Chad Vangaalen, Jay Malinowski, SC Mira, Yes We Mystic, Samantha Savage Smith @ Rifflandia 9/20/2015

It was a drizzly night in Victoria, but there was no dampening the spirits of the Friday festival-goers. The streets of BC’s capital city bustled with life, and there was an electric buzz in the air. Rifflandia time again!

First stop was the Metro Theatre, which is the kind of place you’d expect to see your kid’s elementary school play. However, the cosy confines were well-suited for Samantha Savage Smith and her down-home brand of alt folk. It was early in the evening so the crowd was sparse, but that just made things all the more intimate. The sound was a little bass-heavy, but Smith more than made up for that with a great vocal delivery and some really lovely guitar playing.

Next up was a hop over to the crowded and sweaty Copper Owl, where Yes We Mystic just killed it. The band is rigged up like a mini Arcade Fire, with a violin and a cello alongside the usual rock band gear. Stylistically, they are little harder edged that most indie fare, and they are prone to flights of neo-acid rock fancy. Great stuff.

Right across the street was Studio CMCT, a rectangular, sterile space, which I complained about last year. I’m not sure how much of it was by design, but Sc Mira managed to work the place beautifully. The band used the studio-like atmosphere to their advantage, and with the use of simple lighting made it seem like we were witnessing the filming of an artsy video. Front woman Sadye Cage strutted her stuff like the rock’n’roll diva that she is. Fans of high-energy alternative rock were given a treat.

Back at the gorgeous Alix Goolden Hall (a converted church) I caught just the tail end of Jay Malinowski with the Deadcoast. Too bad because it sounded like great indie folk-pop. The excitement in the air really grew, however, as we awaited the highlight of my night, the inimitable Chad Vangaalen

There was a bit of a delay as he laboured over his beat-up guitar on-stage. We were informed later that there was a problem with the pickup, but the sound guy soldered it and it was good to go. Vangaalen is down-to-earth (a Calgary trait, it seems), even self-effacing, and he endeared himself to the full venue immediately. His music is comfortable and familiar, even if you’ve never listened to him before. Some may disagree but to me it is quintessentially Canadian (no surprise that he frequently sounds like Neil Young) – rustic and organic, and yet worldly at the same time. It is also undeniably quirky, an attribute that warms the cockles of my heart. With just a bassist/leopardist and drummer as accompaniment, Vangaalen treated us to fascinating song after song in his folktronic troubadour style. I must admit I was surprised towards the end when he got the crowd so riled up that they got out of their seats and danced. I wasn’t expecting that from a Chad Vangaalen concert.