Monday, February 08, 2010

Review: Gentleman Reg Heavy Head Residency w/ Hooded Fang, Kite Hill @ The Drake Underground.

Every Wednesday this month "Gentleman" Reg Vermue & his band are in residency at the Drake Hotel. The occasion? To celebrate their recently-released digital EP (Heavy Head), the 1-year anniversary of the release of Jet Black, and to cap off a year of heavy touring. Last week's kick-off show featured two strong local acts, Kite Hill and Hooded Fang. I was there.

Kite Hill was up first, offering up orchestral pop, but of the tuneful rather than bizarre variety. The band is a project of keyboardist Ryan Carley (Ohbijou); his stellar backing band---Tyler Belluz (upright bass), Anissa Hart (cello), Steve Lappano (percussion), and Mika Posen (violin, backing vocals)---provided wonderful accompaniment. Carley's songs are pretty and a little melancholy, and with the string backing the effect is really quite lovely. This being my first time hearing anything from the band (other than a song that appears on the 2009 Friends in Bellwoods compilation), the songs tended to blend into one another. Another listen might help highlight differences. The band's debut album is in the works.

Next up was Hooded Fang. I've seen them a few different times since 2008, and consider them the city's top sunny, straightforward pop act. I was eager to see them perform, but a bit apprehensive: they don't always live up to my expectations. This night, they exceeded them. Yay! The band started off with "Land of Giants," the first track off their self-titled EP. Other than "Highway Steam," their contribution to the FiB project, the band performed all new songs. And they really looked and sounded like they were having a great time up there. The audience was a little shy of dancing, but I did my best to represent. What a fun set. A full-length should be out later this year. I'm looking forward to it.

Gentleman Reg have been busy over the past year, touring with A Camp, the Hidden Cameras, and here at home opening for the likes of Tegan & Sara, Zeus, Amy Millan, and Islands. I've seen this band a bunch of times, but, as Reg pointed out, they are usually the opener, and on reflection I'm not sure that I'd ever caught them in a headlining role. So it was about time!

The set started up with Reg performing a moving cover of Sam Phillips' "I Need Love" all by himself. Although the dancier tracks on Jet Black are my favourite ones, in his quieter moments, Reg can turn out moving performances, and this was one of those times. A good beginning to what would turn out to be a fantastic set. His backing band---these days only Jon Hynes (bass, not pictured) Kelly McMichael (keyboard, pictured left), and Dana Snell (drums, pictured right)---then joined him on stage. Over the next hour or so they offered up a good selection of tunes off the album, including all my faves: "Coastline," "To Some It Comes Easy," "You Can't Get It Back," "How We Exit," "We're In A Thunderstorm," and "Falling Back." The live versions seemed, in the moment at least, more spirited and fun than the recorded ones, though I missed the second guitar line. The band also performed "Wild Heart," the Stevie Nicks' cover off the Heavy Head EP, "For Trust" (from the FiB compilation, and Michael Stipe-approved, so Reg told us), plus a couple new original songs, including one that had never been performed before. Guests Shaun Brodie (trumpet) and Jessica Tollefsen (keyboard, tambourine, backing vocals) added extra layers to some of the songs. Everything sounded great, was performed with verve and, well, I was just thrilled to be there. *Gush*

Toward the end of the set, everyone around me was dancing. And so there was no way we'd let the band go without an encore, late on a Wednesday night though it was. Reg came out and sang a song he'd recently written "for a man I met in Winnipeg." As he introduced the song he told us he'd recorded a demo and emailed it to him, but hadn't yet heard back. "Story of my life." (Oh, Reg!) His band-mates then came back, too, and we were treated to an extended version of "The Boyfriend Song." Awesome!

Reg is one of my favourite pop artists, and I always enjoy seeing him perform. Wednesday's set was particularly great; I was practically giddy the whole time, and left with a big smile on my face. Reg is both charming and awkward, funny, likable on stage, always warmly acknowledging the inevitable friends in the crowd, and willing to be himself. It's all very endearing, and would work well even if the songs weren't as great as they are.

Download: Gentleman Reg, "We're In A Thunderstorm" (Jet Black, 2009).

The Wednesday-night "Regidency" continues throughout the month. This week's special guests are By Divine Right and the Balconies. On 17 February Gentleman Reg are joined by Sheezer (Weezer cover band including Laura Barrett, Robin Hatch, Alysha Haugen, Magali Meagher, and Dana Snell) and Dance Yourself to Death. The final show of the residency (24 Feb) includes Evening Hymns and other "special guests." Every night sounds like a winner. Tickets for each show are $10 in advance from Soundscapes or Rotate This, or $12 at the door. If you get your ticket online from GalleryAC ($12.50), you'll also get yourself a copy of the (digital-only) Heavy Head EP.

Hmm . . . I might have to go again (and again and again)!

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