The Himalayan Bear’s Triumphant Homecoming

13 11 2011

2011 has been an exciting year for Ryan Beattie’s Himalayan Bear.  This year has seen the release of the exquisite Hard Times, and subsequent touring in both Europe, with Katherine Calder, and down the West coast by his lonesome.  If Saturday night was any indication, all of this touring has resulted in a live set that somehow manages to surpass the recordings; the songs are even sexier draped in a live skin.

The experience was reminiscent of Desire-era Bob Dylan.  While Desire surely as one of Dylan’s best works (and Beattie may agree as his ‘other band’ Chet does an amazing cover of “Oh Sister”) the resulting Rolling Thunder Review Revue tour gave songs such as “Isis” and “One More Cup of Coffee For the Road” a context in which to become fully realized (compare, for instance, the studio version of “Isis” to the live version featured on Biograph).

On Saturday night Beattie sang every track of his latest master work with an excitement and vigor only hinted at on the studio recordings.  Surrounded by members of Chet, Beattie quickly set to work establishing this most recent incarnation of the revolving cast of musicians that is Himalayan Bear, as the best.

Particularly noteworthy was the return of Matt Skillings.  Skillings’ interpretation of the percussive craft is less rhythmic than that of Beattie’s other drummers– his style is less John Bonham and more Glenn Kotche.

Beattie will soon be leaving us again, this time for a tour down the East Coast of the United States.  But he won’t leave before opening the show for Kathryn Calder’s CD release party at Lucky Bar later this month.  If you weren’t at Logan’s on Saturday night (or even if you were), be sure to buy tickets to Calder’s release NOW; catch the Himalayan Bear before he migrates (hopefully, “just for the winter”).

To read more of Nick Lyons’ writing, check out his blog here.

Advertisements




Musical Matinee

27 10 2010

An Afternoon at the Orange Hall with David P. Smith and the Euphorians

By Nick Lyons

Every morning on my way to work, I walk past a little place called the Orange Hall. The hall, on Fernwood Road close to Vic High, would be easy to miss as it is about the size of an average living room. An old stone retaining wall frames the small plot of land on which the hall rests—a humble, symbolic defense against the greedy intentions of would be-developers. I’ve always wanted to see the hall from the inside and on Sunday afternoon (October 24), I got my chance as David P. Smith played a rare matinee show there, with Himalayan Bear supporting.

The always-engaging David P. Smith

I arrived early to check out the little place before the bands started to play and was greeted at the door by Smith’s wife and daughter who welcomed me to the show. Smith himself was meekly setting up the chairs for his audience, who started to filter in during the sound check. The hall lived up to every expectation: hardwood floors, obviously recently polished, gleamed in the dying light of a blustery October afternoon and groaned, somehow unobtrusively, under the sneakers of the packed hall’s patrons. After a brief sound check, Himalayan Bear took the stage.

Ryan Beattie (Himalayan Bear) is a cornerstone in Victoria’s music scene. He plays guitar for Frog Eyes, whose most recent album, Paul’s Tomb: A Triumph, stands as one of the year’s best albums and was long listed for the Polaris Prize. Beattie is also the lead singer for Chet, whose masterful Chelsea Silver, Please Come Home, has tragically not seen a fraction of the acclaim or radio play it deserves. A haunting and evocative testament to beauty and sadness, the album serves as the perfect soundtrack to a long, dark Victoria winter. Impossibly, Beattie still finds the time for his Himalayan Bear project, which is largely a solitary affair though, on occasion, he welcomes other musicians to the stage.

On this afternoon, the Himalayan Bear was alone, with only a sparkly black Gretsch guitar to keep him company. Beattie’s loneliness was befitting of the songs he sang—poetic accounts of people living and dying alone, with nothing but a bottle to bring solace to their solitude. Beattie’s is an incredibly literate music which owes as much to John Keats or Malcolm Lowery as it does to similarly tortured musicians such as Abner Jay. While the set was great, my thoughts kept going back to a show Himalayan Bear played earlier this year as opener for Julie Doiron, for which he brought a drummer on stage to join him. Drums added so much to Himalayan Bear’s sound, giving Beattie’s wistful vocal flights a much needed solid, rhythmic base. I look forward to seeing Beattie play with a drummer again someday soon.

After much applause and a quick smoke break, David P. Smith stepped onto the stage with his most recent band, the Euphorians. Like Smith, the band was all dressed in black save for the guitarist who obviously missed the memo. Featuring two violins, a bass guitar, trumpet, electric guitar and, sometimes, a baritone, the Euphorians provided a perfect accompaniment to Smith’s songs. The band’s drummer, unable to make the show, was replaced for the afternoon by a drum machine from the 19th century. A tangle of live wire and old wood with a metallic arm that slowly spun clockwise, the machine had tremendous stage presence, threatening to destroy us all while setting the tempo for Smith’s songs.

Smith’s music is as quirky and delightful as his makeshift drum machine. An accomplished visual artist, it should not come as a surprise that Smith’s songs are a veritable sketchbook of absurdist drawings. We see men blowing blood through a black rubber hose, fat kids with big tits eating ribs, and the freedom lovin’ folk dancing in the smoke of burning meat; all of these images packed into one song (Jackhammer Man, which he and his band played with tremendous gusto). While Smith’s music has been described as dark, it is equally hilarious—a kind of dada-esque misanthropy.

It was refreshing to see Smith and company performing an all ages show. Victoria suffers for not having much in the way of all-ages venues; children bring joy to the saddest of songs. One of the afternoon’s highlights was watching a two or three year old dancing giddily in the center aisle as Smith nonchalantly sang about cutting his head off and baking it in a pie before sending it to the moon in a rocket ship: it was an absolutely perfect contrast of innocence and insanity, as is much of Smith’s music.

All in all, an excellent afternoon. I cannot think of a better context in which to experience the little hall I pass by every day. Let’s hope that the hall will continue to be brought to life by musicians as talented and entertaining as David P. Smith for years to come.

Nick Lyons does concert reviews for Monday Magazine. To read Nick’s blog, visit milkandhoney2009.wordpress.com.








%d bloggers like this: