It was a bit of a soggy start to Rifflandia lastnight, but that didn’t stop the city from coming out to play. Heading into the soggy night to catch a bit of Brasstronaut’s set at Market Square, you could tell something was afoot; in addition to the moisture, there was a great energy in the air as folks wandered the streets, their purple wristbands a tell-tale sign that they were fellow Rifflandians.
First up on my list was a stop at Market Square to check Brasstronaut. I’d heard earlier that the lineup to get in was crazy (tales of 400 folks lining up to see the Sunday Buckets open the square were circulating the Twitterverse) but by the time we got there at around 9 p.m., the wait wasn’t more than a couple of minutes—although when we left half an hour later, there was a sizable line waiting to get in to see Grand Analog and K’naan. The sextet from Vancouver delivered their dreamy brand of jazzy pop to fans huddled under the covered area of Market Square—and the weather couldn’t have been a more perfect match for their atmospheric sound. We stuck around long enough to hear a couple of songs, including “Hearts Trompet,” which is up for the Echo Songwriting Prize, before high-tailing it up to the Alix Goolden Hall to catch the Tabla Guy, Mount Kimbie and Aesop Rock.
We slipped into the Goolden with ease, settling into a pew on the upper level as the Tabla Guy started his set. If Brasstronaut playing in the misty rain was a good fit, then the Tabla Guy, aka Gurpreet Chana, playing in the Goolden was an even better one. Accompanied by Mason Bach on electric violin and live PA (his laptop had a cute little “I <3 MB” sticker on it) for a few songs, Chana managed to captivate the crowd in the Goolden—a crowd that, I’m assuming, wasn’t necessarily there to see him. The highlight of the performance was a song called “Raindrops,” which was played on a hang drum. Chana completely captivated the crowd, inspiring a hushed awe at one moment and then a clap-along the next.
After the Tabla guy finished his set, we waited for Mount Kimbie to take the stage. And waited. And waited. It seems the U.K.-based duo was having some equipment issues (there was a wide range of electronic gear sitting on the table and a rat’s nest of cords on the floor) and ended up starting about 40 minutes late. Sadly, it meant they had to play a very abbreviated set, and even that was plagued with some bad feedback. It was disappointing, as the brief set was an interesting one, starting with more ambient mixtures of electronic samples mixed with live drums and guitar before wandering into the more bass-heavy territory that has garnered them the “post-dubstep” label.
Up next was the set many had been waiting for: oddball hip-hop artist Aesop Rock. I find the Goolden to not be the best place for a hip-hop show; sure, it’s an amazingly beautiful space, but it was built without amplification in mind, so really bass-heavy music gets muddled and vocals can be hard to make out. This meant many of the finer nuances of an Aesop Rock show—his wacky rhymes and distinctive voice—were lost. Luckily, Aesop is a very engaging performer; he and co-MC Rob Sonic criss-crossed the Goolden’s stage and kept the crowd amped with a bit of help from DJ Big Whiz, who did some impressive turntablism and even some video mixing and scratching. Another great thing about the show was that, because he wasn’t touring a particular album, Aesop played favourites from his entire discography, including “Lucy,” “None Shall Pass” one of my favourite songs, “Fast Cars.” So yeah, maybe not the optimal venue for a hip-hop gig, but a high-energy and high-quality show nonetheless.
Wandering back on to Quadra Street around 1 a.m., I was filled with the feeling that my excellent Thursday night at Rifflandia was a sign of the weekend ahead. Bring it on!