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Chad vanGaalen @ Main Hall 10/17

Posted by Jer / October 20, 2006

Chad VanGaalen by tammylo.

Luckily for you, I forgot my camera. This picture was taken by someone way more skilled than me but it is not from Wednesday's show.

I can't tell if Chad vanGaalen is afraid or excited about the future. Regardless of the subjects his songs address, there's always talk of machines taking over, technologies running wild and humans needing to escape. His songs seem set in space or some other distant world. The protagonist is just as likely to be a robot as a human.

All this to say that Calgary singer/songwriter Chad vanGaalen doesn't tackle regular folk topics with his quirky twisted take on the genre. Drawing equally from 2003's Infiniheart and 2006's Skelliconnection, Wednesday's show at Main Hall saw vanGaalen play half his set one-man-band style behind a three-piece drum kit. His hollow bodied guitar, fed through a distortion pedal, gave a fuzzy edge to every chord he strummed. Although vanGaalen can rock it out if necessary (e.g. Flower Gardens), the surprise hit of the night was a stripped down version of Somehwere I Know There is Nothing, which stunned the room into silence (even Team Drunk in front of me). The quiet helped highlight vanGaalen's unusual voice, (for proof, check out songs like Graveyard, Blood Machine and Mini TV's). He sings in a shaky, creepy tone, like a scared Neil Young, that seems both uncertain yet purposeful; a sound that makes his lyrics seem even more off center than they would be otherwise.

During a brief interlude as he waited for his drummer and keyboardist to join him onstage, vanGaalen pulled out a Recorder (you know, that instrument we all loved in grade 3 music) and played us a ditty he claimed to have come up with earlier at a coffee shop. The four line song recounted the plot of the movie Outbreak. It joked about Dustin Hoffman's costume and ended on the line "Monkeys started us and monkeys are gonna end us all". Listening to it, the line struck me as the most concise way to convey the lens that filters vanGaalen's perception of everything around him, be it technology, relationships, car crashes or plague movies. Maybe the future is an unknown scary place, let's just hope vanGaalen keeps describing it so cleverly.

Rewind to the past....Montreal's Hot Springs opened the night with a set similar to their Pop performance (the guitarist even broke a string again so guitarist/singer Giselle Webber was again left to fill dead air with chatter). I won't repeat my review, save to say that it's amazing how both vanGaalen and Webber sound like what I imagine Pac Man ghosts would sound like if they took up singing.

In the evening's middle slot, vanGaalen's Calgary pals, The Cape May, toned things down a bit in preparation for the headliner. Like Jeff Buckley meets the Mars Volta, their quiet moody songs were well constructed and the lead singer's voice had an enjoyable range. Many of their songs trailed off into instrumental jams, which eventually got tiresome, but in general, this foursome is worth a listen.

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