Review by Georges Vezina
Photography by Paul Clarke
My less-than-favourable impression of Pal Joey is based on an imperfect and incomplete observation of their show...those goddamn Richard's on Richards valets kept me circling the block for hours, it seemed, as Pal Joey entertained another full house at the Starfish Room. This is the real reason most music journalists [ed. and photographers] don't drive: it's physically impossible to actually park your car and get to the gig on time.
Pal Joey was playing when I arrived. I was sweating, upset, and ready to lash out against all things underwhelming. So here goes. Preamble: I respect musicians a lot. I am not a failed one, I 've never tried to play, and I think it's a real gift. Crux of the matter: three-chord rock'n'roll should be a dead easy medium to entertain with, or at least work within, but my Pal Joey fell flat on both counts. I tell ya, if I see one more undistinguished slacker rock band looking bored stiff on stage, I'm gonna get up on top of the Capitol Records building with my .22 and start...
Then there's Sub Pop. One could hold them responsible for the
new wave of evil emanating from garages across the nation, for
all the post-grunge wannabes. Then again, one could praise them
across space and time for replacing the odious hair metal and
geriatric arena rockers with something far more relevant to 90's
youth. But what the hell are they doing now? Plenty of
ultra-cool shit, from the sounds being aired on this night. Zumpano
and Jale share space on the label's exclusive roster (everybody
wave yer maple leafs), and are combining to re-establish pop music
as a positive force in the indie rock community.
By the time Zumpano took the stage I had settled my scores in the alley behind the 'Fish, right next to the enormous CBC truck on hand to record the proceedings. I was well prepared to dig Vancouver's premiere pop reconstructionists; I have seen these young men be absolutely wretched in concert, and I have seen them transcendent as well. This night leaned heavily towards the latter.
The band was in fine fettle as they played a set weighted heavily with material from their forthcoming album. True, some of the refreshing innocence of their earlier songs (and live performances) has vanished, but what has taken its place is a sleeker, tougher approach to the Burt Bacharach/Neil Diamond school of pop craftsmanship. Along with fellow Sub Pop artists like Eric Matthews, Zumpano is greasing the wheels of pop culture, readying the masses for the cashmere revolution.
At this concert, drummer and band namesake Jason Zumpano was the star. He swung like Gene Krupa, he rocked like Ginger Baker, he grooved like Karen Carpenter. He was awesome. He was a giant curly-haired safety pin keeping the chord-changin', time-shiftin', totally-epic hem of Zumpano's satin lingerie from falling apart. While Mike Ledwidge's tender harpsichord lines plucked at our heart strings, I could hear the cries of "Yes, yes!" from my fellow patrons. Oh, a band could only wish for such adulation. Only later did I discover that these patrons were actually bonafide boors, who had mistaken Zumpano's clever arrangements for the hideous bombast of Jon Anderson's prog-rock dinosaurs! Not even close, people. Zumpano is the future of pop music. Period.
jale closed the show in fine style. In their first Vancouver appearance with new drummer Mike Belitsky, they, too, showcased most of the songs from their upcoming release, So Wound. Despite the preponderance of unfamiliar material, the crowd instantly warmed to the Halifax quartet, and, flu-ridden though they were, the band shone, with all three women taking turns delivering lead vocals that showed no sign of infirmity. For some reason, the band reminds me of the early Talking Heads, just at that point when they evolved from art-school naïfs to real-life hitmakers. jale's new material shows a sense of groove and melody that their often drony and one-dimensional early work only hinted at, and, presented live, it was moving, to say the least.
The evening's highlights included show opener "Ali," the perfect pop song that leads off "So Wound," and "Double Edge," from last year's Closed EP (on Halifax' Murderecords), which featured an unusual and wonderful "fat-string" solo from guitarist Eve Hartling. By mid-set, jale was really flying, as new tracks "Tumble" and "Over You" even prompted some butt-wiggling from the po-faced throng on the dance floor. A nasty fuzz-guitar line from Jennifer Pierce doubled Laura Stein's bass line to create an awesome bottom end on the songs "Mosquito" and "Nebulous." The anthemic "Superstar" closed the set, and though there were two encores, they were all songs from earlier jale works. This night was about the future for jale, and it looks pretty damn bright, if this concert was any indication. To sum up, here's a little pome (sic) I've been workin' on.
Considering copying some of the images from this story?
Please read this first. Thanks.