Though I was half-expecting and, well, hoping for a fuzzy, owl-shaped alarm clock that glows green to perform (just search for Wake! Owl…), Wake! Owl managed to keep me entertained. The Vancouver-based group is led by Colyn Cameron (lead vocals, guitar) whose thoughtful lyrics are only surpassed by his often fragile, at times surprisingly powerful, and always commanding voice. To think that this four-piece is usually a five-piece – the violinist was not in attendance Friday, sadly – impresses me all the more; had the crowd not been made aware by Mr. Cameron that a member was missing, I don’t think any of us (beyond the Wake! Owl faithful in attendance) would have noticed. That’s not to say the elusive violinist is superfluous – much the opposite, I’m eager to see the band again to see how much more colour a violin can add to Wake! Owl’s warm and comfortable brand of folk.
By the time The Ruffled Feathers (also from Vancouver) took the stage, The Cellar had filled up with a laidback mix of weekend drinkers, pretty young things, budding hipsters, and for good measure, a bachelorette party. Founded in 2008 by Gina Loes (vocals, guitar, ukulele) and Charley Wu (piano, mandolin, guitar, vocals), The Ruffled Feathers were quickly rounded out by trumpeter and back-up vocalist Andrew Lee, bassist Matty Jeronimo, and the terribly serious and competent Sam MacKinnon on drums. The energetic ensemble quickly teased the room to full attention, as much with its tunes as with the palpable good-time vibe emanating from the stage. The sweetly powerful, Sarah Harmer-esque lilt of Loes’ voice, the melodious softness of Lee’s trumpet, the restrained and deceivingly effortless sound of MacKinnon’s drums… all combine to create fun, beautiful music.
The Ruffled Feathers are, if nothing else, well-balanced. It takes talent to play any instrument, but for a group to play so well together and succeed in showcasing its many parts without drowning out any others, takes will and instinct – this group has both. The highlight of the evening is easy to pin down – it’s when they performed the remarkable “Lead Me to Destruction” (which will be included on the upcoming full-length Oracles, out April 3), a wonderfully infectious number that opens with Wu’s heart-piercing “Oh!”s, later delving off unexpectedly into a jazzy looseness that’s truly impressive. The range and ease displayed throughout the set belies these young musicians’ years. This is a band that has already budded and is now quickly blossoming into its own. They appear to be quite at home on stage, but that’s not to say the thrill of live performance has worn off; they’re clearly enjoying themselves, almost as if it was one of their first gigs, and it’s hard not to get in on the positive vibe.
This is not your bearded 30-year-old brother’s sleepy folk-rock… though I’m sure he’ll enjoy it too. The Ruffled Feathers’ musicianship is equaled by the youthful energy that comes across through their dynamic live performance, not to mention the songs themselves. It’s no wonder Vancouver music fans have embraced them so – they’re the real thing. We’re talking legitimate, very cool, homegrown music here. On their website, the band states “Whereas [2008’s Lost Cities EP] spoke of a journey to another place and time, Oracles speaks of the arrival.” And there you have it. Vancouver – if you didn’t already know – The Ruffled Feathers have arrived.
Oh, I almost forgot – regarding the article title: at the risk of sounding shallow and judgmental, my first impression when The Ruffled Feathers walked out was “Man, these people are skinny!” in reference to not only them but the preceding and equally slim Wake Owl. Now that I think of it, maybe that says more about my physique than theirs… hmm. Anyway. Moving on.
You can get an advanced taste of Oracles at www.theruffledfeathers.com. As of January 26, the band kicked off the unique approach of offering two new tracks for free every few weeks, lovingly accompanied by photo essays, short stories, original artwork and videos. Check back often – once new tracks are posted, the previous two are no longer available (as far as I can tell). Fret not, if you miss out on some tracks, you’ll soon be able to pick up the whole shebang when Oracles is released on April 3.