By Robert Winship
Headline reads: Canada takes DC stage, DC shrugs it off. Well, there would be no headline because this show was played to a collection of roughly 50 people stuffed in the front quarter of the Rock & Roll Hotel on a clear cool Saturday night. It is never really surprising to see a show under-attended, but for someone so critically lauded and weirdly personal as Chad VanGaalen, it seems that most of this town missed out. However, to guilt the readership is not the point of this review; rather, to relay the who, what, when, where and why of the matter. Who: Chad VanGaalen, a thirty-something Calgerian musician on tour to support his latest album Shrink Dust. From what I gather, few people have heard of this guy. He received some minor success on his excellent and most accessible record, Soft Airplane (see “Willow Tree” and “Bare Feet on Wet Griptape”). For the un-initiated CVG’s voice is immediately striking and the ultimate through-line of the many sonic rabbit holes he traverses. If anything, his timbre and style will draw comparisons to fellow Canadian folk-rocker Neil Young, though Chad’s figurative voice is planted firmly in the weirdness of the 21st Century.
VanGaalen found room in his set list for nearly every track from Shrink Dust and for a good reason. Shrink Dust marks a decade-long body of work, from his 2004 debut (Infiniheart) to now. A decade of Chad VanGaalen stretching the confines of rock, folk and electronic music to fit his needs. In fact, nearly every one of his five Sub Pop releases is as vital as the next, so a set heavy on new material is a welcome as anything. Chad, along with bassist Monty Munro (Viet Cong) and drummer Eric Hamelin (Women) took the attending crowd briskly from a foot-stomping rendition of “Burning Photographs” or the jam-ready call of “Where Are You” through the brittle gospel of “Weighed My Sin” or the encore “Willow Tree”. The sound seemed a little muddy, but sometimes mimicked the gritty album quality of slower jams like “Weird Love”.
While identifying Canadians based on a perceived sense of passive-aggressiveness is somewhat reductive, it also serves as a foil to the swagger and attitude of the young Brits (King Krule, Libertines) or the twee delights of the Scots (Belle & Sebastian, Camera Obscura). Clearly no one place produces a singular type of band, but Canada is an excellent breeding ground for unique pop music like Chad VanGaalen or Born Ruffians which shed the frequently narrow confines of what can appeal to the personal and the public.
-Cousins’ Aaron Mangle on a the politically-themed song, “This one is about government…this one goes straight to your Capitol Hill, or what do you call it? To your Parliament!”
Chad VanGaalen his shitty, traveler-style electric guitar, “Do I like it? No I do not like this guitar, I bought it on Ebay for $60. It was $60 too much.”