Touched for the Very First Time: Friday Night at Rifflandia

25 09 2010

Thursday night was good, but it wasn’t until last night that this festival delivered the shivers and the shocks.

I met up with Casey Bennett (his wonderful photos of Rifflandia performers are all over this blog) early, so we could coordinate our show-going for max writing-to-pics sync-up,  and I’m afraid that I quickly led him astray. Earlier in the afternoon, I had put a roast in the crockpot my father was so adamant I procure (I resisted at first, slow-cookers carrying a certain low-brow culinary stigma, but as usual the old man was right—they’re just so easy!) but when I went to check on my yummy dinner, I realized I must have fumbled my knob-turning because my sirloin tip was as cold as clay. So I showed up for my meeting with Casey hungry, and I dragged him as fast as I could into the shabby world of convenience food (the Subway across the street from the Metro Theater), for a quick fill up before show time. Thus fed and guaranteed of indigestion, I crossed the street with my brother-in-arms to check out Genevieve Rainey.

Genevieve Rainey

This girl is funny. The songs I heard were playfully self-deprecating meditations on loneliness and longing, but the real story here was the banter between the music. I wonder if she does any work as an MC, and if not then she should. A wonderfully expressive face, great voice, a natural sense of comic timing, the whole shabang. Her stilted anecdotes about text messages from her mom, and the logistics of keeping her friends from posting things to her Facebook page that her mother might be horrified to discover, were really charming. As far as the music goes, Rainey says of herself, “I sound like  a girl singing whilst playing guitar.”  This says a lot about her wry sense of humour, but unfortunately it also lands a little too close to the truth. The songwriting and the vocal performance were fine, but not eyebrow-raising. Still, a personality to keep an eye on, I think. She may yet do great things.

After some good laughs, me and Casey ducked out of Genevieve’s set and over to the Alix Goolden Hall to catch the end of My Lovely Son’s solo act. And that’s when I recieved my first bona-fide love-buzz of the festival.

My Lovely Son


My Lovely Son

Satnam Minhas looked so relaxed and focused on the Goolden stage as he unfurled delicate guitar lines over his gorgeous hushed voice. The emotional climate of his hypnotic melodies was decidedly melancholy, like days I can remember as a kid, in the park, alone with just the sun and grass. Like kinda sad, but also with a sense of wonder and a quiet ache for all that lies ahead.  If you’re familiar with Scottish songwriter Alisdair Roberts, and particularly his old project Appendix Out, then imagine the tender, wistful, bygone-era quality of that stuff, but not as choppy, more like a still lake, less fragile. Wow, I was really impressed with this performance. For an artist who only recently has his first album under his belt, Minhas brings a presence to the stage that feels mature and confident. This is a guy to watch, for sure.  And he’s local. Lucky us!  I was so into his stuff that I tracked down My Lovely Son after his set, and we shared some words:

Jay Morritt:  Tell me about yourself—I don’t know anything about you. You’re local, yeah?

Satnam Minhas:  I was born and raised in Duncan, and I’m working in Victoria now. This year was supposed to be the year that I made a mark on the city, because I spent a lot of time recording my album, and after I was done I was like “what am I going to do with it?” I was living in Duncan, and I decided I had to get into the city—it seemed like the next logical step. So I moved here and started playing shows. Playing here at the Alix Goolden is sorta like the cherry on top for me.

JM:  Yeah, you said, onstage, that this was a dream come true for you.

SM:  I saw Owen Pallett (of Final Fantasy) play here a while ago, and I remember sitting in my seat thinking “good God, what would it be like to play this?”

JM:  You sounded fabulous up there.

SM:  Thanks.  I was thrown off a bit by the sound, because everything was so magestic, and I’m not used to playing such venues!

JM:  So what are your influences?

SM:  That could go every-which-way. There’s some jazz in there, classic folk, Led Zeppelin—I listened to a lot of Led Zeppelin as a kid. But melody is the biggest thing for me. I’m trying to challenge the listener, while at the same time pull on their heart-strings. And if you have a chance to listen to them, there’s some old Bollywood tracks from the 60’s and 70’s that are, to me, heart-wrenchingly beautiful, because I grew up listening to that stuff. That’s where the emotion comes from.

JM:  You just radiate this kind of ease, or containment, on stage. It looked so natural for you to be up there. And your guitar work and vocal style weave together so comfortably—I could have listened to that all night and been happy!

SM:  It means a lot that you would say that. This is the first time I’ve put together a body of work of my own, and performed something steadily for a while. I’ve played in bands before and it was so un-fulfilling—it was always a compromise. Now I’m not compromising.

JM:  So you lived your dream of playing the Goolden—what’s next?

SM:  I’m a social worker, but I’m getting layed off, and I’m going to take a break from that work and focus on music. I’m going to be playing some shows in what people out here called “the East”, but which is really Central Canada—Toronto, Montreal—and when I get back from that I’m thinking tentatively of a European tour.

JM:  Yes. Well, please sir, keep making music. Keep doing what you are doing.

SM:  Thanks, I will.

–Jay Morritt

Clay George

After My Lovely Son’s lovely set, Victoria’s Clay George took the stage. He looked like a banker coping with a troublesome stock market—shirtsleeves and suspenders and a world-worn gaze. George hasn’t played out much for the last year or so, but when the elusive singer-songwriter picked up his guitar and started into a jaded finger-style blues ramble, he looked on top of his game. The man’s voice came down like a brick on the audience at the Goolden—heavy and certain, stirring up a cloud of dust. Lost friends, things left unsaid, the search for a sense of home, these were the themes that characterized George’s set. There was the odd love song, too.  Particularly moving was one lament about the folks we see here on the streets, in Victoria:  I bet your father never saw you falling / at the corner of Bridge and Bay / trying to fix your broken face / in the mirror of a car— / can you believe that’s who you are? I wasn’t far off from crying at that point.  George’s work bears the marks of long consideration and care, like a map of somewhere special that’s been folded and refolded, kept in a breast pocket. A strong set from a thoughtful and talented songwriter—I hope we see more of him onstage in the year to come.

Earlier in the day I had chance to meet with Clay. We took a walk to the park next to Christ Church Cathedral, and had a chat:

Jay Morritt: I saw you a couple years ago, at this little show which was upstairs in a house on Fort St., I think. It was a songwriter’s round—you, Carolyn Mark, David P. Smith, and Ryan Beattie. I thought, “what a great environment for a show.”  What sorts of shows do you like playing best?

Clay George:  I like playing situations like that one, because it’s so different than playing in a crowded bar where people are screaming and trying to get laid, and so they’re not really paying attention to the music.  I think tonight will be perfect, because it’s a sit-down environment where people will really be listening. I’ve also played shows at folk societies, where it’s just a room and people really just focused on the show, and that’s nice. The stuff I play, it’s pretty low-key. It’s not really meant to cut through bar noise.

JM:  And the songs are stories, right? I think it’s important that the narrative thread is able to remain  intact, to be held between the audience and the singer.

CG:  Yeah, definitely. That’s half the song.

JM:  So I may be out of the loop—that’s a very real possibility—but you seem to keep a pretty low profile for a guy whose work has been so well recieved, critically.

CG:  Well, things were looking to pick up a while back, as far as performing goes, but I had a bunch of stuff happen, personal stuff. My father passed away—he got really sick and I was travelling back and forth to Toronto—I just had a really terrible year, and so that prevented me from getting work done.  It was unfortunate timing, because I had just signed to a label, 00:02:59 records, and things were in motion, but I just couldn’t do a lot of the stuff that needed to be done. But things are a lot better now.

JM:  What’s on the go at the moment? Is there a new album coming anytime soon?

CG:  Well I ‘ve got a bunch of new songs, but I just haven’t had the time to get them down. But I’m hoping to get something out for next year.

JM:  What are you listening to these days?

CG:  My roomate Megan Boddy was playing Kathryn Calder’s album this morning, and it’s great, man!  I was listening to Chad VanGaalen the other day—I really really like him.  I’m also fond of (a bit under his breath), uh, Opera.

JM:  I did a show recently, opening for Rocky Votolato, and he made a point of mentioning to the audience that you were his inspiration for playing Harmonica. After the show, he told me that he basically ripped off your style.

CG:  (laughs) Right on. That’s funny, because I don’t really know that much about playing the harmonica, but I guess I know a few things–enough to create the illusion that I can actually play it.

JM:  (laughs) Ok, I see a headline for this interview:  Clay George, Illusionist.

CG:  Or Charlatan!

JM:  Wow, alright—you really took it to the next level (laughs). Ok, but one last question:  what’s the most satisfying thing for you about being a musician?

CG:  The most satisfying thing is just those moments when you know that the audience is with you, that you’ve got them.  Maybe I’m just starved for attention or something.

JM:  Well aren’t all performers a bit straved for attention?

CG:  Yeah.  I guess I get the most gratification just from the moments when I know people are hearing what I’m saying—-like when someone comes up to me and says that a particular line from a song really hit them—I don’t think I’m articulating this very well.

JM:  Don’t worry, it will all look very neat once I’ve written it out.

CG: (laughs) Good.  I guess I like giving something, having someone take something positive away from what I’m doing, that’s huge, you know?  Even  if it’s just a sense of something.

JM:  Well I’m looking forward to taking something away from your show tonight.  Thanks for meeting with me, man.

CG:  No problem.  Thanks for asking me.

The Rest of Friday Night

After Clay George’s fine set, the Whitsundays came on, and I disappeared over to Sugar Nightclub. I wanted to catch Detroit’s Tunde Olaniran—I’d read good things, but when I arrived at the club I got scared. It was DeadsVille inside Sugar, just a scattering of distracted-looking party people shuffling around to DJ Sam Demoe. If Olaniran was as outrageous as hip rep suggested (I’ve heard Prince’s lovechild and Kraftwerk both mentioned toward describing his act), then I was beginning to feel bad for what might be a very poor and apathetic turn out.  No worries though, because the man has the power.  Within five minutes of Tunde taking the stage, the drifters and beer-nursers had gathered close. Within ten minutes, most people were dancing. After fifteen minutes, people (me especially) were losing there shit!  Who was this guy, this huge black man in like pristine flowing white coat, elegant long white scarf, with straightened and highlighted hair, dancing like he really just didn’t care, singing like a diva, rapping like an allstar, and just in general being the funnest fucking thing to hit Sugar’s stage, I’m sure, in quite some time?  I dunno, but thank God for Tunde.  One of my fellow show-goers did quite a nice job of summing up Olaniran’s performace. She said it was part talent-show, and part grade 9 girls’ sleepover, where your friend’s mom gets too drunk and is all  “hey girls, check it out”, and then blasts Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” on the stereo while she sings and dances her heart out. I agree, only this wasn’t embarrassing—it was pure gold. In fact, Olaniran’s last song was an amazing cover of “Like a Virgin.”  I don’t know if I’ve ever seen an artist take a club that drowsy and make it rock so hard.

Man, there is just so much to say about last night, but I’m running out of time. I’ve gotta head down to the Upstairs Cabaret soon for an interview with Times Neue Roman. I’ll be trying to catch Kathryn Calder and the Gaslamp Killer tonight as well.  But before I go, I just have to mention

The Wooden Sky

These guys were really something special to see. A young band at the height of their power, they absolutely stole the show at the Goolden last night. I honestly felt bad for headlining act Great Lake Swimmers—I wouldn’t have wanted to follow  The Wooden Sky’s performance.  They got a mostly standing O from the crowd, and I figure those who didn’t stand must have been like incapacitated by how righteously these young dudes rocked. I wish I could go into this topic more—how committed each member was to every song, how well they played together, how they reminded me, at times, of early Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers lost in a dark woods (this is a very good thing), on and on. But I can’t, and so I say just check them out—do yourself a favour.

Ok, I really gotta go, but I’ll just say that I eventually made it over to see some of Gord Downey’s excellent set at Market Square (I heard the lights went out for a while, but it didn’t stop old Gord, he just kept rockin), and ended my night dancing  to a very fine DJ set by Egyptrixx, at a packed Lucky Bar.

Ok, into the night!

-Jay E. Morritt.



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