Riding In Cars With Courtneys

Here’s a hot tip for bands: keep a joke book handy in case of technical difficulties. Or, concertgoers, think of a joke or two in case bands call on you as The Courtneys did last Friday (and Movieland two nights before).

On June 7, Vancouver’s latest buzz-band The Courtneys released their debut self-titled album on local imprint Hockey Dad Records. The eight songs on The Courtneys cruise by in a top-down convertible in less than 25 minutes, and the band geared up to take their infectious summer rock on the road, starting with The Railway Club. With The Courtneys sold out within days at many local outlets, The Railway Club was bound to be a full house.

Inaugurating the send-off were Student Teacher. It had been more than a solid year since the noisy shoegazers blew me away and stole the show from headliners Beach Fossils at The Electric Owl. Although Student Teacher burned an indelible impression on me, I never got to see them again until now. So I was excited to see how the band had developed over the past year.

What I had only remembered as absorbing noise-rock took slightly more defined shape with drums, pedal-fed guitar and bass stemming from repeated motifs like leaves on crooked branches blown by filtered vocals. The effects were hypnotic, only subtly shifting shapes in ways that undeniably signified Krautrock.

While Student Teacher emulating Krautrock motions only seemed natural, I’d assumed that the band had funnelled such proclivities into their guitarist Daniel Rincon’s gestating, self-described “psychedelic” project Flyin’ (which also currently features Courtneys drummer/lead vocalist Jen Twynn Payne). But while Student Teacher seem unable to contain their influences – or are unconcerned with actively hiding them – the band at least make a potent, original blend of them. Student Teacher know their musical subjects well and are a perfect fit to teach any lesson.

Next was Johnny de Courcy, a musician who needs no lessons. Although an omnipresent name in Vancouver’s independent music scene, I’d never knowingly come across any of his music. But I’m sure I’d heard something on which he’s played. To fluff my intrigue over de Courcy, I forewent this timely occasion to investigate his music so that I could leave as wide open an opportunity as possible for him to floor me live.

And floor me he did. The biggest word that immediately flashed in my mind was “Weezer, Weezer, Weezer”. I’m sure JdC has heard it before – it’s probably an overdone/easy comparison, so apologies, if that’s the case. But to de Courcy and co.’s credit, he’s more versatile and sophisticated than frat-house rock. His performance was earnest, with immaculate pop melodies that sometimes ran into alt-countrified twang which then sometimes did explode into blaring guitar rock.

The song of the night has to go to “Waltz #3/Sunrise”. Its dark, carnivalesque intro – the first sign that there might have been more to Johnny than brilliantly crafted folk-pop songs – took the perfect amount of time building to more of the aforementioned blaring guitars.

If Johnny de Courcy’s songs are not intensely laboured, then it speaks volumes about his natural talent. It’s a good thing he gets around. Vancouver’s music scene – and the music world abroad – is a better place for it.

Turning from the unfamiliar to the very familiar were Juvenile Hall. The garage punks rocked as always, undeterred by having botched the beginnings of two songs – two times each. The thing about a lot of bands like Juvie that are devoted to just having a shit-kicking good time – who play songs that are just fun to them and nothing more – is that you shouldn’t expect a very different show each time you see them, especially when they have such limited output. But at least you can always count on having a great time. Sometimes, that’s all anyone needs. It’s all Juvie need, and if you can’t deal with that, they have four words for you.

For six months, Courtneys fans had little more to jam on than “90210”. The song transported listeners to hazy, stoned beaches and coastal highways, but the scene at The Railway Club was far from wind-blown hair and toes dug deep in wet sand.

In fact, at the onset, it didn’t seem like fans were going to have anything to jam on live. The Courtneys’ tour kick-off almost didn’t get off the ground as one song in (“Nu Sundae”), Jen Twynn Payne found herself struggling for a couple of minutes to adjust her drum kit. Shortly afterwards, something appeared to shoot into the air from the head of Courtney Loove’s guitar. Her bandmates played on while flashing curious and concerned glances over at Loove who had her back turned while trying to mend the problem.

When The Courtneys regained their composure though, they somehow turned their mini summer soundtracks into prime party music. Or maybe it was the handful of extra enthusiastic fans near the front, propelling themselves off of the stage, that made The Courtneys good party music.

One thing that struck me as odd about their set was that even with so few and such short songs, the band only played about half of the album they were promoting, including “Manion”, “Insufficient Funds” and of course “90210”. Perhaps the songs that appear on The Courtneys aren’t new to the band or anyone who’s more acquainted with the trio, but to everyone else – who hadn’t seen them over and over again – playing these possibly “newer-than-new” songs seemed a curious move.

When the audience wasn’t racking its brains for jokes in order to kill silence during maintenance breaks or trying to figure out odd promotional strategies, the night was a rocky but sure start to the band’s adventures abroad. Fans at Sled Island and down the American West Coast will be lucky to catch a ride with The Courtneys this summer.

Leslie Ken Chu

Leslie Ken Chu