Sheriffs of Song: The Strumbellas At the Railway Club – Review

It takes something special to make a room shaped like a laundry chute, feel like a theatre.  The Strumbellas are a band that seems to know what that special quality is, because from their first song to their last, they transformed the small Railway Club into a blazing amphitheatre.

The Strumbellas are a six-piece country/indie rock band with touches of gospel, which hail from Toronto, Canada.  Formed in 2006, The Strumbellas have slowly been cultivating a whole-grain musical sound – one they were not shy about introducing to an enthusiastic Vancouver crowd on the last stop of their cross-Canada tour Sunday.

Electric organ, sinuous violin, and stomping feet combined to create a spectacular musical conversation – and it was clear from the start that a conversation is exactly what The Strumbellas want from their audience.

It is one thing to put on a show that is one-sided by definition, but The Strumbellas opted to put on an event – one that every person in the room was a part of.

Early on in the night, they passed around a personal camera, asking the audience to document the show for them in whatever way they saw fit.  As the camera made its way around the room, people took pictures of their friends, the band, each other, and people they’d never met.

Circulating along with the camera was a sense of authorship that is rarely given to an audience, one that was welcomed by the crowd.  The feeling that both the band and the audience were working together to create an enduring experience hung over the rest of the evening.

It’s easy to get lost in a six-piece band, but The Strumbellas are really only a five-piece band supporting one bohemian conductor.

Frontman Simon Ward is a raconteur of swinging limbs and harmonic discharge who presents a musical soul as bare as his feet.

The rest of the band possesses a sort of symbiotic relationship, frequently summoned into cohesive action by their leader into a kind of primal chant, eschewing their microphones and creating brief moments of vocal magic.

This is a band that acts as if they would be most comfortable playing in a backyard amongst friends, constantly bantering with each other mid-song and seemingly forgetting they are on a stage at all – in fact, Simon wandered off of it several times in search of unprepared (but not unwilling) duet partners.

The interplay between the band (particularly a bit of push-and-shove going on in the rhythm section) was great fun to watch, and really gave the impression that The Strumbellas are also great Strumbuddies.\

From the crash of the opening cymbal to the electric hum leftover after the playing stopped, The Strumbellas put on a great show.  With their first album, My Father and the Hunter out of the gate earlier this year, it gives great promise for whatever comes next.  And whatever does, I will gladly be the bird that follows them.