Halifax’s bluesy garage rock duo Cousins released their latest full-length, The Halls of Wickwire, on May 13 via Hand Drawn Dracula. It’s an excellent album of hard-hitting blues rock with a punk edge, and the Vancouver crowd at the Media Club past Friday the 13th was lucky enough to have witnessed Cousins play it nearly in full.
Cousins are guitarist Aaron Mangle and drummer Leigh Dotey. They share vocal duties, but it was Mangle who helmed their two opening songs, which included the rumbling “Alone”, with its lingering blues-lick and repeated declaration that “no one should be alone.” Afterwards Dotey took the lead on album opener “Phone”, her voice climbing over her own steady drumbeat. Her simple, powerful style evoked the might of Meg White, but Dotey took a slightly fuller, more rackety turn near the end of the song to match Mangle’s increasingly chaotic guitaring.
A few songs in, Dotey noted the room’s stillness: “It’s quite quiet in here. You were right, Jay” (referring to prolific local band-leader/producer Jay Arner, whose group opened the night). The crowd issued a silent challenge to force a reaction out of them, and Cousins answered with the thunderous “Mess” The song’s choked guitar solo only added to the sense of struggle that the resolute crowd posed, as Mangle fought to ring out as much noise from his instrument as he could.
After the murky “At Odds” and the crushing “Body” Cousins still had four songs left in their set. The time was 10:15 PM, and curfew was approaching. They raced towards the finish with “Other Ocean”, then a new one. “It’s about the government. We got to keep it short, ’cause we don’t have much time, but the short of it is, we’re unhappy,” Aaron explained, straight-to-the-point. Before leaving the stage, they followed with yet “another song about the government,” the name of which I didn’t catch.
One of the most refreshing parts of the show was that Cousins’ encore was obviously unplanned. They didn’t just step off of the stage, take a few swigs of complimentary beer, peek out at the crowd, and go back onstage regardless of the crowd’s response. They were genuinely wary of their allotted time, constantly asking each other what time it was during their last few songs, and in plain view, they checked with the crew at the back of the house if they could play just one more. And people actually called for more. Though Cousins didn’t oblige all of the crowd’s requests – they finished the night with “Ocean” instead of the repeatedly asked for teeth-kicker “What’s Your Name” – everyone was thrilled to get anything the band could spare in such little time.
Cousins are the kind of blues rock that sounds better when it catches a few snags. It’s not sloppily played – they’re still hard-hitting and clear – but they leave enough room for genuine mistakes to shine through – constructive accidents that can only happen in the moment. Vancouver crowds have a reputation for being tough sells, but with enough talent and hard work, they can be won. With Cousins, there was no faking – just true grit. And damned if they didn’t seem like friendly people. They truly deserved their hard-fought victory at the Media Club.