At the height of the first heavy fall of rain in Vancouver, Cowpuncher, War Baby, and Hallow Moon were set to play November 2 at The Biltmore. A ‘bike accident’ took Hallow Moon off the list real quick, setting the stage for two polar opposite bands to carry the eve. An early show can be a real trick in Van, especially mid-downpour, and this night was no exception. There wasn’t much of a showing but that doesn’t say a lick about the quality of show.
Cowpuncher, a local Calgary prodigy known for their spicy performance, made no exception playing to the Biltmore walls Saturday evening. Matt Olah (lead guitar and vocals), who broke his ribs jumping from a speaker earlier this year, is not one to reel back energy from any show. These seasoned and polished veterans of rock were awarded the Best Performance Award at Calgary’s Beer Core Awards this year, and perform is what they did.
A wary and seemingly virgin (to Cowpuncher) crowd seemed uncertain as to whether it was okay to get down to this post-country flavored rock and roll band, having only a few rogues really letting loose on the floor. That being said, the crowd spent the show cozied up nice and close to the stage clapping and nodding, not missing a guitar stroke or drop of sweat.
This show being part of a disjunct album release tour meant the set list was full of new songs off of easily their best record yet, Ghost Notes. Cowpuncher, stepping away from their bluegrassy/country roots, spent the night unveiling their nitty gritty rock and roll underbelly. This doesn’t mean we didn’t get a solo from talented upright bass player Harley Hoeft; rather, there was a little less yahooing and a little more fist pumping. Featured on the cover of BeatRoute Calgary this month is a picture of Olah in a wedding dress. Now there’s an article if you’re looking for a proper education on their transition.
Olah’s voice is easily the distinguishing sound of Cowpuncher. His lulling whine caressed by perfect harmonies levels the group into a tight five-piece of essential sounds. If the babes in the band didn’t catch your eye, then the fat lyrics were filling your ears: “We’ve got big mouths and small words / We got clean plates and dirty girls.” These rock and rollers had me wishing we were packed shoulder-to-shoulder and drunk as all hell. In a time where new sounds are saturating the airwaves, it’s a relief to see rock and roll done rightly by. The long dusty road behind is giving way to paved paradise for this group of seasoned ‘punchers. On the road touring, these Calgary farmers are peaking into prime time on the Canadian scene.
The real punchline here is the follow-up band, garage/grunge/hardcore band War Baby. Drummer Kirby Fisher chuckles as he admits, “We were so confused with Cowpuncher wanting to play with us so bad.” Later on, Ryan Kelly, baritone guitar for Cowpuncher, shed some light on the situation: “We saw them at a flood relief show at Commonwealth and we just really like good music… They blew us away.” Cowpuncher shortlisted War Baby as a band they just wanted to play with, digging their music and paying no mind to genre, and subsequently setting up this gig.
Aside from being extremely nice dudes, War Baby shifted the evening’s gears into something different entirely. These mid-range bangers balanced some weighty chords with intelligent lyrics in a blender of post-Nirvana grunge. Being a sucker for a high-armed theatrical drummers, I was hot all over watching these boys. All that was missing from this show was a handful of bangers, a keg and dad’s garage – I was crushing like a teenager. Best I not pretend to be a metal connoisseur, but I’ll say this – now I understand why Cowpuncher was man-crushing. They had me at War Baby.