Tim Vesely of the Rheostatics

A Group of Seven on the Group of Seven

The Rheostatics
with Bob Wiseman and Farm Fresh
Vancouver Art Gallery
Vancouver, B.C.
Thursday, August 22, 1996

Reflections by P. Freako
Photography by Paul 'f1.8 and Be There' Clarke

An exhibition of works by the Group of Seven -- the pioneering group of Canadian painters from the early 1900's -- has been on display at the Vancouver Art Gallery since June and by the time you read this it will have ended. A great many people will have viewed the exhibit, some experiencing these works for the first time, and a few of these people will have come because of the Rheostatics' performances at the Gallery. It was a diverse demographic mix at these shows, meaning many young men and women would go see the exhibit and learn a little bit of Canadian history. That made me feel good, because it's important.

F.H. Varley's 'Stormy Weather, Georgian Bay' The Rheostatics -- long-time and eclectic members of Canada's alternative music scene -- were approached recently by the National Gallery in Ottawa to write some music based on paintings by the Group of Seven. At three Vancouver shows, they exhibited what they had came up with, which was a collection of inspirational soundscapes that conveyed many emotions and images, each different for every person in attendance. Sometimes jazzy, the soundscapes performed tonight released a plethora of emotions and images that paid the highest tribute to the works of the Group of Seven. Painting and music are a lot alike.

The show's narrator, Winchell Price, related this in his opening passage: "As it can be a key that is the signature of a song... there is a colour that is the signature of a painting, whether it be major or minor. A painting is often inspired by a piece of music." Tonight, we came full circle, and the painting would inspire the music.

The Rheos' Dave Bidini A large projection screen anchored the stage, which was carefully strewn with instruments and lit with a dim warm glow. Pieces of work from the Group of Seven and of their era were projected throughout the performance, acting as the frame for this musical painting. The taped narration was the lighting for the painting, and the performance by the Rheostatics, Bob Wiseman and Farm Fresh was the painting itself.

There were few lyrics sung this evening, and they weren't needed. Though they performed "Land Ho," an older Rheostatics tune, the show was primarily instrumental. Martin Tielli anchored the soundscapes with his guitar while Dave Bidini added layers with acoustic guitar. Don Kerr added a tastefully wild characteristic to the sound with the cello, and occasionally switched upright bass duties with Tim Vesely, who also played acoustic guitar and bass. Bob Wiseman was the madman of the group, relating the madness within any artist with his manic keyboarding. DJ-duo Farm Fresh laid down the grooves, the beats and the samples to give this performance a solid foundation from which to roam.

J.E.H. MacDonald's 'Tangled Garden' Like any good painters, these musicians recognised the importance of negative space as well as positive space. Bob Wiseman for example, picked up the accordion only to let the sound of air running through the instrument escape to create the music, without playing a note.

This performance was not meant to be reviewed. You had to be there to experience it. It spoke to everybody in the crowd in a different fashion and that, I think, was the beauty of the evening. As I watched and listened to these multi-instrumentalists lay down beautiful sounds, the grace, the power and the creativity filled the air like a fine mist, subtly coating all those with its presence. For me, it was an awe inspiring display of musicianship and art. Not to mention that Martin pulled out a double-neck guitar with blue trim and red maple leafs painted on the front. All right, so vanity lies within all of us.

F.H. Johnston's 'Fire Swept - Algoma' The Group of Seven were considered ahead of their time. That means that they were different and were viewed as such, as deviants from the norm. I thank them for that boldness of vision. The group of seven on stage this evening thanked them as well in beautiful, deviant fashion, and we were all the better for it.

A masterpiece.

Paintings, in order of appearance: All are works from the National Gallery of Canada. Image files are from the Gallery web site. The Group of Seven tour (the paintings, that is) continues on to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts October 3 through to December 1 of 1996.

First published in Drop-D Magazine on August 30, 1996

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