Review by Nancy Hyndman
Photography by Suzanne Goodwin
All heads first turned towards the stage for introductory band the Smokin' Frogs in a respectful homage to live performance so typical of Vancouver audiences. Funky ska nostalgia blending with DJ tracks and blues beats created an energetic outpouring to begin the evening and which lifted spirits, but not people out of their seats. The band proved that 90's style is anything you want it to be, and their sound combination extended to costume, featuring a tropical-shirted lead singer, a silver-sequined bassist, and a ball-capped DJ in the background.
Playing for a by-then packed Starfish Room, the Gandharvas mixed familiar drum ditties with drawn out ballads in a myriad of musical leanings. Combining diverse rhythms to create an original alternative sound has always been characteristic of the band, as illustrated in the songs of their early album Soap Bubble and Inertia and the later Kicking in the Water. Nor has the energy of the band's early college venue shows been lost in their current sound, in which a slightly darker edge now tinges melody and lyrics.
Surprising listeners by starting the show with an few older songs, lead singer Paul Jago then followed with an introduction to their latest album, Sold for a Smile, receiving a vibrant response from both those dancing at the forefront and those observing gingerly from the sideline stools at the bar.
Leading the band through each album segue, Jago's stage persona presented a fluid performance less rigid than a prescribed rock and roll set (which can often result in a seemingly tired pattern of song rendition). Elvis meets Aerosmith might best describe Jago the crooner, who seduces listeners with intensity while at the same time reaching to find their faces in the crowd. In a rendition of "Watching the Girl," he pulled onstage an eager young woman who requested a dance. With all eyes on the duo, band and fan eclipsed in the bonding medium that is music.
Ultimately the crowd reached a fervour with "Diabaloney" and "Sarsaparilla, " followed with "Downtime" -- to be expected, their latest video single now drawing in younger listeners -- while two surprise renditions from early albums encouraged old fans to groove harder in unison. Old favourites die harder than well worn Levi's, and a genuinely energetic set packed with two encores fulfilled the adage "If it ain't broke..."
Unlike members of the Smokin' Frogs, who visited with fans and danced in the crowd, not all members of the Gandharvas could be found milling about ground level post performance. Lucky fans exiting the bar at the end of the evening might have caught a final encore in the faint but unmistakably unique drums of the band drifting over from the alley behind the Starfish. The strains promised a longer rhythmical night -- but an alley concert review would have been another ballgame altogether.
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