Julie Doiron’s request night worth the gamble

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Last Tuesday was a special night for Julie Doiron fans in Vancouver. Not only did the former Eric’s Trip bassist and Wooden Stars collaborator play a double-shot, including a free show at Red Cat Records, but her Biltmore set was almost entirely by request.

Knife Pleats opened the second show with the type of jangly pop-rock for which perennial twee queen Rose Melberg is best known. She lamented the loss of her beloved distortion pedal, which recently broke after almost 25 years of faithful service, but the band remained all pep. After they zipped through a string of originals that included “Terrible”, they ended with a cover of “Never Never Go” by Flying Nun group the Chills. The song could have ended in disaster, Melberg warned (“It has a lot of words!”), but Knife Pleats got through it just fine.

Next was Amherst, Nova Scotia’s Jon Mckiel, supported by Vancouver musicians Jay Arner on drums and Evan McDowell on bass. Doiron scurried onstage to briefly sing back-up on the first song, which Mckiel called “the slow jam” – though the trio then kicked off the even slower, bluesy “Tropical Depression”. Mckiel lumbered through “Chop Through”, the restless, frenzied “Twin Speaks”, and some Chad VanGaalen-esque garage-poppers before he called for Doiron to return. Someone in the crowd yelled, “She’s got a babysitter tonight!” And as if on cue, she reappeared with a glass of red wine and joined Mckiel, Arner, and McDowell for the closer, a blustering, revved up cover of Guided By Voices’ classic, “Watch Me Jumpstart”.

Mckiel more than returned the favour to Doiron, taking a seat behind the drums for much of her otherwise solo electric set.

For the first time, Doiron employed a request sheet. Though she only left open 10 spots, fans jotted down almost more songs than she was able to get through. If the list was more widely publicized (many fans were unaware of it), she certainly would have needed a few more pieces of paper.

The fans voiced what they wanted to hear, and Doiron more than obliged – with one exception. She read the list aloud and stopped at “Freebird”, which of course, someone had to request – and which she promptly crossed out. “I get it. I get the joke,” she said with a smirk. “I’m sure you didn’t expect to hear that anyway.”

The evening’s spirit was inviting and playful, with a lot of relearning songs on the fly. “Heavy Snow”, “Sweeter”, “Love To Annoy”, “I Left Town”,“Blue”, “Me and My Friend”, “Will You Still Love Me in December?”, “The Wrong Guy”, and “Nice To Come Home” were just some of the songs that streamed out of Doiron with varying accuracy. Having confused a request for “Dance All Night” with “Dance Music”, she played both anyway. The latter was just one of several live drum lessons for Mckiel. “Here’s another one Jon’s never heard and I haven’t played in a long time.” She vocalized the rhythm and quickly assured him, “You got this!” Surely enough, he had no problems hanging.

The highly improvised night wasn’t always so smooth though. “Consolation Prize” began an early series of happy accidents that saw Doiron reposition her mic and amps to (successfully) kill feedback and hopping all over the stage to step on her pedals and peek at the set list. She forgot the third and fourth verses of “Spill Yer Lungs” but got by with the help of fans who were willing to spare some data to hop on Google. After the song, she realized she’d mixed up more lyrics to “Consolation”, but the audience prompted her once again and shared a sing-along as the correct words flooded back to her, redeeming the song’s conclusion.

Doiron ended her hour-and-a-half set with “The Gambler”, a late addition to the request sheet. (A fan yelled out the song, but it wasn’t on the list, so Doiron invited him to write it down and make the request official). “I’m used to people leaving my shows, but then I realize it’s because I just play forever and ever,” Doiron remarked, aware of her own eagerness to play. Noticeably, the crowd thinned as midnight approached, but the diehards stuck it out until the very end, as happy as Doiron herself was to have been a part of her successful experiment.

Leslie Ken Chu

Leslie Ken Chu

Contributor