The night started off on the right foot when I found out that Current Swell’s show at the Commodore had officially sold out. Before even stepping into, arguably, Vancouver’s best music venue, I knew this was going to be a show exploding at the seams with energy.
Opening for Current Swell was a Vancouver-based duo named The Harpoonist and the Axe Murderer. Shawn Hall (the harpoonist) and Matthew Rogers (the axe murderer) took the stage as relative unknowns, but left the crowd buzzing after their set that lasted just under an hour. Their style of gritty, groin-grabbing blues took the Commodore by force. A perfect combination of heavy guitar riffs and harmonica solos that forced your head to shake from side to side, and kept your feet stomping the dance floor.
Matthew Rogers displayed incredible talent with his musical multitasking by singing, stomping the drums (with his feet), and playing his guitar simultaneously. Not an easy accomplishment for even the most seasoned musicians. Hall, when introducing Rogers, said “he plays the drums with his feet, the guitar with his hands, and sings with his beard.” A collective guffaw, and a smile from the drummer/guitarist/singer filled the venue. Rogers’ energy was infectious. Every time HAM started up another one of their barn-burners, people couldn’t help but take advantage of the Commodore’s bouncy dance floor. His playing pushed the songs forward, driving the beat that kept people clapping throughout their entire set.
It’s always refreshing to see humbled artists on stage. At the beginning of their set, Hall and Rogers both mentioned how they’ve been wanting to play the Commodore since they started playing together. Well, guys, you did it. But, Hall has no reason for modesty, because he can blow. If Rogers was the motor, Hall was the gas. Never in my life have I seen a harmonica played so proficiently. He made it seem so easy, sliding up and down, to create musical tingles all over my skin. And, when he wasn’t wowing the crowd with his mouth harp, Hall was wooing us with his distinctive, grainy vocals best enjoyed sweaty with a beer in the air.
These guys have immense potential. The sound they create can be comparable to other blues-rock duos, The Black Keys and The White Stripes, putting them in extremely good company. They burned the house down, they rocked it, and instantly gained a ballroom full of fans. Well done.
HAM set the mood perfectly for the headlining band: Current Swell. This sextet from Victoria fed off the energy from the packed house. These guys continued the night’s theme of heavy-hitting blues music. But, instead of barn-burners, they put forward a distinctive sound that would perfectly compliment a beach bonfire. Scott Stanton’s fluid fingers were a blues blessing when they touched the fret board of his slide guitar. The end of every solo leaving us yearning for more, more, more!
Smiles were abundant on the faces of Current Swell’s loyal following. Looking around, most of the concert-goers were singing along or mouthing the lyrics. I’ve been aware of this band for quite some time, and have enjoyed their music, but would never consider myself a die-hard fan. Yet, seeing everyone smiling, dancing, and kissing their loved ones made me feel a part of a big beach party. The kind of beach party that only exists in music videos or teen movies.
Current Swell’s ability to build up the energy, and then, instantly bring it to a dull whisper is a quality of only the most experienced bands. After a few high-paced, high energy songs, the crowd went quiet (or at least, as quiet as it could) for an emotional rendition of “Brad’s Song”, a track dedicated to a friend who passed away after losing a battle with spinal injury. This control over the room’s emotions proves that their versatility is growing, and with it, their body of work. Meaning, these guys are sticking around for the long haul. This is what they were meant to do for a living.
The only thing missing from this show was a tall glass of whiskey. After one of the best responses to an opening act I’ve seen in a long time, Current Swell followed with a set full of ups and down and spin-arounds (a couple dancing beside me were spinning each other for most of the set). If you’re a fan of the blues, and more importantly, good music in general, then check both of these bands out. You will not be disappointed.