Rocking the Railway

photo by Brice Ferre

The Railway Club is one of those places that I’d always heard about but never been, until I saw Kat Bastow and Marsha play there on Sunday night. It’s on the corner of Dunsmuir and Seymour, right on top of that 7-11, and it has a sense of history that comes along with being open since 1931. There were three acts on the docket that night, and once the night was done I was quite impressed with all the homegrown talent we have here in Vancouver and how cool the people seem to be. The whole show had a very relaxed atmosphere with a good sense of community as the three bands all hung out and watched each other play.

The opening act was Contrasound, and as a boy-girl quartet split evenly among the genders, they immediately grabbed my attention.  With the guys on guitar and bass, and the girls on drum and vocals, the band’s onstage formation had a nice symmetry to it. They also had matching marks under their eyes, which I thought at first might have been tattooed tears, but closer inspection revealed that I was wrong. Either way I thought it was a nice touch, and I laughed as I imagined how much more threatened I would have felt had I been right. The female vocalist had a good voice but I think it was better suited towards the band’s more melodic songs rather than the ones where she was screaming. And although it may have just been me going deaf, I found her vocals and lyrics kind of hard to understand.  The songs that worked best for me personally were the ones where she sang more, and I think Contrasound should use her voice to their advantage and showcase it more instead of drowning it in heavy rock riffs. They also could have been more dynamic onstage because they seemed kind of reserved and apprehensive, and their set would have really benefited from some letting loose. Something interesting that I’d overheard was that 3 of the 4 band members were also models, and I would not be surprised at all if that were true.  On the whole they were somewhat rough around the edges, but I’m interested to see how this band develops because they definitely have a unique look and lots of potential.

Marsha was up next. This band from North Vancouver is made up of a trio of guys who bring an infectious enthusiasm with them that practically bleeds through their music. Think bass-heavy blues-rock à la the Black Keys. Their songs all had that feel-good, anthemic vibe to them and I found myself thinking “If only I knew the words”. Marsha was my plus-one’s favourite band of the night and I could definitely see why with their set of all original songs and sick reverb-drenched solos. The lead singer’s vocals have that plaintive, drunken drawl that is evocative of The White Stripes and Death Cab, and they certainly raised the bar and upped the party atmosphere, which is hard to do on a quiet Sunday night. And as a guy who has been trying to grow some facial hair these past few months I have to commend the epic-ness of the bassist’s beard. I would see these guys perform again, for sure.

The last band of the night was the headliner and reason for this article, Kat Bastow. A little disclaimer- I met Kat at Capilano University last year in Business Finance 241, and hadn’t really spoken to her since. That’s why I jumped at the chance to see the show; I remembered that she mentioned being a musician, and I can honestly say that even if I hadn’t known her, I’d still be impressed with the set – she and her band rocked the night. Kat Bastow is also based out of North Vancouver and has been making music for about a year. Kat pulls triple duty, supplying some wicked vocals along with guitar and keyboard. I’ve always been fascinated by multi-instrumentalists because of their versatility and the dedication it takes to play more than one instrument well enough to be comfortable doing it onstage. I mean, sometimes I tell people I can play the violin and trombone which is technically true, but in reality it was only during grade school and I’d rather die than play either one in any kind of performance capacity. What Kat and her band does takes hard work and guts.

By the time Kat got onstage the crowd had started to die down, which was understandable as people had to work the next day, but the many fans remaining were stoked to see her. Both the crowd and band were packed together pretty closely and the venue was intimate enough that you could actually make eye contact with the individual band members, which is a startling change of pace when you’re used to squinting to try and make out the pixelated figures on the 40-ft. jumbo-tron. Kat had an easy going rapport with the crowd, and their performance had a laid-back spontaneity that had a cool, jam session feel to it. Kat herself was pretty bad-ass, from playing multiple instruments to dancing around onstage and interacting with her audience, you get the sense that she really loves what she does. It’s hard to not get caught up in it as well when the band is genuinely into it… a little headbanging never hurts either.

The Kat Bastow band played a wide range of styles while mainly incorporating rock with ska influences, making for a real Bif-Naked-meets-No-Doubt kind of sound. I asked Kat what other influences she had and she mentioned the likes of Pearl Jam and Nirvana, and I could definitely see a bit of that grunge influence in her music. She played seven songs, including a cover of “The Earth Isn’t Humming” by Thrice, and they were a great showcase of her style. My favourite song was “Narcissist”, which you can check out on her Soundcloud page (link above). On the singing front, Kat has some serious chops that can alternate between soulful melody to a rock scream, and the band uses that versatility well, especially on the hooks.

All in all, it was a good night of music and an awesome way to spend an otherwise lazy Sunday. It was a few hours of solid rock, where the women repped pretty hard, and the guys were no slouches either. I came away with a few new bands to keep an eye out for, and the great thing about them being local is that their shows are hella cheap and in those up-close-and-personal venues where you can actually see the band without a pair of binoculars.