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Bend Sinister embraces progressive rock sound

Posted on January 29, 2014 by Lethbridge Sun Times

January goes out with a bang this week.

There are a lot of great shows happening this week, most of them at the Slice.

Vancouver keyboard powered indie rockers/progressive rockers Bend Sinister play the Slice, Jan. 29, by putting their own stamp on keyboard-powered ’70s style progressive rock of the ilk of Queen and Supertramp.

In a similar vein, local band the New Weather Machine return to the Slice with pianist Jesse Plessis, Feb. 1.

Former Winnipeg blues rockers the Perpetrators drummer Scotty Hills plays a solo show at the Slice, Jan. 30. He will be showing his more pop and R and B side with a set of original music.

And if you love living in southern Alberta, you have something in common with Vulcan/Nanton roots/county band Tin and the Toad who officially release their new CD “Roots We Ramble On” at the Slice, Jan. 31 with special guests Rancho Deluxe.

As always the Owl Acoustic Lounge has some excellent shows with Zachary Lucky returning on Wednesday, Jan. 29 and one of my favourite Calgary blues/roots musicians Erin Ross returning, Jan. 31.

The Mix Lounge at Ric’s Grill brings back the Bryant Watson Duo on Jan 29. James Oldenburg has his regular Thursday gig at the Cotton Blossom Lounge, Jan, 29. And the Mocha Cabana brings back piano man Dana Honey on Jan. 31 and Feb. 1.

If you want to rock, local rock band Unzipped play Casino Lethbridge, Jan 31 and Feb. 1.

Bend Sinister embrace the spirit of progressive rock

The spirit of 1970s progressive rock is strong in Vancouver’s Bend Sinister who come to the Slice, Jan. 31.

“If you like Supertramp or Queen, then you will appreciate us. It’s going to be a good time,” promised Bend Sinister’s hirsute frontman/keyboard player Dan Moxon.

They had a very successful year in 2013 with their latest CD “Small Fame” taking them all over the United States and Canada with successful shows at the renowned South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin, Texas which they built a successful tour around.

They also set aside two weeks in the fall to record the follow up “Animals” in San Diego with producer Joe Martlett. It will be released March 20.

“I’ve always been the principal songwriter of the band. But we co-wrote the entire CD together as a band. It was very quick. It was a challenge to get 12 songs together for it,” he said.

“But we just wanted to try something a little bit different,” he said, adding they wanted to pressure themselves to do everything in two weeks rather than trying to work around everybody’s schedule and record on the weekend like they usually do.

“I have to give them credit (at the studio). They worked 24 hours a day with different engineers to make sure the tracks were ready for us. We couldn’t have done it without them,” he continued.

They didn’t have most of the songs completed before the recording.

“We had been playing a couple of them. But most of them are brand new.”

He enjoyed co-writing with the band.

“I’ve done co-writing before with producers and other people, so this was the same process except with the people in my band,” he said, adding everyone contributed their own ideas. As usual he brought a lot of his own to the table.

“I want to keep the band interested and pumped up about it,” he said.

“The subject matter is pretty much the same — love, men and women and attraction with broader songs about the world; about the good and bad and if we have the power to improve things,” he described.

Keyboards are a prominent part of the sound as usual.

“I‘ve been in this band for about 10 years and I started out on guitar, but switched to keyboards because I thought it was more interesting to write on them,” he said.

“I use a lot of Wurlitzer, Rhodes and Hammond B3 because those are the sounds I like and I’m starting to incorporate more synth sounds. Joseph (Blood) guitarist) plays Midi pedals as well,” he said. Jason Dana and Matt Rhode supply the rhythm on drums and bass respectively.

He noted the tour, which includes stops all over B.C. as well as Lethbridge, before heading Stateside in February, will be a mix of old and new music.

“We will play a few of the new songs, but not all of it because ‘Animal’ hasn’t been released yet.”

Bend Sinister plays the Slice Jan. 31 at approximately 9 p.m.

Tin and the Toad sing sings about close to home

Vulcan/Nanton-based country/roots band Tin and the Toad are excited to follow in the footsteps of fellow southern Albertan songwriters by writing about what they know — southern Alberta.

They release their debut CD “Roots to Ramble On,” at the Slice, Jan. 31 with Rancho Deluxe.

“Justin ( Smith — Tin) and I were playing in rock bands before but as we got older, our interests changed. We’ve been writing songs for a long time, but we didn’t really identify with country music because it was so southern based in Nashville in the United States. But about that time Corb Lund came out with ‘Five Dollar Bill,’ and that opened the doors,” related Tin and the Toad guitarist/vocalist Cody “the Toad” Shearer, who makes up the band with with Tin — Justin Smith on guitar and mandolin, bassist Pete Loughlin and Steve Loree on guitar and vocals plus Shearer’s big brother Ryan (who was in popular touring indie rock band Jack Union about a dozen years ago) on drums.

“He was the first guy we heard who was writing about his own experiences in southern Alberta,” he continued.

They recorded at producer Steve Loree’s Nanton studio ‘Crabapple Downs’ back in November 2012.

“We worked really hard on these songs and decided to push it up a notch,” Shearer continued, adding it is released digitally as well as on vinyl.

They enjoyed working with Steve Loree.

“It was amazing. Despite the pedigree of projects he’s worked on. If you aren’t passionate about it he probably won’t be involved with it,” he said.

Dave McCann, another Lethbridge-based songwriter, was another inspiration.

“We went to go see Dave McCann a lot, which is how we got involved with Pete (Loughlin, who plays bass with Dave McCann as well) He sings really great harmony vocals,” he said.

He noted, while the band’s sound is reminiscent of ’70s bands like Poco, their songs are all very personal.

They are also looking forward to playing music festivals during the summer.

“By 2020, we want to be the first country rock band to play on Mars,” he laughed.

In the meantime, they are excited about playing Lethbridge roots country band Rancho Deluxe, with frontman George Arsene, whose garage Tin and the Toad hang out in a lot when they are in Lethbridge.

“It’s George’s birthday. So we’re really stoked about playing it,” he said.

The show begins at 8 p.m. Jan. 31 at the Slice.

Scotty Hills shows his many musical sides

Former Perpetrators drummer Scotty Hills has moved away from his blues roots and shows the many facets of his influences in his music with his latest projects.

While he is best known for playing drums on the beloved Winnipeg blues rock icons’ first two CDs, he is exploring his more R and B side on his CD “Year of Septembers” and on an upcoming CD, for which he has released the first single and video “The Answer (We Are).”

In the meantime he is studying jazz music at the University of Vancouver Island in Nanaimo.

But first he comes to Lethbridge to play the Slice, Jan. 30, to kick off a quick Alberta tour.

“I was with the Perpetrators for five years; we used to play the Tongue N’ Groove a lot,” he said on the way to class in Nanaimo.

“The solo CD is quite a bit different. I love country music and my mother listened to a lot of rhythm and blues, Motown, Stax and new age ’80s stuff, so I grew up with a lot of that stuff ever since I was a child. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” he continued, adding he combines all of his influences into his music.

“It has influenced everything I do. Whether it is R and B or punk rock or blues, it is a different side I like to show,” he said.

He showed yet another side of his musical personality by participating in a “Songcamp” at Westlake Studios in Los Angeles, where he and a large group of songwriters from around the world gathered to write a song for pop singer Rihanna.

“It was a monkeys on typewriters sort of thing. I got invited with 72 hours notice to go to Westlake studios where they recorded ‘Thriller’ and a lot of Quincy Jones’ albums. It was quite an interesting experience. It was 12 hour days, so it was definitely full time,” he said.

“It’s nice to have the potential to write something that will pay the rent. But it is just another side of me. A lot of great songwriters like Bob Dylan started as staff writers. It’s not really not my thing, ” he said, adding one of his favourite parts of the gruelling 12-hour days was introducing some of the other songwriters to the old blues masters, who surprisingly didn’t know much about them.

“I was telling them all about Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf and all of these cool old blues guys,” he said.

He was working with younger songwriters.

“A lot of the biggest songwriters there are people who were writing hits in the ’70s and ’80s. It’s like any other job. They don’t stop until they retire,” he observed.

“There is a formula to it. It’s all very monkeys on typewriters. it’s very homogenous,” he observed.

His quick Alberta tour will be with drummer and bassist Jason Cook who also produced Hills’ 2012 album “Year of Septembers.”

“He’s one of the the best drummers I’ve ever worked with,” he said.

“It’s kind of like the sound of the Black Keys, because we’re a two-piece, but it’s indie R and B,” he said.

He noted his show will include the music from “Year of Septembers” CD, some covers but no Rihanna songs. He may include a couple older songs he wrote with the Perpetrators like “Roller Coaster” and some new ones which didn’t make the cut for the latest Perpetrators’ CD.

The new jazz influence from studying at the University of Vancouver Island hasn’t directly made it into the new music yet.

“I am learning a lot about how you use your singing voice. All of my influences are added to the music,” he said.

Scotty Hills plays the Slice, Thursday, Jan. 30 at approximately 9:30 p.m.

Reviews

Los Lobos play a variety of styles

I’ve never seen the Yates Centre sold out, so I was pleasantly surprised to see a packed house, Jan. 23 as East L.A.-based Mexicali rockers Los Lobos came to town in the middle of their 40th anniversary tour, to make a lot of noise and add a little Mexican musical culture.

I wasn’t sure if they were going to do the mellow acoustic show or the big, loud rock show and was pleased, though a little deafened, by the latter.

They began a diverse set with co-frontman David Hidalgo playing accordion for a couple zydeco-flavoured songs sung in Spanish.

He traded that for a Telecaster after playing a couple of energetic toe tapping numbers as Louie Perez joined them to add a third Telecaster and to play a traditional Mexican eight-string instrument called a jarana, which sounded like an amplified ukulele for a couple more of the Mexican-flavoured numbers.

Steve Berlin stood in the shadows on the right hand of the stage, playing a beautiful old baritone saxophone and alternating between it and keyboards.

On the left side of the stage Cesar Rosas sported his trademark dark shades while wielding a left-handed hollow body Gibson, next to bassist Conrad Lozano who played most of the show with the back of the stage watching drummer Enrique “Bugs” Gonzalez.

The rhythm section was locked in together as Lozano played in the pocket while Bugs, hidden behind Lozano’s massive Ampeg bass amp, kept perfect time adding the odd jazzy fill.

Los Lobos showed the many facets of their musical personalities as they alternated between traditional Mexican music and more country rock especially on the catchy and beautifully melodic “Will The Wolf Survive,” for which Rosas traded his Gibson for a pair of maracas.

Lozano stumped up to centre stage to add excellent vocal harmonies for a couple of exceptional numbers.

I wanted to hear more of the country rock like “One Time One Night.”

Rosas joked to the quiescent crowd to “settle down” but got them all singing along with the unbelievably catchy chorus of “The Neighbourhood.” The audience of almost 700 people chanted along “Thank you Lord for another day, help my brother along his way. Please pray for peace in the neighbourhood.”

I thought they were at their finest when they played raunchy blues.

I was also very impressed with how well Hidalgo and Rosas sang. They both traded lead vocals with strong tenor voices and each played some pretty inspirtional guitar solos.

“Set Me Free Rosa Lee” was a highlight as was another which gave a nod to ’50s and ’60s R and B.

They almost wore out the crowd, who were calling out for ‘La Bamba’ by 11 p.m., but after extended applause returned to the stage with most of Leeroy Stagger’s band and guitarist Evan Uschenko, as Hidalgo told them, “We’ll get to that but we want to try something first.”

So they began an extended blues-flavoured jam, which included a cover of “Dear Mr. Fantasy,” featuring Steve Berlin playing flute.

They finished with the weakest moment of the show — “La Bamba.” You could hear Hidalgo losing his voice on it as he got the crowd to sing along. Guitarist/vocalist Cesar Rojas had left the stage by that point.

To open the show, Leeroy Stagger and his band including Matthew Robinson on lead guitar, bassist Jon Lent and Deep Dark Woods keyboardist Geoff Hillhorst plus drummer Nicholas Stecz , started off an impassioned and tight set with a couple of slower songs. “Everyone’s on Drugs” came first followed by his song about bikers, “Stormy.” He picked up the pace with “Hard Town.” Things got a little louder as he invited Los Lobos saxophonist/keyboardist  Berlin to the stage to play “Goodnight Berlin,” one of the scrappy rockers off Stagger’s latest CD, “Truth Be Sold,” which Berlin produced.

“I know why you picked that one,” Stagger chuckled to Berlin.

Berlin stayed on stage for a couple more songs after that including the highlight “Have A Heart.”

Stagger noted this was the first show he played with a keyboardist. Geoff Hillhorst fit right in, adding lots of organ to the music. He added some hot piano to a cover of an obscure Chuck Berry song which let Hillhorst show his skills.

He slowed things down with “Maria” and ended his tight set with “Highway is My Home.”

Shane Philip shows skills on didgeridoo

Only about a dozen people heard Courtney, B.C. multi-instrumentalist and didgeridoo master Shane Phillip, Jan. 23, at the Slice.

The one-man drum circle was a blur of ambidextrous energy, surrounded by a circle of drums, cymbals, a mixing board, several guitars and two homemade didgeridoos. His favourite was a Weissenborn, on which he played spooky slide while simultaneously playing drums and blowing solos on the didgeridoos.

He played a good mix of mellow ballads and spooky, experimental jams.

He also played a cover of Bob Marley’s “Exodus” and ended his show with a song that sounded like it came out of Paul Simon’s back catalogue. He set down a hypnotic groove throughout and blew the intimate audience away with his instrumental prowess.

Cowpuncher tears things up

It is always a good time when Calgary indie rock/country band Cowpuncher come to town.

They tore apart the Slice, Jan. 18, with humour and a lot more country than they have been playing recently.

The man of many hats, Matt Olah, was at his best on lead vocals and rhythm guitar and I always love watching standup bassist Harley Hoeft slap the hell out of his bass as he hammers out the groove.

Their second set wasn’t as frenetic as their last Lethbridge visit. It included most of their latest CD “Ghost Notes” and 2012 country tinged single “Hooscow.”

As always, “Acetaminophen” stood out, as did “Back of Vans” and the first track off of Ghost Notes, “Raised on Rock and Roll.”

Olah is always entertaining; he wore a variety of hats including his sailor’s cap and a studded leather mask that looked like a cross between an executioner’s helmet and something you’d probably find in the locked bedroom of a high-priced gigolo.

They also added an energetic cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Gimmie Shelter.”

Juxtaposers trim down

A trimmed-down Juxtaposers played the Owl Acoustic Lounge Jan. 18 for an enthusiastic audience.

Rusty-hinged, raspy-voiced Don Cassel sang like John Fogerty and strummed his acoustic guitar while Taylor Ackerman and Tyler Bird took turns playing guitar and bass. Bird brought out his fiddle to add a different string to the sound of Cassel’s music plus some obscure covers by the likes of Ryan Adams.

Highlights of Frostbite.2

It is great to see live music happening in the Zoo at the University of Lethbridge. Live acts have been far and few between up there, but back in the day the Zoo was the place to be.

So I made a point of checking out the Frostbite.2 wind up cabaret, Friday, Jan. 17.

While I missed Gray Area and Nikki Valentine and the Gypsy Riders, I caught most of Edmonton-based ambient rock band Foam Lake.

They put on a strong, capable set of original spacey rock which sounded like a mix of Radiohead and the Pixies, which had everybody enthusiastically cheering. So there was plenty of keyboards and a couple of guitars, which they combined into a very tight set.

But the main band I wanted to see (The Lytics closed off the night) was Vancouver-based blues rock duo Harpoonist and the Axe Murderer.

And while they were a hit at last summer’s South Country Fair, with good reason, I was pleasantly surprised to see how many of the students in to he room were so excited to see them.

They did not disappoint.

Shawn “The Harpoonist” Hall sang lead vocals while blowing wild harp solos and stomping out bass with his feet on a bass pedal plus extra percussion with a couple of tambourines attached to a drum pedal.

Meanwhile, one man band Matthew “The Axe Murderer” Rogers was a blur playing gritty bluesy guitar and stomping out and unstoppable rhythm on a snare and bass drum set at his feet as he weaved, bobbed and danced in his seat.

They played a lot of music from their 2011 CD “Checkered Past,” including one of my favourites, “Wake Up” and “Roll With The Punches,” which Hall played after asking if there were any boxers in the audience.

They played another cool one called “Come On Back” which had a riff that sounded a lot like ’60s classic “Tequila.”

The band had a couple of firsts for their first Lethbridge visit, including their first request for “Are You Listening” and by having one enthusiastic fan jumping on stage with them to clap along with them.

People were definitely listening and dancing a lot, which was great to see.

“Blow Your Top” was one of many highlights.

They saved the best for last as they played “Get Out” and followed it up with a sizzling version of blues classic “Got My Mojo Working.”

A slightly revamped Toques and Beards were in an experimental mood as they played for approximately 30 people at the Slice, Jan, 17.

Taylor Ackerman, Tyler Bird, bassist Brett Skauge and Avery Friesen on drums played some interesting country-tinged rock and some Frank Zappa.

“Trash Talk” was a highlight. They played a lot of original music and songs I didn’t recognize, ending their first set with Jason Schultchen’s song, “Such A Pity.”

Jan. 29

Slice — Bend Sinister

Owl Acoustic Lounge — Zachery Lucky L.A.Beat open jam

Ric’s Grill — Bryant Watson Duo

Jan. 30

Slice — Scotty Hills

Cotton Blossom Lounge — James Oldenburg

Owl Acoustic Lounge— Public Records information session

Jan. 31

Mocha Cabana — Dana Honey

Slice — Tin and the Toad

Owl Acoustic Lounge — Erin Ross

Jimmy’s Pub — open mic

Wolf’s Den — open mic

Honkers — Open mic with Steve Keenan

Casino Lethbridge — Unzipped

Feb. 1

Mocha Cabana — Dana Honey

Casino Lethbridge — Unzipped

Ric’s Grill — Cal Toth

Slice — New Weather Machine with Jesse Plessis $5 9:30 p.m.

Feb. 3

Owl Acoustic Lounge — open mic

Feb. 4

Bordello — A Thought in Three Parts $20 8 p.m.

Slice — open mic

Bo Diddly’s — open mic

Feb. 5

Ric’s Grill — James Oldenburg

Owl Acoustic Lounge — L.A. BEat open jam

Feb. 6

Bordello — A Thought in Three Parts $20 8 p.m.

Cotton Blossom Lounge — James Oldenburg

Feb. 7

Mocha Cabana — Bridgette Yarwood and Jason Eveleigh

Ric’s Grill — Bryant Watson Duo

Bordello — A Thought in Three Parts $20 8 p.m.

Casino Lethbridge — Texas Flood

Jimmy’s Pub — open mic

Wolf’s Den — bluegrass jam

Feb. 8

Casino Lethbridge — Texas Flood

Mocha Cabana — Lindsay May with Jodi Doidge

Southminster United Church — Matt Andersen $30 advance, $35 at door

Yates — Save Chinatown variety show with Coal Creek Boys

Ric’s Grill — Cal Toth

Slice — Hurtin’

Bordello — A Thought in Three Parts $20 8 p.m.

Bossmans’s — Tank Town, Mangy the Mangy Mutts the Scallywags $5

Owl Acoustic Lounge — Windborne

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