Singing Exhibition Day 2

Photos by Jon Healy

I swore I wouldn’t get stoned for this Black Mountain set. This’ll be the sixth time in little over a year that I’ve seen ‘em live and each time has been a blaaaaazed affair. Just once I’d like to experience them with sober ears and sober eyes.

Alas, the second these homegrown boys and girl laid the “Wucan” groove upon us, I knew it wasn’t meant to be. That Pink Floydian Moog beckons some deep-rooted psychological response to smoke something. I’m like Pavlov’s dog with marijuana. Why deny it, anyway? Every Vancouver Black Mountain show is a hazy smoke show and this one, so far, has been no different…except there’s no roof overhead to hotbox. Pot goes hand in hand with these guys. A stranger passed along a little something special and I don’t turn it down….

It’s a matter of time before these guys start selling out larger venues. The term “up-and-coming” gets thrown around a lot when describing them but to the dedicated Vancouver fan base, they’re already huge. They work just as well in small venues as they do outside. Their music transcends all time and space, like the best psychedelia should. “We’ve all seen tomorrow,” Amber sings and it’s true. You guys are taking us there.

Blissed out swaying and grooving to an electrifying rendition of “Queens Will Play.” Even without the dope, the mind gets hazy. It’s hard to concentrate. Writing a review for these guys is like treading through a bog – it’s tough to work through and I’d rather just sink in it and enjoy the scenery. By the end of the particularly mind-bending “No Hits”, I’m disoriented and speechless. This is a band with a sound that belongs to the ages but finally Vancouver has a rock band we can all be proud of.

VisqueenIt’s obvious from the beginning which band most people are here to see. The crowd is distinctly younger than the day before, with longer hair and more pronounced facial hair, a hallmark of any Black Mountain gig. The band tends to pull in a more unwashed sector of society. A group of teenaged hippies are bunched together behind me. Two of them had purchased the In the Future LP and were flipping it around in their hands, gloating. I know that look well – that satisfaction of having purchased prized new music you just know you’re going to enjoy. It’s beautiful, actually – the youth engulfed in the fruits of Vancouver’s music scene.

The day had begun with an impassioned set by power-pop quintet Visqueen. They punched the same holes the New Pornographers have been working on the last seven years and the similarities are obvious right down to vocalist Rachel Flotard, who looks and sounds a lot like Neko Case. They’re presence at the Exhibition is a musical teaser for the real deal later on in the night. But Visqueen puts up a good fight and the sun shone bright, so…good job, Visqueen! Be thankful for the sun….

Between sets, I took a walk around the grounds and noticed the hotdog stand was selling coffee. This is a major improvement. There will be no more excessive lines for a cup of java. I clapped my hands.

1900sThe 1900s were up next – a seven-piece outfit from Chicago. They wear retro sunglasses and play 60s go-go music complete with an organ and tambourine. The tambourine shaker is a saucy redhead in retro-hipster clothing and no bra. She swings her hips and belts out the tunes with a great set of pipes. Shake that tambourine, miss, you’re working on me just fine. She was electric. It was hard to keep the eyes off her.

“Just let me know if these babies fall out,” she said, adjusting her chest. I doubt few of us would have…

There have been rumblings that their album Cold and Kind is one of the year’s best so far. Judging from the performance, and the crowd’s enthusiastic applause, they’re one of the better live acts as well. It’s harmony-driven pop drenched in sunshine, like an updated B-52s, with a fiddle cutting through and bringing it all back home. Their 60s leaning also point them as the lighter side of Black Mountain…. but I could be saying that because the sun is shining and a third of Black Mountain are standing around watching the set. But both bands are a groovy combination of the past 40 years funneled into the present that all the hips kids and squares can enjoy equally. It was the best set of the Exhibition, so far.

Stevie JacksonThe older folks started rolling in during the 1900s set, but it’s a much different type of personality. It’s a laidback and appreciative crowd, with children and no booze. Big groups. Quite a few hipsters have turned the scene into an American Apparel Party Parade.

A pair of young men has stripped down the fabric covering the fence surrounding the venue. “Somebody stop them! They’re catching a free show!” joked one of the teenage hippies sitting behind me. We all laugh, of course, but a few seconds later a security guard shooed them away and corrected the fabric.

Stevie Jackson from Belle & Sebastian kicked his set off with an Ian Tyson song “just to get warmed up.” The first few were intimate folks songs, between which he banters with the audience, telling stories charmed by his neurotic brand of humour. Musicians would trickle onstage to help him out as the set progressed – first with Belle & Sebastian bassist Bobby Kildea, then the 1900s fiddler whose name I can’t find anywhere, then finally one-third of the New Pornographers to rock the last few songs out. It was a rare set. Entertaining? Methinks so…

Black MountainSo now here’s – BUH, BUH, BUUUUUUUH! – Black Mountain, starting with a somewhat shaky “Stormy Nights” but the set took off from there. The crowd thickens at the front of the stage as the set moved along, drawing a wide crowd of alterna-heads: hippies, indie kids, hard rockers and every geek in between.

The darkness has settled by the end of their set. I hadn’t even noticed. I figure few of us had. It was quite a bit colder than the night before, a point Neko Case mentioned after the New Pornographers opened with “My Rights Vs. Yours,” by saying “My goal for next year is to bring a coat.”

New PornographersThe Pornos played a fabulous set. It’s a rare sight to see the whole band play together, and they made it worthwhile, focusing on tracks from Challengers and Twin Cinema. It seemed like the Pornos had assembled something special today. The whole day, as it turns out, was a great way to bid the summer adieu. All these souls clustered together for a few peaceful hours, morphing this concentrated space into something we’ll all carry with us for at the very least a few hours afterwards

And as “Bleeding Heart Show” peaked with the “Alah, Alah!” it was clear that something special was brewing between this bowl of Evergreen walls. Carl Newman said they’d try to do this again next year. Let’s all hope that they do.