Westward Music Festival comes alive with Tei Shi at the Rio Theatre

Tei Shi, the Reasn, Kallitechnis, and Jade Monet at the Rio Theatre, 9/13/19

The four-day Westward Music Festival kicked off its second year last night (Sept. 13) with shows all over Vancouver. Those included a headlining performance by Valerie Teicher, aka Tei Shi, at the Rio Theatre. After some initial stumbles, the night fully came alive by the time she hit the stage.

After a nearly hour-long delay, doors finally opened, close to 8 p.m. Local singer Jade Monet and her three bandmates brought what would have been sleek pop-rock had it not been sanded over by Jay Leonard’s mostly frenetic guitaring. Unfortunately, the volume on Sugah Candiah’s bass was far too high and overtook the rest of the band for much of the early part of their set.

Next came Montréal’s Cassandra Kouremenos, aka Kallitechnis. With a velvet-smooth voice, she sang over colourful beats that mixed of hip-hop, R&B, and jazzy lounge music. Positive themes of self-care, letting go of insecurities, and feeling happy without shame or guilt ran through all her songs. Behind her, projections echoed similar uplifting messages: “POSITIVITY IS A FORM OF REBELLION” … “I DON’T CREATE TO FILL VOIDS. I CREATE TO FILL SPACES.”

Kallitechnics could very well end up being the sleeper hit of the festival, especially if she gets more stage time when she opens for Kelela at the Vogue Theatre tonight, in front of a mostly standing – and undoubtedly dancing – crowd. It’s no wonder why Pusha T, Innanet James, and fellow Montréalers Lou Phelps and his brother, 2016 Polaris Prize winning producer Kaytranada, have worked with her. She has picked up mentions by Vice, The Fader, and The Clash. Watch out for Kallitechnis. She’s coming through.

Missouri musician Al’Michael Nelson, aka the Reasn, has toured with pop-banger machine Tinashe and worked with producers including Neff-U (Michael Jackson). But he brought the evening’s focus back to rock, although he did mix in touches of R&B.

In a leather jacket, amongst a stage full of smoke that was lit blue, purple, and red, Nelson hit unspeakably high notes. His backup musicians were dynamic, played with finesse, and hit hard. They riffed and shredded like a hair metal band. Unfortunately, the energy they exuded and the energy they sought from the audience were mismatched with – disservice by, even – the seated venue. Unlike Nelson’s voice, his attempts to hype the crowd fell flat.

No effort was required to get the audience to stand and dance during Tei Shi. It didn’t matter if she was performing ice-cool, dark pop like “Keep Running” or buoyant pop led by keyboard. At any given time, her songs could have been funky, filled with sax and electric drums, or they could have been like “Justify”: seductive before it quakes with anger until she boils over into straight yells.

Teicher was born in Buenos Aires and lives in New York, but Vancouver was a hometown show for her: She spent time growing up both here and in Bogota. She also studied at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. She has come a long way, literally and in terms of her career. As she has said, though, she wrote “Crawl,” from her 2017 debut album Crawl Space, to tell herself that what she is doing is just the beginning and a part of something bigger. Likewise, her enthralling homecoming performance was just the beginning of three more days of Westward Music Festival.

Leslie Ken Chu

Leslie Ken Chu