ROCOCODE April 4 @ The Electric Owl with Ryan Guldemond and Wintermitts – review

Rococode are back in town after touring our fair country since late February. On Wednesday night, they brought their friends Wintermitts and Ryan Guldemond (of Mother Mother) who co-produced Rococode’s debut Guns, Sex & Glory with Andrew Braun.

The six-piece Wintermitts broke the ice with an ambitious set full of acoustic and electric guitar, banjo, bass, drums, xylophone, trombone, accordion… I think that’s all. If that wasn’t impressive enough, the group swapped instruments back and forth with ease throughout the night (cue Benny Hill theme) as if they were playing musical instruments… instead of musical chairs… get it?… Sigh… That was much cleverer in my head… moving on. While the combination of six simultaneous instruments and several voices did sound a bit mishmash-y at times, the moments when the group hit their stride were remarkable.

The opening “Le Paradis” eased the Electric Owl crowd into a jammy set which included “Ring of Fire” trombone flourishes (“Sharks”) and words of sweet innocence (“I want to dance with you tonight / I want to hold your hand in the moonlight” in “Springtime”). The distinguishing feature with Wintermitts is their bilingual (French and English) approach, not only in terms of lyrics, but sound as well; there’s something about the accordion that never fails to “French” things up. The set highlight was certainly “Careful” (one of the French tunes, go figure), which the group recently performed and recorded with the University of British Columbia Symphony Orchestra for the Vancouver Symphonique event (December 10, 2011). En gros, j’ai bien aimé leur musique, et j’ai très hate de les revoir. À la prochaine, Mitaines d’Hiver.

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Whereas Wintermitts was a small army on stage, Ryan Guldemond was all by his lonesome, accompanied only by his electric guitar and a kick-ass mohawk (or fauxhawk…? Whatever – cool hair). The guy beside me yanked the words out of my brain – “He looks like Billy Idol!” No kidding.

Guldemond quickly set a fun-loving and mischievous tone with “Happy” (“Drugs can make a fuck last all night long”) and his witty and genuine banter. But everything was not all sunshine and lollipops with Guldemond, as he contemplated life’s shadows in “The End of Me” and all facets of love, good and bad (“If you were a country, I’d be the flag / If you were a cigarette, I’d be the drag”, “If you were a party, I’d be the pills”, “Love, it dissipates…”).

Ryan Guldemond makes me think of a young Luke Doucet back in the Veal days, pre-castration – charismatic, mesmerizing, and full of piss, vinegar and whiskey. The guy plays a beautiful guitar that’s only surpassed by his powerful weapon of a voice that jumps between casual, almost conversational, and fearlessly ferocious. Truly inspiring stuff.

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Seeing Rocode live at the Owl confirmed what I had been hoping for – they are a tight, well-oiled pop machine that hits its mark every time, but instead of finding a mechanical motor at its centre, one finds a thumping heart that pumps very real, human blood.

They kicked off their set with a noisy instrumental that eventually calmed and morphed into the charmingly ominous “Guns, Sex & Glory”. They followed that up with “Weapon”, which allowed both the band and the crowd to kick it up a notch, and “Death of a Payphone”, both of which can be found on Guns. Nothing gets me quite like Laura Fuckin’ Smith (as frontman Andrew Braun rock’n’rollingly introduced her) and her exquisite voice on “Ghost”. It’s impressive on the album, and live, well, it’s just fantastic.

Drummer Johnny Andrews’ enjoyment was palpable throughout his tight-yet-loose performance, thanks to his infectious, happy-as-a-clam grin. He and Shaun Huberts provided a strong backbone as the foursome treated the crowd to some new tunes, including “Run, run, run, run, run… run” (something like that), and stirring performances of “Dreams”, both “Concentrate” pieces, and the closer, “Blood”, complete with curdling scream – nice!

Do yourselves a favour and pick up Guns, Sex & Glory (and other very cool merch) right here, or better yet, catch Rococode in Victoria – April 6 at Lucky Bar, and June 16 at V.I.C. Fest. Also, Ryan Guldemond truly is a must-see, so watch for him, and check out Wintermitts’ latest album Oceans.