Live Review: Yukon Blonde / The Zolas

On the evenings of Friday, November 30 and Saturday, December 1 we had the pleasure of listening to Yukon Blonde and The Zolas do back to back shows at The Station on Jasper. This repeat was a first for both of us although we had seen both bands previously, this was the sixth time for Yukon Blonde and the seventh for The Zolas. Listening to two groups do back to back shows presented us with an opportunity to make some observations on band dynamics, set lists, crowd demographics and dynamics, how the music and lights were mixed and the overall vibe from each show.

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The Zolas hail from the Vancouver area but make numerous tours that include Edmonton, where it is evident that they have a lot of fans. Currently, the core of The Zolas consists of Zach Gray on guitar and vocals, Dwight Abell on bass, and Cody Hiles on drums with a touring pianist rounding out their sound.

Over the years I have heard The Zolas grow and spread their playing into new and exciting sounds while they have also developed and matured as a cohesive unit, they sound better with each listening. They are more confident and they are using new sounds and arrangements that make their older songs sound fresh. They have always been a band that had a good on stage presence and that did not change with these two shows. Zach is good at banter and engaging the crowd and the band as a unit kept the energy moving forward with a minimum of dead spots such as guitar tunings.

The Zolas are adding more nuances and textures to their music through the use of synthesisers and trigger pads. This was most notable for Zach as he played both synthesiser and guitar in which he used the headstock of his guitar to tap trigger pads. The band generated good energy with the crowd and were able to sustain that energy through their set, although I think it was a better crowd on Friday than Saturday and the crowd energy was different. The Zolas traditionally close with Zach taking his mic stand, guitar and a small synth into the middle of the crowd on the floor and play Escape Artist. Zach asks the crowd to turn on their phone flashlights and it creates a cool dynamic.

Over the years I have seen this done several times and the audience reaction isn’t always the same. On Friday night it was good, not as good as a previous show at a different venue and a different crowd, but it was darn good. Saturday night, on the other hand, had a very different crowd that didn’t engage as well from my perspective.fullsizeoutput_d6dfAs always, The Zolas meet and greet with the crowd after the show and are good at it. We didn’t get a setlist from the Zolas this time around, but we got a selfie with Zach which is a tradition he does with us. My appreciation for this band goes up every time I see them live or listen to them at home. They are a highlight band for me. My favourite song is Frieda On The Mountain:
“Freida on the mountain
What do you see on the other side?
Freida on the mountain
What do you see on the other side?”
I’m sure that my family and friends will understand why it is a favourite.

Yukon Blonde is a band that started in Kelowna but work out of Vancouver nowadays. The band is made up of Jeff Innes on vocals and guitar, Brandon Scott on guitar and vocals, Graham Jones on drums and vocals, James Younger on bass and vocals, and Rebecca Gray on keyboards, synths, and vocals.fullsizeoutput_d6f5

Wikipedia classify them as an indie rock band although I can hear the influence of psych, disco, 80’s easy listening, and straight ahead power rock. They are a tight band that can are comfortable playing with a variety of sounds. Having the luxury of 3 band mates that can sing lead, all 5 of them singing backing vocals, 3 of them that play synth and two lead/rhythm guitar players, they can spread the sound around and add layers and textures that compliment each other and build a big sound.

The highlight for me of both shows by Yukon Blonde was their long jams on the song Radio. I didn’t time it because I was so mesmerised listening to it, but it went around, up, over and then back for more than the traditional 3 minutes that they would get on a radio edit. It then it segued into Saturday Night which was another high energy stretched out anthem. The closing song both nights was a tribute to George Harrison and the Travelling Wilburys, in which both bands took the stage, and they did a rendition of Handle With Care.

 

fullsizeoutput_d6e6The Station on Jasper is a good venue, the staff are polite and courteous and the sound is usually pretty good. They have a decent menu, we had the nachos and they were tasty. Like I said earlier, the crowds were very different for the two shows. Friday night had a lot of happy people that were there because they wanted to hear the music. Saturday felt like it had a lot more intoxicated people who came to the venue to get drunk and either socialise through the whole show or spend the entire night texting. Very different crowds that I am sure the bands could sense as much as we did.fullsizeoutput_d289

The sound was muddy, very bass heavy and very loud on Friday night, which was a shame because so many people were there to hear good music. Saturday night had a better mix although it was still very, very loud. At least the bass wasn’t as bad as Friday night, it was still too much, but it was better. Heavy bass is a trend that we have noticed at a lot of shows, so it isn’t confined to one venue. The excessive volume is also at epidemic proportions, and it’s everywhere even in stores.

Conclusion: I thoroughly enjoyed both bands both night and would gladly return to The Station on Jasper.

-Norman Weatherly

Photos by Joel Weatherly. More Photos at Joel Weatherly Photography.

Yukon Blonde setlists: Friday, Saturday

Birds of Chicago/Steep Canyon Rangers

I had listened to the Steep Canyon Rangers before the evening of Friday, June 23rd at the Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium, but to be honest, it was only because I had listened to Steve Martin and they were performing with him. My impression of them from that limited listening experience was that they were one heck of a good band, and they are. They have been racking up awards since 2006 when they won Emerging Artist of the Year from the International Bluegrass Association all the way up to a Grammy in 2012 for Instrumental Performance of the Year. They have good credentials so I was looking forward to a night of good music.

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I received more than I expected, the evening began with The Birds of Chicago, a trio from where else, Chicago. The band is led by the married couple JT Nero and Allison Russel, a transplanted Canadian formerly of the group Po’ Girl. They were accompanied with a third member on guitar and slide resonator whose name slipped by my ears. The Birds of Chicago had played at the Edmonton Folk Fest last year so we were familiar with them but the set tonight took me away to a very pleasant place, a happy place. The songs swooped and danced gracefully like a bird in flight. They held the audience in the palm of their hands. It is rare for an opening band to get a standing ovation but The Birds Of Chicago deserved it. A true delight to hear them live again. Fortunately, they are coming back to Alberta this summer on the folk music circuit, playing Grande Prairie and Edmonton in November.

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After a short turnaround, The Steep Canyon Rangers opened the show with what could only be called one hell of an opener. It built energy as each member of the band strolled onto the stage and built on that until it felt like they had given it all they had. They hadn’t, there was plenty more to come. They weaved between folk ballads, bluegrass, Americana, a few classical overtones and at moments it felt like a jazz jam session. One of the highlights for me was a number in which they all played their instruments as percussion, it worked and it was spellbinding. Percussion mandolin, percussion upright bass, percussion guitar, it was incredible. These gentlemen not only know how to play a great variety of music, they do it smoothly with both professionalism and intimacy. At times it felt like we were at a family hoedown and on one tune The Birds of Chicago joined them for a number where they all gathered around the microphone for a sing-along. Great stuff.
It was a magical evening of music that will linger in my memory for a long time. Another bonus is how personal they are, both groups did a meet and greet in the lobby after their sets where they signed CDs and we were fortunate to get a set list from the Steep Canyon Rangers that they all graciously signed. A perfect end to a truly memorable evening of music.

Reverend Horton Heat

It’s Saturday night and I’m in the Starlite Room. This is going to be a good night because those two go together like peanut butter and jam.Version 2

PB&J was not on the menu, however, tonight will feature The Reverend Horton Heat, Unknown Hinson and Igor and The Red Elvises. This is no cheap buffet at the hospital cafeteria, no sir it wasn’t. It was more like a smorgasbord of sound that became music for our ears.

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There was no time wasted warming up, The Red Elvises roared onto the stage and set a beat down that got the crowds attention, and not just because they had a good beat going, they were eye candy as well. The bass was actually a bass balalaika, huge, red and a very rich bass sound.

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The drummer was sequinned and was laying down a driving rhythm to accompany the bass and keyboard, and then Igor arrived. If anyone thought the band dressed flashy they were about to be awed by the leopard printed, and who knows what else, silk printed suit of Igor. Igor, the East Bloc Elvis plays a mean electric guitar and wings songs about the KGB, bacon, and Monsters From Mars. It would be too easy to dismiss Igor and the Red Elvises as a novelty act, they were talented, fun and got the crowd jumping, pumping and warmed up for the Heat that was about to come.

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The Reverend Horton Heat that is, aka Jim Heath, the psychobilly whirlwind from Texas fed off the energy that Igor and the Red Elvises had started and wound the crowd up to a new level of frenzy. They plowed into Victory Lap, the opening track from their newest release on Victory Records and seldom lifted their foot from the gas pedal after that. Jim Heath is a talented singer and songwriter as well as a master of rockabilly and psychobilly guitar. A very personable man who interacted very well with the audience and told stories about the band and how those stories often became songs.

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About mid-set, I lost track of time, they had a short break and upon returning played one song and then introduced Unknown Hinson. Unknown Hinson is an American singer, musician, songwriter, and voice actor. He is perhaps best known for his role as the voice of Early Cuyler on the Adult Swim animated series Squidbillies. There was obvious chemistry between The Horton Heat band and Unknown Hinson because they rocked the house, Hinson is a very accomplished guitar player and was a joy to hear and see in person. I loved the suits that Unknown Hinson and Jim Heath wore, They were Texas gentlemen to a T.

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Unknown Hinson left the stage after about 6 songs and Reverend Horton Heat settled in for a few slower songs and a few more stories and then they left the stage. Coming back for the traditional encore, their drummer started a solo that covered every surface of his drum kit, the upright bass, random glasses held high by front-row audience members and then back to his kit for a power closer. And then the rest of the band stepped for a few more songs that eventually led to Hinson returning for an extended jam with the full band. It left me breathless.

The Starlite room raised the bar with this show, which I rate as one of the all-time best that I have seen at this venue. Every single musician gave their all for the show and the audience bounced, jumped, danced disco and even did a conga line to show their respect for the people on the stage. It was fun, occasionally funny, and totally engaging and entertaining. A good time, a really good party on a snowy Saturday night in Edmonton, with The Heat turned up.

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