Having Fun in “No Fun City”
It’s no secret that Vancouver has earned a nickname over the years: No Fun City they call us. It’s a stigma the city’s been wearing as long as I’ve lived here — almost 15 years — and quite possibly longer. When we served as the host city for the 2010 Olympics, the teeth gnashing and hand-wringing of politicians over the nickname reached a fever pitch.
One of the sources of that reputation was a near-legendary attitude towards live music venues that had seen them come and go. This made the arrival of the Biltmore Cabaret in January of 2007 a hugely welcome thing: with a capacity of about 300 people, the Biltmore has long served as the venue of choice for the city’s mid-market bands. Purposely designed as a live music venue with shows seven nights a week most weeks, the Biltmore filled a much needed hole.
This year, the Biltmore decided to celebrate in style with a seventh anniversary party featuring a gig by hometown and touring favourites Yukon Blonde. (Though the band originated in Kelowna, they’ve long since called Vancouver home.) No small feat, this: the band’s last gig in town was at the Commodore Ballroom, a venue with a capacity that’s more than double the Biltmore’s — and that gig sold well.
This made arriving early a requirement for the evening and it was no surprise to see that even at 9:30, at least a half hour before the opening act, the room was quickly filling up.
Once Yukon Blonde took the stage, the band wasted no time launching into action with an energetic opening set of about a half dozen crowd favourites. The band has long served as a bit of a collective with the three core members—Jeff, Brandon and Graham—remaining steady while other seats changed. The current configuration includes a more extensive keyboard rig that I’ve seen before, and no pedal steel (Matt Kelly now plays with City & Colour.)
As the band launched into a wave of new material those changes became apparent. Still essentially a drum and guitar driven band, the presence of keyboards was more obvious than it has been in the past. Judging from the reaction of the Biltmore crowd the band’s new album should sell well and help them pick up some new fans. The new material was as infectious as classics like Wind Blows and Babies Don’t Like Blue Anymore. Full of hooky guitar riffs and crowd sing along inspiring vocals, the live set demonstrates that Yukon Blonde is as vital as ever. A live performance of Breathing Tigers, a track from the band’s 2012 release Tiger Talk was a set highlight.
By night’s end one thing was for sure: Yukon Blonde are doing whatever they can to dispell the notion that Vancouver is a no fun city, and the band’s newest album seems destined to be one of this year’s hotly anticipated indie rock releases. When the full tour inevitably follows buy tickets early — it’s sure to sell out.
If you need a better measure of how the night went try this: a stage mishap sent the band’s keyboard player to hospital with a broken nose. The cause? If Twitter is to be believed, too much awesomeness. I see no reason to disagree.