Way To Go, Einstein, Dan Swinimer, and A Sheep At The Wheel at The BourbonPhotos by Alex Ramon
Do you ever sit in a bar with your buddies and think to yourself, “Wouldn’t this place be great for a live band to play?” Well probably not. Maybe it’s just me, but music is my life and I always look at the layout for any place I go to and think how a band could perform in it. For instance, when I was at the tender age of 16, I played in a small little garage/basement band. In my parents backyard, there were two levels, one level slightly higher than the other. I daydreamed a lot during this time in my life, especially about having a concert in my very own backyard, with the higher part being the stage and the groupies all lined up at the bottom. This, of course, never happened and stayed in my dreams, but from that moment on everywhere I went, I pictured some sort of layout for a band to play in. I’ve been to The Bourbon a few times, always drinking and always a DJ playing, but never a band. In my mind, I thought this bar could be something special, somewhere where bands could play. Over the past few years, The Bourbon has finally become a live venue spot for indie bands and I’m ashamed to admit it, but I never really paid much attention to it, until now. I got the opportunity to check out a few local bands play there and at least one of my dreams has finally come true (I guess I’ll have to wait another day for my backyard concert to materialize).
WTGE caught my attention as soon as they hit the stage. It wasn’t just the unicorn on the mic stand, but it was the musicality of the group. I couldn’t help but compare them to a successful Vancouver indie band called Yuca. They both have the same passion for music and it shows through their live set. With Andrew Carter on vocals and keys, Benson Musaev on bass, Geoff Nilson on guitar and synth, Michael Munro on drums, and Kevin Jack on guitar, this quintet brings together the stadium rock we are so accustomed to from the likes of Coldplay and Radiohead, into a smaller and more intimate environment.
They are heavily piano driven, but also having the necessary oomph of a rock band to make them unique above the rest. Andrew’s falsetto is soothing and effortless, and at the same time quite vulnerable. Let me elaborate a little with this last statement. For me anyways, every time I see some great, powerful vocalist perform, such as Chris Cornell, everything is just so effortless it’s scary. I don’t know if they’re actually singing or if they’re machine made. But with Andrew, sure he’s a great vocalist, but he also brings it back down and you realize what he’s doing is quite sincere. The highlight of their set was definitely when they pulled out the double keyboard for “Walk Through Fire.” To put it lightly, it was easy on the ears. The harmonies were undeniably pleasing and the instrumental arrangements were something to be amazed by. The only real bad thing I can say about WTGE (and to be quite frank, this really isn’t a bad thing), is that they have no real hook in their songs. With the mainstream pop-culture generation we’re in right now, every song that gets radio airplay has some sort of melody that just hooks you right in (pun intended…) and gets you singing a long. But to be fair, not every band has to follow the same formula to be successful, and WTGE is a perfect example of that.
As soon as Dan Swinimer walked into the building, you knew exactly who he was and what he was going to do. Sporting a leather jacket, tattoos, and jeans, Dan is undoubtedly the image of a rock star. Being one of the founding members of the now defunct Superbeing, Dan has gained much experience on and off the stage. Not only is he an amazing musician, he is also part of Manicdown Productions, which provides other artists with services that benefit them with their musical careers, from recording processes to industry connections. But enough of his accomplishments, let’s get down to his solo acoustic set.
As soon as Dan hit the stage, there was something in the air that made everyone stop and pay attention to him. I don’t know if he spiked the drinks of everyone in the building, but everyone seemed to stop talking all at once. It was kind of eerie, but it was a nice change for sure. And with that silence, I couldn’t help but notice how powerful, clear, and crisp the tone of his voice was. Even though he was sitting on his lone stool, he had a great sense of where he was on stage. He didn’t look uncomfortable at all, which was why I was a little surprised when he told the crowd he was a bit nervous. But that didn’t stop him from putting on a good show. At some points, I half expected him to kick over his stool and unveil a backing band and rock out on stage, but maybe he’s saving that for another night. “He Gets High” was one of my favourite tracks of the night, with catchy hooks and memorable lyrics, it reminded me a lot of Faber Drive, another local pop-rock band that’s making a name for themselves. Dan has some very radio friendly tracks, and with his melodic vocals and impressive song writing skills, he is a force to be reckoned with. If you ever do catch Dan play, you’ll leave with some catchy tune stuck in your head, because I know I sure did!
A while back, I sat down for a few drinks with a close friend of mine, Colin Moore, who is by far one of the best artists I have seen in a long time. He is a great graphic designer and he actually does most of the poster work for The Biltmore. We got into a long drunken conversation and one of the topics that came up was band names. As the poster designer, ideas flow more easily when it comes to unique band names. So a word of advice to all you up and comers, think outside the box and your poster will look like a piece of art work, rather than some random font used in Photoshop. Posters these days really lack the artistic creativity it once had before, and I’m glad Colin is taking the initiative to bring back the art in music.
I bring up this whole band name business because A Sheep At The Wheel has to be by far one of my favourite band names of all time. Right away, you can tell that these guys are a bunch of hooligans just wanting to play music and have fun. So isn’t that the real purpose anyone really starts a band? Sure there’s the rock’n’roll fantasy of the girls and drugs, but let’s be honest for a second, most musicians play music because they enjoy it. ASATW is made up of Courtney Klassen on vocals, Christian Owens on lead guitar, Bertrand Low on bass, Joel Grenz on rhythm guitar, and Paul J. Hermann on drums. This five-piece radiates “fun” when they hit the stage and it was no different when they played at The Bourbon.
The first thing I noticed about the band was the microphone. It was one of those old school mics that Elvis Presley had, and I’m not too sure about all the technical mumbo jumbo, but I assume they were channelling the King of Rock for this performance. Besides the mic, Christian was sporting a nice blonde wig, similar to Axl Rose, so I guess he was trying to channel…? But aside from the theatrics and image, they are a very up-beat, melodic band with great harmonies and solid instrumentals. Courtney is one of the most animated frontmans I have seen in a while and he provides the necessary energy to drive the night forward. He even got the crowd to come up closer, and I’m not too sure what was going on at this point, but they threw a rubber chicken up on stage. And being the entertaining band that they are, they proceeded to play with said chicken and even attempted the chicken dance. I was really impressed by the group dynamic and when observing all of the guys in the band, I couldn’t help but notice a sense of enjoyment between all of them. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again, you truly have to be friends in order for any band to succeed, and I believe ASATW will ride their successful friendship (hmmm… how do you measure friendship anyways?) into their successful musical career.