David Ward: A Real Class Act

Call it a quirk but I can’t help but show up early for gigs. Ever since I showed up early one night in 2001 and caught Fugazi sound checking inside a soon-to-be-full community center, I’ve made the habit of being early whenever possible. Who knows what’ll happen? On this Friday night at the Shark Club, showing up early paid off again.

David Ward, a 29-year-old Vancouver-based artist, was easy to spot: he was the Tim/Jeff Buckley-lookalike by the bar. In a brief pre-show chat, Ward was effusive about the two acts supporting him that evening, as he was about the indie music scene in general. Just back from a brief UK tour, Ward is keeping himself busy this fall with a cross Canada tour, a documentary about indie music and, maybe, a stint waxing boats in October.

Off-stage Ward is pure class, introducing people to his mom and modestly accepting praise for his Gordon Lightfoot cover. Ward is also a graduate of the Joe Strummer School for Fan Treatment, offering a pay-what-you-can policy for CDs and, on this evening, operating a shuttle service to some friends on the North Shore. Ward is from an old school program of giving the people what they want; and as he explained his CD policy from the stage, it’s all about “getting the music out there”.

Dressed in casual slacks and a cardigan, he cut an impressive figure of maturity and calm. No small feat for a guy on the eve of a tour. But when he hit the stage, Ward dug into the shit with intensity and focus.

Backed by a solid quartet, Ward played an impressive 60-minute set of accomplished, sinewy jams. Playing for an intimate gathering of friends, families, peers and a few Shark Club regulars, Ward was relaxed in his banter but forceful in his musical delivery.

The Buckley allusion reveals itself further on stage. With a tan and black Fender strapped to him, Ward looks even more like the incarnation of the late Tim Buckley. And like Buckley, he too hits some impressive high notes. This range allows Ward to play a set that pulls in funk, soul, folk and rock with an equal passion.

The set began with a nourish jam that simmered on low before heating up into a number that was atmospheric and dynamic. This opener set the scene for the remainder of the set. “Ghost in the Woods”, a number inspired by a real-life murder that hit close to home for Ward, was a performance of stunning vivacity. For those few minutes, the sports bar memorabilia of the Shark Club took on demented shapes in the darkness, a post-modern setting for Sleepy Hollow if there ever was one.

A lone solo number, however, was the highlight. The Deepest Blue found Ward in a performance of sheer ethereal dimensions. Clearly, there is something unique about Ward. As is evident from the three EPs he has released this year, his muse is shining bright.

After the set Ward packed up his gear, said a round of goodbyes and put on his shuttle driver’s cap for a ride into the late summer’s night. Ward will be touring across Canada beginning in Kelowna on September 19th.

Also on the bill that night, were Kevin Gau (of The Left) and Proud Animal. Gau played a short solo set of cathartic Bob-Mould-gone-acoustic-numbers. He finished things off with a ballsy cover of The Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”. Short of being a poor choice (especially when slowed down) Gau took a firm hold of the Hall of Fame rocker and left an imprint of his teeth for all to see. Proud Animal, a collective of Vancouver Indie mercenaries, played a set of enigmatic, accordion-driven pop that was infectious, quirky and damnably delicious.