The Columbia Journal
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Vancouver, British Columbia,
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Volume Ten, Number One   January 2005


Mark Bignell

Cross Canada Cut-Ups

Rheostatics /  Buttless Chaps Slay 'Em Five Nights Straight At The Media Club!

Hard to believe it's been 13 years since I first heard the opening chord of "Record Body Count". Since then, I've been an avid supporter of the Rheostatics. I've seen them a dozen times, and have yet to be disappointed. Their 5 night stand at The Media Club was just as exciting and memorable as any of there past shows.

 All four members are numbingly adept at their instruments, and all take turns at singing and swapping instruments. All four had a stab at the old-school keyboard, as well as most taking turns on bass, guitar and drums.

Martin Tielli (vocals, main guitarist) continues to be the focal point of the group, with his Bowiesque voice brought up 2 octaves, and goliath guitar chops. He's the penultimate artist: making faces to punctuate lyrics and choruses, communicating to the others through subtle hand signals, and knowing when to solo and when to back off. Completely immersing himself in the music. Devoid of the usual constraints of assembly-line rock. He's also the author of such continuingly crowd-pleasing tunes as: "Shaved Head", "California Dreamline", and "In This Town", for which he had to ask people in the front row for the opening lyrics. It didn't deter  from a fine residency. It also really wasn't surprising, as the Rheos have 11 albums to draw material from,( and Martin's 3 solo outings), let along the constant interviews, book signings, TV appearances, radio spots and other such engagements they have to commit to every time they hit this town.

The Rheos are a big deal in ol' Vantown, even without commercial airplay. They draw significant crowds and continue to offer music that defies easy tagging. They're never afraid to take chances. Mixing a myriad of genres and tempo changes,( sometimes in one song), in a fearless and reckless manner, yet maintaining (more often than not) a highly memorable and melodic musical journey. Not an easy task, and one so few can pull off. The Rheos treated the gathered throng to their unique creations. From "Fan Letter To Michael Jackson" to "Saskatchewan", "Ballad Of Wendall Clark", "It's Easy to Be With
 You", "Stolen Car", and "The Tarleks" (from their latest "2067". Herb
Tarlek from the hit show "WKRP In Cincinnati" is featured in their "Tarleks" video), the Rheos took you to a world where a wild imagination and limitless curiosity ruled...

On to the other members of the band:  Dave Bidini (second in command on guitar, songwriting and an author of many inspired books about hockey and being in a rock band. The latest being; "For Those About To Rock") is the perfect foil to Martin. The more rock and roll nuance of the band replying to the more ethereal and avant-garde musings, jumping around, thrashing chords and adding a few choice tunes of his own including: "Horses" (a must play at their shows or else), "Fat"," Me & Stupid" or that song whose title escapes me (from "The Blue Hysteria") about the experience of growing up and taking in shows by Meatloaf, XTC, Joe Jackson, and REM. Tim Vesley is, seemingly, the anchor of the band on bass, for the most part, remaining rather low-key and mysterious (although he came out of his shell, hamming it up like a crazed lounge singer during the foursome's closing show), but, still a vital part of the band, penning some of their most memorable tunes like: "Claire",( the closest they've ever come to a hit), "King Of The
Past", "Palomar" and "We Went West".

Long-time producer Michael Philip Wojewoda (pronounced Voy-you-vo-da) held the beat on the skins and even took his turn at lounging it up at the mic. I had the privilege of taking in four out of the five shows. From the opening song on Night one ("Pin" from "Night Of The Shooting Stars") to the last strains of "A Mid Winter Night's Dream" (from "The Blue Hysteria"), at the closing show, the Rheos delivered. They even invited their opening act on stage to join in the hysterics that often waltz their way into their shows. The Rheos opening act (locals The Buttless Chaps), were not to be sneezed at either, performing a most whacky and eclectic set every night. From their more Alt-country flavored "Midnight Cowpoke" to their hilarious send-up of the techno scene-"Rave", in which lead singer and songwriter Dave Gowans took great pleasure in swapping lyrics.

Imagine the lyrics "the Germans love techno...the Swedish love techno...Vancouver loves techno...we all love techno, with the word "techno" being replaced by "Burt Reynolds" and "Charles Bronson" on separate nights.

The Chaps were very much a fitting opening band for the Rheos. They returned the favour and invited Dave and Martin of the Rheos up during their set.  The Rheos then invited The Buttless Chaps to their later shows in Toronto. Other highlights (and there were plenty of them. Drunken happiness playing a big part in loss of memory) of the five night endurance test included the: Rheos poking fun at the failure of their keyboard to function, adding: "We forgot to plug it in." Dave Gowans of the Chaps adding Neil Young's "Helpless" to the Rheos erratic "Four Little Songs", myself screaming at Martin about singing that song about cancer ("Shaved Head"-you had to be there),Martin trashing the smokers "Having to go outside and lowly kill themselves...ah hahahahah.." Martin smokes too, which made his jab all the more hilarious.

And; the countless encores they performed on closing night. Just when you thought they were finally done after two encores, they grabbed an acoustic guitar or two, leapt off the stage, and sat themselves in one of the comfy booths at the Media Club, and began singing and strumming away. They even included "Record Body Count", which I, being so overcome with joy, yelled out the guitar riff at the top of my lungs to everyone's (thankfully) enjoyment. Both bands had the crowd in the palm of their hands, and they earned it. Showing, most importantly, that they were there to put on a show, were enjoying themselves on stage, and were acknowledging the audience, who acknowledged the bands in return. Perhaps using the word "Love-in" is Passé and even hokey. But, the four nights I saw were very much that. A highly enjoyable, real and lasting union of live bands and their audience.

Mind-numbingly beautiful.

There You Be.

Fresh Discs For Your Hungry Player:

The Survival Issue

Their second disc is an impressive and pretty varied mix of country, surf and rock and roll.
It starts off with a rare instrumental (“The Incident At Rock Creek”) then drifts into an all out Gospel-call and response rocker “How Do We Do.”

There's a video for this one. You may want to request it with the folks at Muchmusic. When Swank played the Railway they did an acoustic set and a later electric set. This disc concentrates on more their electric side, but there is the odd light shed on their acoustic side with songs like “How F**ked Is That?” a lovely, outside-porch ballad with a wonderfully low-key vocals by lead singer Spenser McKinnon, despite the rather terse title, as well as their usual barn-burners like “1963 Galaxie” and “Wanted In Ten States.”

There's even an off-kilter tale of some creepy “Neighbours.” Along with McKinnon, Phil Addington (bass guitar), Paul Addington (rhythm guitar) Doug Little (lead guitar, slide, steel and banjo) and drummer Kirk Douglas (Yep. that's his real name) provide solid backing on a most enjoyable, no-nonsense album best heard at top volume. The artwork (a mock survival magazine) is as much fun as the music. It's like a miniaturized LP package--a welcome relief from the usual jewel box. For more musings on Swank visit:

Bob KemmisBob Kemmis
Arena Ready

At first listen, Bob Kemmis's seemingly more subdued approach can be mistaken as light and perhaps a tad uneventful sonically. But once you've read the lyrics, and had a few more listens to his latest, it starts to dawn on you how this man continues to draw in new fans with every disc.

Tracks that have caught my ear are: “Let Down” the most instantly catchy track, with its chorus of “Stop sucking, stop sucking. I paid forty dollars for this ticket and you're sucking...” which is a little more direct for someone like Kemmis, who tends not to hit you square in the face with catch phrases. “Freak Luck,” “Figured Out,” “Harder Than You Know” and “Green Shirt” are also standouts with lyrics like: “So let the jealous keep dishing the dirt at me and my green shirt...who says that a lucky charm can do no harm. Has never chased a leprechaun or talked to a rabbit. That line didn't rhyme but it didn't have to,” or “Well I'm scarred, but it's not enough, to stop me crawling across the shards of your love” from “Harder Than You Know.” This always gets a snicker or two at his shows.

If that's not enough to draw you in, there's excellent playing on this disc as well, by members of what once was The Odds, 54-40, Simon Kendall from Doug & The Slugs, and Steve Dawson (Zubot & Dawson) all gladly offering their services to Bob. For more musings on Mr. Kemmis and his craft try

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