Jaine and I went to The Park Theatre last night to catch the Other Brothers CD release show. Here are some quick, unpolished thoughts.
I’ve been a fan of Chris Neufeld for a long time. I remember a couple of things: hearing him on CBC radio on DNTO and wondering who the heck he was and how he landed that spot (unknown kid from Brandon, national exposure) and seeing him do a couple of songs, I think it was at the West End, but can’t recall what for (a Back 40 coffee house, some singer/songwriter showcase, something). I was impressed right away with his unique, interesting voice, his talent with a melody, and his way with words. I quickly invited him on my show to find out more about him. He turned me down. Huh? He said that he wasn’t good at that kind of thing, didn’t know what to say, wasn’t confident, etc. He ended up turning me down many times over the past few years, and I’ve had a running joke on air as a result, calling him all kinds of names every time I play him. In truth, Chris and I know each other and get along famously, which frustrates me even more when he refuses to come on the air. He did come on once when he released his solo CD “Colorado Low,” and I thought it went well, although he refused other invitations after that. It was very nice to have him finally ask me if he could come on, and show up last week.
I was familiar with Donovan Giesbrecht by reputation only, having seen and heard his name around, but I hadn’t heard any songs. Last week I found out how good he was, and how great the two of them sound together.
So I knew the live show was going to be good. I was expecting to be entertained and have a good night of music. Even so, my expectations were very surpassed.
First off, Chris and Donovan know how to put on a show. They’d been tirelessly promoting the gig for over a week, visiting countless radio shows, newspapers, etc. They had posters in all kinds of places, and had clearly done the legwork to make the show a success. Plus, they have the backing of the Manitoba Mennonite community, and they are a loyal and supportive bunch. Getting to the show, Chris and Donovan were working the door, selling tickets. I know that it wasn’t because they couldn’t get someone else to do it, but they genuinely seemed to want to sit there and greet their guests. They shook my hand and welcomed me warmly, which was a nice touch. I walked into the theatre and was saddened to see it mostly empty. I hoped that more people would show up, but I couldn’t have imagined how many. At show time, the theatre filled up quickly and impressively. All of the theatre seats were taken, and people started to sit on the floor and stand at the back. During the first act, The Land, Chris and Donovan went and found chairs, and set up rows of chairs and made sure that anyone who wanted to sit could have a seat. How often do you see musicians that concerned about people who come to see them?
First up was a married duo called The Land, whose vocal harmonies and charming songs made for a nice introduction to the evening. After a short break, my old pal Darren Day came on with his latest band. Darren is a class act who works really hard and is one of the most adventurous, interesting songwriters I know. He could easily make simple melodies that I’m sure everyone would love, but he’s a fan of more obscure, challenging stuff (he always amazes me rattling off lists of bands that he’s totally passionate about, yet I’m completely unaware of), so he fills his songs with similarly interesting and challenging music, lyrics, and arrangements. He’s certainly diverse, so I can imagine it’s a bit hard for some people to make sense of it all, but he’s a very genuine and talented guy, so I know that at the very least people respect him and want him to succeed, even if not everything he tries pleases all ears. I enjoyed his set indeed, and wish he’d play out more.
The headliners played alongside the multi-talented Bill Western, and needed nothing else to complete their sound. It’s clear that there’s some magic in the chemistry, because both Other Brothers sing and play marvelously on their own, but combined, the group is even better than the sum of its parts. They are perhaps the most seamless duo I’ve seen in a while, adding greatly to each other’s songs to the point where you really can’t tell whose song it even is. They shift naturally between melody and harmony lines, and their guitar work, while subtle and not flashy, suits each other and the songs perfectly. For the most part, they let the music do the talking, not telling many stories about the songs, but when they did speak, they were really humble and funny and charming. They were obviously a bit nervous off the top, and relied a bit too heavily on self-deprecation at times, but that will change as they do more shows. And this fan can only hope that this is the start of many regular shows.
Darren Day repeatedly wondered aloud why more festivals hadn’t booked The Other Brothers, and I wholeheartedly agree (although I worry a bit about Darren’s threat to pester festivals and the way he encouraged others to do the same… note to Darren, festivals don’t like that… could be career suicide if you’re too annoying). These guys would be perfect at a festival in a number of settings and workshop ideas.
And how could I not love a night that ended with a rousing Rheostatics sing-along! These are musicians after my heart, and they’ve got it.
The Other Brothers. Watch out for them. Buy their CD: http://www.theotherbrothers.ca/