chad was having a difficult night.

A Chad VanGaalen set is always full of the unexpected anyway, but last night even poor Chad seemed surprised and a little overwhelmed by home-made instruments that sounded better in his basement, by tapings from under the train tracks that he forgot to rewind, and by an accordion player who was still playing a set down the road with Women.

But even a set fraught with difficulties is a thing of rare and strange beauty in the hands of someone like Chad VanGaalen. He is without a doubt blessed with the most mad creativity imaginable. And it certainly does not hurt that he is also blessed with the charm of an enthusiastic and overgrown eight-year-old. There is an intimacy to every Chad VanGaalen show, a feeling that he is excitedly showing you his latest creation or perhaps a really neat squished frog.

Thursday night's concert was a showcase of primarily new material. Mini Televisions was the only album song I recognized, and there were a couple of others that I remembered from previous concerts, but mostly we were privy to new sounds. And a lot of the time these new sounds were interrupted with an "oh man, I'm sorry guys, I forgot to do this part" and then we would be treated to a great story about how he had recorded this piece on a tape recorder placed underneath the railroad tracks, or how cool the Science Centre is ("when I was a kid, there was only a sandbox and a bathroom"), or how amazing Grizzly Bear's performance was ("did you see that bassist, playing the flute and singing backup like Lena Horne or something and he looked like somebody, I don't know who, but somebody, it was fucking awesome").

And how to even describe Chad VanGaalen's animation to somebody who has never seen it? Where do you even start? Eyeballs on tentacles? Tooth man having sex with a toothbrush? Santa Claus pooping out a toy train? Jesus cock jump?

You really need to see for yourself - Clinically Dead:


mellowlee said...

Well, at least you won't soon forget that show eh? I think a show at a planetarium sounds pretty nifty! I am getting more excited about Chad coming here. I better hurry and get me some tickets!

Allison said...

The video was brilliant. I of course loved the owls. So he did all the animation himself?

He is mad talented.

Its nice to hear of concerts in my interesting locales, hopefully this will start a new trend!

Barbara Bruederlin said...

The planetarium is a completely brilliant spot for a concert, Mel, I'd be lining up to go there again.
And yes, you must get your tickets. Stat. I know you are going to love his show.

The owls were cool, Al, and I loved the colours in that segment. He does indeed do all his own animation, makes a lot of his own instruments as well. Mad talented AND a renaissance man.

Serah said...

I'm getting all choked up with jealously! Lovely Lovely. I'm trying to get back into the show scene. I should be saving up for the fall action. Mostly I am wishing that the Vancouver Folk Fest could compare w/ Calgary's - something it never never will achieve, sadly.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

And you guys cancelled Virgin this year too, Serah, what's going on there anyway?

The Calgary Folk Fest is beyond awesome, no question, and it's great to see that there is the room and the interest here to support a great new festival like Sled Island too.