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Australia’s Aurora Jane Brings the Funk to the Downtown Eastside

photo by Lilli Waters

I never would’ve guessed how oddly this evening would start off. As the bus I was on approached the corner of Hastings and Main, where it turned and headed northeast toward downtown, we bus riders were unfortunate witnesses to the beating of a far-more-unfortunate older man by a group of three to four significantly younger guys. Pretty awful stuff. By the time we all got off, the altercation was over and a few people were helping the old guy up; he seemed alright, considering. The young droogs had by this point shuffled off across the street, now yelping at one another like a pack of lawless wild dogs.

I’m not sure what the whole thing was all about. Some people may think, and not without blame, “Well, what do you expect – it’s Hastings & Main,” and shrug it off. It’s not that they don’t care, necessarily, but you see and hear about this sort of thing happening in the Downtown Eastside all too often. It’s easy to become desensitized to it and, so, dismiss it as part of the regular daily routine.

Then again, there are some beautiful things that happen near Hastings and Main. Case in point – I was on my way to see BC’s own Picture The Ocean open for Melbourne, Autralia’s Aurora Jane at the Rickshaw Theatre. I entered, did a quick survey of the lobby, and proceeded to the floor and stage area as I usually do. Wait a minute – there’s nobody here. I mean, there were people in the lobby, but nobody in the hall. But the starts… now?… right? Huh. I made my way back to the lobby and noticed (not sure how I missed it the first time) the drums, keys, guitars and all the gear set up. I’d heard about the lobby shows held at the Rickshaw once in a while but had never been. “Intimate” is an understatement.

Picture The Ocean’s Jesse Dee welcomed the Wednesday crowd and ushered us into the evening with his Gretsch, playing with wonderful restraint and poise. After a few songs, Jesse recounted the treacherous trip to Vancouver. “We were coming through Kamloops… and Kamloops sucks, by the way…” Clearly, the metaphorical, frustrated wound from the harrowing trip was still fresh. The group had been driving their van on the highway when they turned a corner and came upon another vehicle parked smack in the middle of the road (on the highway), hit them, and wrecked their van. Luckily, no one in the group was injured. The other vehicle promptly sped off after being bumped, without barely any damage. Jesse managed to cap off the story with some humour, touching upon how the van was a write-off – “If you’ve never been in an accident, you paid for mine.” Zing.

“These Things”, “Russia?”, the dusty “In Between”… Picture The Ocean’s pensive songs filled the small room and prompted (at least in me) feelings of self-reflection. “I wanna be home, wherever that is, for a while.” Such a simple notion, but sung so flawlessly by Jesse Dee over Jacquie’s keys and Matt’s engaging percussion, its meaning intensifies. The personal highlight for me was the truly excellent “Being Me”, which hooked me upon first listen the week before the show. We had the treat of getting some backstory – Jesse had written it for Jacquie when they were supposed to go to Tofino together, but Jacquie was unable to make the trip, having to stay home to take care of a sick kitty. Longing and soft sighs can be felt in this piece, with its airy music and sweetly sad lyrics, “You picture the ocean / I’ll picture you here / You go back to being you / and I’ll go back to being me.” I’m not even sure who this makes me think of; it may change depending on which day you’d ask me. But it never fails to remind me of someone once had, and now lost. I had to blink quickly and clear my throat. Yeah, I’m a big softie. If you’re up for sampling Picture The Ocean’s at times heart-wrenching, yet ultimately lovely music, check them out here.

I must mention that Aurora Jane had been on stage this whole time. Curveball! It’s true. She’s been handling bass duties for the band during this tour. And check this out – Picture The Ocean are Aurora’s band for this tour. Double curveball! Now that’s what I call efficiency.

I had the pleasure of chatting with the charming Ms. Jane a few moments before her set. I was thrilled to learn that her kick-off song this evening was “’Til I Die”, which was written in Mumbai where, incidentally, Aurora Jane is quite the phenomenon. This bombastic first song quickly set the tone for a funky night of rock, what with Aurora’s soaring guitar solo and Jesse Dee’s reportedly newly-discovered talents on the bass, which is hard to believe, because this guy takes to the bass like a hipster takes to Ray-Bans.

The funky Aussie queen let us peer into her life of non-stop touring, explaining her reality of not having had a home base for over a decade, and the unique existence of the career musician. “Lazy Monday” told the story of how she can choose to relax on days when everyone else is off at work. “Money” got political, focusing on the fundamental economic flaws of our society and the Federal Reserve; the frustrated edge of this number gave us a taste of what a jazzier, Aurora-fronted Rage Against The Machine might sound like. “Burnin’” was a very honest number, touching upon the irony of jet-setting artists flying around the world singing about environmental issues. One of her last songs, “The Way It Is”, made me think of what would happen if Jamiroquai and the Red Hot Chili Peppers collaborated on an album. Greatness is what would happen, if you’re wondering.

Near the end of her set, a bit of chaotic rough-and-tumble could be heard outside, which brought us all back down to reality for a moment. Wednesdays are apparently quite busy in the area, or perhaps more likely, it doesn’t really matter what day of the week it is around here – stuff happens. Despite the small and somewhat reserved crowd in attendance and the limited space in the Rickshaw’s lobby, both Picture The Ocean and Aurora Jane managed to bring their fans into their respective worlds and inject some harmony into them, myself included. Thanks for that.