Review – O’Death and The Strange Boys at the Biltmore Cabaret, Vancouver, March 30 2011
– review by Ria Nevada/photos by Ashley Tanasiychuk
A couple of hundred Vancouverites were treated to a double bill of Americana rock ‘n’ roll last night at the Biltmore Cabaret. Strange Boys and O’Death reflect two vastly different veins of Southern music, but both bands managed to get the sparse group of attendees wreak havoc on the dance floor. It was one of the rowdiest crowds I’d ever come across at this venue – not a bad vibe for an inclement Wednesday night show.
To start, Nashville’s Natural Child served up ’70s metal-inspired grooves. The long-haired, greasy trio admitted off the bat that they were too drunk to have sex that night (not the greatest selling point). That might have explained why their on-stage performance also seemed to be lacking. Their “I don’t give a fuck” attitude was expressed through crass lyrics which revolved around being too inebriated and/or high to talk to their parents, and not wanting to bang the grenade in their bed. A few of their punk boogies like “Ray Thompson Blues” could definitely catch on in the mainstream. Unfortunately they didn’t offer anything innovative that would separate themselves from the countless bands playing bars throughout their country.
Inversely, their friends the Strange Boys, from Austin, Texas, put on a catchy and polished set rivalling the best of late 60’s pop-rock groups (sans matching suits). Ryan Sambol led the troupe, providing unique squeaky vocals that immediately distinguished the band from the rest of the pack. Admittedly, he was barely comprehensible at times, but his phrasing and enunciation added a sense of quirkiness and grit to their perky sound.
The Boys swayed and jerked to their infectious tunes, so it was comical seeing the wooden looks planted on their faces. Guitarist Greg Enlow finally cracked an adorable smile on the upbeat “Night Might”, hearkening back to stompers from bands like the Yardbirds and McCoys.
Unsurprisingly, their fans went berserk for the blues-y “Be Brave” from the record And Girls Club, a song that earned the group a decent amount of exposure as the background music to Kate Moss’ slinky Top Shop commercial. The band modified the track for their live audience, slowing down the tempo on the bridge then erupting with distorted guitars and a harmonica solo on the outro. The band’s invigorating presence successfully got a mosh pit going by the time they played “To Turn a Two or Two” for their encore.
Pushing things into overdrive, Brooklyn-based O’Death immediately followed the Strange Boys with tracks from their soon-to-be released record, Outside. The audience had thinned out by then (it was close to midnight after all), so they unfortunately missed out on the early preview.
But the rest of us witnessed a brilliant combination of bluegrass, folk, and punk. Bob Pycior and Gabe Darling did some serious damage on their fiddle and banjo, respectively, on “Only Daughter”. Vocalist Greg Jamie’s Southern drawl fit the Bible-Belt imagery of his lyrics perfectly. All these elements gave a gothic air to their compositions. But with a name like O’Death, the haunting presence was expected.
Kudos to revival groups like Strange Boys and O’Death for celebrating their cultural and musical traditions, while pushing the bounds of today’s music scene.