Pink Mountaintops at the Rickshaw Theatre, Vancouver, Sept 27 2009
– review by Alex Hudson/photos by Jessica Bardosh
Pink Mountaintops‘ latest full-length, Outside Love, is a sonically gorgeous album, its string-heavy arrangements as lush and romantic as the satin sheets pictured on the cover. Replicating the songs live would be difficult under any circumstances, but during Sunday night’s hometown performance at the Rickshaw Theatre, the Vancouver band faced a slew of technical difficulties that made it damn near impossible.
The sound at the Rickshaw was a murky mess, the six musicians proving too much for the converted cinema’s PA system. The stage monitors weren’t working for the first few songs and even once that problem was fixed, the set was punctuated by squeals of feedback.
To add insult to injury, frontman Stephen McBean broke three guitar strings during the performance; by the end of the evening, he had enlisted a fan to help restring his guitar. This perhaps explains why McBean seemed a little grumpy throughout the set; then again, the hirsute singer has never exactly been talkative.
Despite this bevy of setbacks, McBean and co. still managed to pull off an enjoyable performance. The band wasn’t able to top the majesty of Outside Love, but it still offered a compelling reminder of what makes the album so good. Slow, thundering toms propelled “Vampire” to a sublime climax with five-part harmonies that even the muddy sound couldn’t ruin. “Closer to Heaven” was similarly stunning, a sawing violin evoking (although not quite replicating) the grandeur of the studio cut.
With hazy, pinkish lighting and a white screen backdrop, the stage looked a little bit like the back cover of The Velvet Underground & Nico (minus the huge, creepy projection of Lou Reed‘s face). This fit the dark, psychedelic undertones of Pink Mountaintops songs like “I (F*ck) Mountains,” a looming waltz laced reverb-soaked guitar leads.
“Sweet ’69” was similarly hypnotic, a two-chord vamp with stuttering, machine-gun rhythms and steamy, thinly-veiled lyrics (“Sweet ’69 /Let me wrap my legs around you”). Unlike the material from Outside Love, these older songs sounded much better than the versions that appeared on the group’s early, home-recorded albums. Perhaps with a better mix, all of the songs could have fared as well.
The evening was opened by the Pack A.D. With only a guitar, drums and vocals, the local garage blues duo’s minimalist style was much better suited to the limitations of the venue’s PA.
While the band’s ferocity has never quite translated on its albums, its live show is something to behold: singer Becky howls and shrieks like a woman possessed, while drummer Maya Miller makes a terrific racket without ever losing the groove.
The pair’s songs bear a more-than-passing similarity to the White Stripes:”Blackout” is almost identical to the breakdown of “When I Hear My Name”, while “Don’t Have to Like You” cribs its riff from “Goin’ Back to Memphis”, a Henry and June cover that the White Stripes frequently perform live. Still, so long as Meg is laid up with acute anxiety and Jack is busy with his innumerable side projects, the Pack A.D. are well worthy of taking up the blues-rock torch.
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