Concert review and photos by Kyle Harcott
Have I mentioned I love Vancouver’s Biltmore? Not least for its ‘40s-bordello-chic décor, or its cheap (CHEAP!) cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon, or its postage-stamp-sized stage, but on this particular nochy, for its laidback policy at the ticket booth when there was a minor hitch surrounding my name, as the trusty Hellbound correspondent, not being on the guestlist. But, once I got past that gauntlet (easier than I thought it would be), I had some time to kill before Caspian’s set began so I ambled over to the merch table for a browse. Damn, what is it about post-rock bands? Is some sort of master’s degree in graphic design a mandatory prerequisite to starting a post-rock band? While all of the reasonably-priced merch on display was ornate and impressive, I wound up springing for a Sparowes shirt and a Caspian vinyl. I could have spent a lot more, though.
Caspian ambled onto the stage about 10PM, and from their start held the audience in thrall. There was no need on their part to employ tricky visuals or projected images, the band was simply so into what they were playing that their whole vibe was infectious, and the packed floor was shortly awash with reverent head-bobbing and swaying, proving that sometimes, less is more. Concentrating on songs from their latest double-LP Tertia, Caspian drove home their first-time-in-Vancouver set with massive, aeriform jams like “Malacoda”, “Vienna” and “The Raven”. Another crowd-pleaser was the triptych of “Quovis/Further Up/Further In”. All of Caspian’s set was met with enthusiastic applause and cheers from the Biltmore crowd. But the absolute show-stopper of the night was their finale, “Sycamore”, which in its coda, soared off into a massive drum-circle-jam between all of the Caspian guys -joined onstage by Sparowes’ drummer David Clifford – leaving the Biltmore crowd agog and wanting more. The common consensus after their set being, “Man, how do you follow that up?”
Well, of course, being Red Sparowes helps. This is not to say that the Sparowes couldn’t hold their own onstage without the visuals, of course they could. But let’s face it – the entrancing visual aspect of their performance is definitely a big selling feature in going to see them live. If you’ve never seen them, the band, live, basically works as a soundtrack to the visuals being deployed onscreen behind them, and at times that seems to be where the true show is. Red Sparowes are a fascinating live band in that respect, but sometimes their performance almost gets overshadowed by what you’re watching on the screen. Their set drew heavily from their latest masterwork The Fear Is Excruciating, But Therein Lies The Answer, but truth be told, I was too busy getting mesmerized by the band’s stunning audio/visual performance to concentrate on exactly which songs were played in the set; that combination of fascinating and ethereal light and sound was at times haunting, at others uplifting, but always captivating.
Truly, therein lies my only – albeit minor – complaint about post-rock. The music is almost always exquisitely beautiful, when it’s being light and airy, or monolithic and crushing. But after a point, I find that for me, it just kind of tends to blend together. And that’s not a slam on the bands, I think most bands in the genre are at least halfway interesting sonically, but I just can’t be arsed to put in the time it takes to develop a discerning listener’s ear between post-rock bands. I will say that on this night, for me, Caspian stole the show, with their passionate display of what playing this music means to them. It was their first time in Vancouver; let’s hope it’s not their last.