by Yasmine Shemesh
Keithmas, returning for the fifth time this year, exists in part to ring in the holiday season to raise money for the Greater Vancouver Food Bank Society, and to celebrate the birthday of a certain Rolling Stones guitarist, the immortal being known as Keith Richards, who turns 71 this year (a Christmas miracle in itself). Since its inauguration in 2010, the annual “fundrager” has become one of the city’s most merrymaking — and perhaps most obscure — traditions, anticipated by both musicians and patrons alike.
Tonight, a handful of local bands will take the stage at Electric Owl to hammer out short sets of Stones or solo Richards covers, taking breaks to swig from an incredibly large bottle of Jack Daniels (the human riff’s poison of choice). The boozy tribute has grown bigger and bigger every year and now raises an upward of $2,800, along with hundreds of pounds of canned and boxed goods. Past Keithmases have featured some of Vancouver’s hardest rockers, including No Sinner, Skinny Kids, and Spoon River, who are set to hit the stage again this year.
Speaking of Spoon River, the psychedelic garage rockers just dropped their sophomore record and first release in four years, a kaleidoscopic gem called The New Sun Ahhhhh Hotel. Led by Tavis Eachan Triance and his wife Rachel Horkenheimer, the free-spirited couple originally formed the band in Montreal and then spent a portion of the time between their new album and 2010’s Kingdom of the Burned living on a First Nations community in Bella Bella up the coast of British Columbia. After moving to Vancouver, Spoon River revamped their lineup and began playing with a groovier sound — a progression Triance attributes to the individual skillsets of his new bandmates.
“We ended up as a six-piece and there was kind of a more garage rock and psychedelic direction that we took,” he explains. “We added a second keyboard player, so we were using those arrangements. That palette really lent itself to more a bigger, psychier, more rhythmic rock and roll approach to what we were doing. We took the lineup and just sort of took our cues from that and these are the songs that came out of them. We’re happy where it ended up, for sure. Lots of singing and percussion, so it makes for a great and enjoyable live performance. Exuberant.”
With its sun-splashed melodies and knee-slapping stomps, exuberant is certainly an apt description of the sonic delivered on The New Sun Ahhhhh Hotel. It’s not all sunshine and lollipops, however; there’s a personal depth that runs through lyrically, with the bulk of the material surfacing from intimate conversations between Triance and his wife about their struggles with art and with life.
“I lost my father back in 2001, so some of it is working through those things and my thoughts and fears about the world and about some of the things one encounters in the world,” Triance says. “So there are some poetic, journalistic aspects to it, as well. Many of these things aren’t necessarily overt, but there are definitely those threads running through it.”
The beautifully crafted language present on The New Sun Ahhhhh Hotel also comes from Triance’s love of words. With that in mind, it makes sense that he’s an English teacher in his day job, one that currently (and happily, he notes) works at an alternative school on the Sunshine Coast.
As for being the cool teacher that all the kids want to be friends with, Triance insists his young students aren’t really impressed with rock and roll. And though playing a Keith Richards cover gig certainly falls under the category of cool, he laughs, “I’d wonder if they’d know whom he was. If I was playing with Skrillex or someone like that, they’d probably be pretty pumped.”
Keithmas V is on Friday, December 19, 2014 at Electric Owl. Tickets are available online and at the door.
Published online at www.vancitybuzz.com, December 2014