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The scent of street meats sizzling with a hint of urine and despair, the familiar smell of Downtown greets me as I rise from the subway tunnels. The stumbling masses are a clear indication that the bars are doing very good business this, Thursday, night. I head towards the Commodore Ballroom, passing through the hum and vigour of booze addled merriment. A beautiful and very intoxicated female attempts to clumsily communicate her contact info to an equally inebriated male. As I observe the modern courting rituals I am filled with a mix of heart tickling delight and slight twinge of disgust. None the less, I’m excited for the show tonight.
The crowd is set to full steam ahead, as I climb the Commodore’s carpeted steps. The first thing I notice is the amazing care the female patrons have put into their ensembles, the makeup, the low cut blouses, the designer accessories. In the same place, the males at the event have made sure to dress in their farmer’s Wranglers and their finest plaid chemises. The blue jean quota at this country event is not as high as I have expected, but Chad Brownlee makes up for the lack of reinforced cotton with his full denim getup. The sound mix is loud and I note the slight pain in my ears as the vocals blare thorough the space above the crowd with an alarming high frequency boost, negating Brownlee’s trademark vocal warmth. I press on through the crowd to the front left of the stage for a closer look.
The band is well groomed and very well rehearsed. They don’t miss a single beat and hit all their cues with laser perfection. I get a strong sense that this group has been well seasoned by the previous tour dates. The ‘When the Lights Go Dow’, tour has been a huge success in supporting Chad Brownlee’s record, The Fighters, and the momentum of the tour and Chad’s growing popularity is apparent as the crowd is in good attendance and electrified. There is no lack of support tonight and the large group of fans knows every single word to every single song. Though a lot of the songs sound formulaic of the country-rock genre, there is an obvious essence of sincerity in the performance.
Near the centre point of the show, Brownlee dismisses his band to take centre stage solo acoustic. It’s a touching presentation of crowd interaction and he makes known his heartfelt appreciation for attendees. Following this short lull in intensity, the crowd is brought to attention again with hit song Where the Party At. Again, I am so impressed with the fan base. Their dedication to Brownlee is so obvious it’s impossible to deny. All eyes are on him and all hearts are clearly with him, as he continues to pound out tunes of varying intensity one after another in fast succession. For a special number, a lovely volunteer is lifted to the stage and serenaded by a sweet love song. Then a touching rendition of Ed Sheeran’s Thinking Out Loud further woos the crowd into sensual submission.
The concert was what I would call, commercially viable with clear record label influnce. Brownlee and his ultra-tight band of musicians fired out hits like bullets, one after another. The songs spanned all three of his albums and left very few tracks out. Chad’s music is not strikingly original or experimental but what it lacks in musical evolution, it makes up for with a wholesome and welcoming familiarity. The twang in his country-style vocals wax and wane depending on the song and there is a lack of old country-music authenticity (see Willie Nelson and Emmylou Harris.) That said, I don’t think that’s what Brownlee is going for. The man delivers calculated, timeless, country-rock radio singles and does it well. He writes songs for his fans to relate to and sing along with and they do.
The bulk of the concert was decent and enjoyable. However, after returning to the stage for an encore, the party really kicked off. At this point, Brownlee and band seemed to shake off the technical clockwork of their hit factory setlist and really have some fun. The energy in the room hit nuclear fission level as the group did an amazing performance of Katy Perry’s Roar. I am not a pop music guy, it’s just not who I am, but the way they performed this piece of music blew my socks off. The power and sound far surpassed Perry’s recorded version and the fun and excitement in the Commodore was absolutely ecstatic. Following that number, the opening acts, Jess Moskaluke and Bobby Wills, joined Brownlee in donning cheap funky shades and performing a fantastic version of Mark Ronson’s Uptown Funk. The artists traded off lyrics and danced to choreographed sequences and the crowd was absolutely elated, as was I.
Chad Brownlee is an all-around great performer. He has country-rock songwriting down to a science and the ability to win fans internationally. Is he a deep and spiritual poet the likes of Leonard Cohen or Bob Dylan? The jury is still out on that verdict. However, there is no doubt that he is a talented, charming and caring individual. His specially made Sherwood hockey stick guitar, used live on this tour, is currently being auctioned off on his website. All proceeds will be donated to the Tim Horton Children’s Foundation. If that’s not enough information to get you to check out Chad Brownlee, let me mention he was a professional hockey player drafted by the Vancouver Canucks in 2003. The man, the musician, the enigma… Chad Brownlee.
Before I get into the track by track review, i want to state that The Response has put together a full length record in a world of Indie EP’s. That alone takes huge commitment and stamina in an age of short attention spans, where 3 minute YouTube videos are now on the verge of being deemed too long. The financial, mental and even physical stamina of putting together ten songs is a big deal and can’t be discounted.
As the record begins to play, there’s an instant air of innocence. The opening track, Tear it Off, is laid back and groovy. I can’t help but think about Sufjan Stevens as the album unfolds, but it’s not a rip off by any means. It’s different. It feels original and I love that. The lead track has a slow, fat groove to it. It’s feels like rock, but it’s not. The chorus juxtaposes the verses with a beautiful harmonious release.
Here at Your Door, Track Two, has a percussive poppy feel to it. It feels light and fluffy in comparison to the first track with a sugar coating of synth riffs. It’s a confusing change in sound and feel to the first track, but well put together in it’s own right. When Track Three, Counting, hits, I wonder which band I was perviously listening to. The electric guitar and organic drum sounds fuel a delightful head bobbing groove. This track reminds me of a chilled out Odds tune.
Track Four, brings another different feel with it. No Way Out, delivers a beautiful soundscape with a deeper sense to the lyrics and a touchingly beautiful and spacey arrangement. This track has television-drama-soundtrack written all over it. I see it playing at the end of an episode where the protagonist has completed their harrowing task, only to be left in their lonely apartment to reflect on the futility of it all. Our Sherlock reaches for his heroin stash, after a decades of being clean, followed by a slow fade to black. Thus, leaving an uneasy sense of what’s to come in the next episode.
The next few tracks, Every Window, I Can Never See, Backwards, continue to explore both sparse and heavy tones with variable degrees of percussion and a sense of youthful angst. There’s a very interesting soundscape and arrangement to all of the songs and I am constantly surprised by the individuality of each one. Still the album maintains an overall sense of of continuum throughout the collection.
Track 8, Predictable Me, threw me for a loop with it’s Beetlesc drums and swinging surf rock guitar tone, followed by it’s upbeat and lively neighbour, Truth from Fiction. This song seems like the most powerful and contemporarily captivating work on the album.
Track 9, Truth from Fiction, could easily be fronted by Bono to create a U2 track. It could also be usurped by The Arcade Fire to make a natural addition to their catalog. If I was expecting a radio single from The Response, this would be their mainstream meal ticket. However, the misty dreamscape of the final anchoring track, Gone and Left Me, is my favourite. The creamy smooth verses with sultry ebow are wonderfully broken up by the modulating major/minor chorus. Such a smooth and lovely track that would fit well on Beck’s award winning album, Morning Phase.
In conclusion, this record is very original, thought provoking and somewhat enigmatic. Where did these guys come from? Andrew and Victoria Knopp are truly a diamond in the Vancouver Indie-Pop rough, originally hailing from Christchurch, New Zealand. Their entire record was made independently by the duo themselves, whilst having a professional and absorbing sound that can stand proud alongside mainstream record label releases. I would not be surprised to see this group receive international acclaim in the near future.
One thing that feels missing from North of Nowhere, is the female vocal harmonies. If you get a chance to watch The Response’s YouTube videos or listen to their other recordings, Victoria’s vocals are a strong asset to the overall sound. I found that they weren’t as apparent, as I would like, on North of Nowhere. When they sing together, there’s a real bond apparent in the vocal harmonies that I would liken to Belle and Sebastian or Damien Rice and Lisa Hannigan.
If you want to take a fresh and surprising musical journey with an incredibly committed indie duo, make sure to pick up North of Nowhere. I am thoroughly impressed to hear this quality of music coming out of Vancouver or New Zealand….or wherever… Keep up the great work you two!
Granville street is packed with dolled up dames, dashing dudes and the local destitute, all striving for a little escape from the day-to-day. The entire downtown core of Vancouver echoes with buskers exploiting their talents in hopes of a little crowd retention. There are a few ‘ladies of the evening’ also hoping to exploit some talents of their own, but I have no time to delve into the anthropomorphic lives of the Bonobo apes in the Congo in hopes of explaining the sociological throws of downtown on a Friday night. I’m off to see Kim Mitchell.
There’s an ominous roar as I enter the Commodore Ballroom. Kim Mitchell is here and Vancouver know’s it. The AC is on full blast and it’s a good thing too. The place is packed and there is standing-room only. The demographic is varied and I find it hard to put the crowd into a type-box. Goates, Gandalfs and bodacious beauties mix and mingle tirelessly and with boisterous fervour. Whomever they are, they are pumped! The crowd chants along to a recording of Thunderstruck as we wait for the show to begin and I can’t help but notice the entire building quivering in anticipation of the main event.
I stride through the crowd in false bravado (as I am ME, Rob Fillo, the music reviewer…this evening at least.) Then I, ever so gracefully, cower in my favourite corner, stage left, in absolute awe of the plebs waiting for the gladiators to enter the Coliseum. I imagine being a Christian in Roman times, the Lions waiting to be fed.
In the stroke of epiphany (or maybe just a stroke,) I briefly use my time-travel phone and call up Oppenheimer. He’s puzzled by a certain problem and I feel I have found some information to help him out…Then IT happened. Fission!
The reaction travels quickly through the crowd with little sense of discrimination. The fans, young and old, begin to scream as Kimosabe kicks into high gear right away and takes everyone to wild world of Rockland. Paradise Skys, Rock and Roll Duty, then an amazing beautiful and touching rendition of Easy to Tame leap from the stage and into our respective sensory holes. The night goes on and the gaggle of crazed apes are cheering and screaming with delirious excitement. I see smoke signals arising from the crowd as the lights flutter over emphasizing the ecstatic faces. These flares, however, bring the attention of the diligent Commodore security staff who scurry throughout the crowd to put out the herbal-musical-enhancment. As soon as one joint goes out three more find light; there will be no success for the fire patrol tonight and the brushfire is now raging out of control…
Guitar licks are now becoming wanktacular and the solos are extending beyond space and time. Mitchell is burning up his fretboard in true 80’s fashion. His band sounds invincible and tighter than your best corset. Each beat is timed to perfection with the clockwork of Rush, but with a lot less of the prog in this rock show. Photographers line the front of the stage clicking away. I count 4 I think…or 6…There’s a mess of people down there grinding to Mitchell’s long, lazy, lizard licks, as he enters a ballad I don’t recognize. Strangely, he loses the crowd.
The place sound like a bar now. Everyone is talking and it’s taking away from the music. WTF happened? OK… I’m trying to make out the words. I think I just heard ‘love another man, [something ,something] love again.’ It sounds like a gay ballad. Literally, a ballad about man-love, brotherly love perhaps? Either way, I’m diggin’ it, but the crowd is totally off the wagon. It’s a beautiful song, whatever it is. Quite heartfelt. Then snap!
“I AM A WILD PARTY!” The crowd has, yet again, split the atom. Pandemonium ensues. Doctor Kim whips the crowd into a continuos frenzy as he rifles off track after track from his extensive (add emphasis) catalogue of super hits. At this point I notice how lovely the lights look as they fan over the massive sea of perspiring flesh. When the yellow gels are on the crowd looks like a lovely field of Canola as noticed when I last drove through the prairies that Summer when…Then I notice that I am unusually hungry and my mouth feels remarkably dry. Between the music and the skunky breeze I have managed to become near-paralytically intoxicated. I sip my drink to replenish some form of oral moisture only to have a fair amount of the beverage weasel it’s way out of the corner of my lips as drool…Mitchell tells an anecdote my short term memory just can’t hold on to, but I giggle as he punctuates his words with “shitballs.” I unwittingly do my best Beavis and Butthead impression.
The rest of the night is a haze of sensory overload. And just before the world started spinning uncontrollably, Kim Mitchell went out of his way to remind me to go for a soda…and I did…and it was good. And at that point it was clear that Kim Mitchell isn’t a Canadian rockstar, he’s a Canadian God.