Review by Dorothy Parvaz
Photography by Todd Duncan
Never thought it would be possible, but I actually enjoyed a country show. Of course, this wasn't your Mama's country. Not your next-door neighbour's, either (you know, the putz who thinks he's Garth Brooks -- lofty aspiration of lofty aspirations -- drives a big white pickup and insists on speaking with a southern drawl even though he grew up in Cloverdale). No sirree.
Houston was solo on stage, wearing this puke-pattern orange get-up, workin' his guitar for all it was worth. There wasn't much of crowd, but he didn't seem to mind. He just muttered something about drinking a lot of scotch, playing some songs and just seeing what happens.
He sang about the seedy side of life, with low-lifes, junkies and colostomy bags roaming through his songs. Some of his songs were a bit too silly ("Locusts! Yummy, yummy, yummy, yummy locusts!"), but hell, this guy doesn't seem to take much seriously, anyway.
Coal was the next act up, and man, the nicest think I could say about this band is that they were boring. I could also say their slowed-down pop songs all sounded the same, or that the bass player could've easily taken a powder for a few songs and wouldn't have been missed. I could say that most street buskers have a better voice than the lead singer. I could even say that Coal really didn't deserve a slot between Chris Houston and the Corn Sisters.
But I won't. I'll just say Coal was a total buzzkill. (This may be cruel, but I guess I've been spoiled by the fact that we have some excellent talent in Vancouver and have come to expect more from our local bands.)
Looks like her Boyfriends stood her up, because the only person on stage with Neko Case tonight was Carolyn Mark, who is one-tenth of Case's usual backup band (and who fronts Victoria's Vinaigrettes). Billing themselves as the Corn Sisters, Mark played guitar and Case the drums (very delicately, standing up).
Both Mark and Case have amazing voices, and they looked so kitschy in their big frocks, complete with beauty pageant sashes and crowns. The two performed a relatively solid set for about an hour, and they sounded pretty good (the thin crowd seemed to love them), but those great big ol' voices of theirs were really begging for a bigger sound -- the guitar and drums just seemed a little flaccid. "High on Cruel" still sounded great, though, and their mid-song banter, which kept things on a very casual, intimate level, really helped sell the act.
One of Vancouver's die-hard indie artists, Herald Nix was up next. It took a couple of songs for them to get warmed up, but once they got it together, Nix and his band sounded damn fine.
Long and lean, Nix oozes that tough-guy cowboy dignity (think of the character tormenting Janeanne Garofalo with his cool in the smoke pit in Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion). The guy just never loses it on stage, even when he's singing the pleading "Tomorrow's Another Day."
Nix writes and performs what could be termed "the thinking man's (or woman's) country music." He's got a bluesy, rockabilly sort of sound, and those with few points of reference for this genre, like myself, will think that his guitar sounds sort of Chris Isaak-y; but, unlike Isaak, Nix's voice doesn't go all over the place. He has a strong and clean voice, and the original songs he sings end up sounding just moody enough to make them work.
Interestingly enough, the couple sitting next to me said that Nix had played a solo gig at their wedding, and they gave me a sad bit of news: Apparently, both of Nix's parents have passed away, which means that Nix has moved back up to his hometown, Salmon Arm, to take care of the farm.
Hope he doesn't keep to himself up there all the time.
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