Chad VanGaalen - Uptown Theatre, Oct 25/08
Despite his pronouncement in the local papers the day before about his intention to keep things awkward at his cd release party, it was actually a pretty sublime affair. Sure there were half-started stories and restarted songs, there was a gentle mocking of the audience ("every time I do that, you guys are like wooooo!") and astonishment at his own popularity ("I'm just some guy"), not to mention the fact that the rest of his band (who are all members of other bands) had forgotten about the concert and were busy elsewhere, but the love and appreciation for this local hero were so palpable that it felt more like we had all been invited over to the VanGaalen living room (or maybe the basement) to hang out and listen to the new album.
Things got off to a bit of a dicey start, in that there was still a film (Man on Wire, I believe) playing in the theatre in which the concert was being held, so we had to line up for a good half hour after door time. Nobody got overly owly about it, despite some grumbling, and it was all forgotten once we settled ourselves into the intimate theatre which boasts only great seats.
Local band, Ghostkeeper, were the openers. Boy on guitar, girl on drums. She had a really decent voice, but he sang most of the songs and I could barely hear him. I don't know if it was a tech problem with his mic, or if he just doesn't have the capacity, but the real problem actually lay in the songs themselves. They were rather disjointed, switching up rhythms and melodies seemingly randomly and I'm afraid they just didn't work for me.
But of course we were all there to hear Chad anyway. Stating that he was trying to kill some time, he started things off by showing a 10 minute unfinished animation. And if you have ever experienced his animations, you know what strange and wonderful beings they are.
We were then treated to an impressive number of brand new songs, and then, amongst the stories of breaking Ian Russell's (head of Flemish Eye records) headphones while out recording train sounds with his baby strapped to him in a "front pocket thing", dog in tow, and a bag full of recording equipment to schlep around, Chad played pretty much every song from Soft Airplane. To make up for a lack of a backing band, Chad was accompanied for part of the show by a cellist. As she clambered onto the stage initially, and picked up an accordion, someone in the audience sagely pointed out "that's a funny looking cello". Someone in the audience will always make a sage observation at a Chad VanGaalen concert. It's a law, I think.
Sadly, I can't recall the cellist's name, but she was an accomplished multi-instrumentalist and she and Chad played well together, despite the fact that he kept jumping up to bring her a powder-blue Strawberry Shortcake xylophone or to show her how to plug in his circuit-bent keyboard. Because you know the home-made instruments were well represented that night.
Even though I think I have seen Chad VanGaalen perform more times than any other musician, I could never get mundane about his shows. Perhaps because he never set out to be a performer, he has a way of connecting intimately with an audience. His little tales of personal failures that go off onto extreme tangents feel like the sorts of conversations we have in the urban assault vehicle every morning, but we don't sing near as well.
Saturday's cd release party felt like a sublime trip on a errant school bus. And the inner eight-year-old in me is very pleased.