Over the past week I’ve spent some time writing about experiences from my recent holidays spent visiting family and friends in the Kelowna area, which included taking in some live music.
On my last night in town, Kelowna based artist Windmills was opening for Vancouver’s JP Maurice at Fernando’s Pub. I had been dying to see Windmills perform live for the past year (it was honestly one of my 2014 New Year’s resolutions), and I have become a growing and curious fan surrounding the mystique of JP Maurice, including his producing and collaborative work with other artists.
At the last minute I rounded up a group of old friends to celebrate my birthday, something I never do because it is on Christmas Day. It ended up being this randomly interconnected mix of people from my past who came together; somehow an excuse to drink with people you have rarely seen in the past 10 years always seems like a great idea.
The problem with staging a reunion of friends at a show you actually want to see is it makes it rather challenging to focus on the show at all. This is a fact I realized too late. The other fact was that Fernando’s is relatively small, albeit a fantastic ambiance with great food, drinks, and friendly staff, but like any popular hot spot, it was crowded and noisy, certain patrons become obnoxious after a certain hour, and unless you are standing in the five feet of space in front of the stage, you are basically attempting to listen to the music in the middle of a raging house party.
I did convince a friend or two to join me up near the stage and also went up on my own for a few songs, but by the end of the night I was reminded how difficult it is to focus on a live performance in a crowded bar. I also considered if I ever truly want to focus on a show in this type of environment, I probably shouldn’t invite friends who I want to talk to all night (note to self: start working on my self confidence to go see a show at a bar by myself).
What I have been reflecting on the most is how artists are performing night after night in venues just like this one, and although it was difficult to hear the music over all of the socializing, they still performed the hell out of their sets. I love listening to stories from bands who gauge a song by how busy the bartender is, or how much louder the talking gets, or by how many people have looked towards the stage at all. Clearly I have become ridiculously spoiled over the last year and a half to see music performed live at my local venue, Serenity Performing Arts Centre. It has basically ruined going out to see music anywhere else.
Although there is still something to be said about hearing live music being played in the background of a social event, I have become too aware of how hard they are working and the dedication it has taken them to be able to do what they are doing. To sit and carry on a conversation while someone is sharing their life’s work has come to feel increasingly terrible.
For what it’s worth, I have made another resolution to see Windmills play in 2015. He was lovely by the way. His stage persona is the perfect blend of self deprecation and sweet charm. There were a few unfortunate technical sound difficulties during his set, but ironically the surrounding atmosphere helped in this particular instance. I easily picked up on the pockets of his fan base in the room. As a local artist, he clearly has a strong following and for good reason. The guy has indie star written all over him. From his effortless style to his songs that sink into your bones, I have no doubt seeing him perform in a listening room type venue would be fairly mind blowing. His full length album “Keep Moving” continues to reveal new layers and sparks a deeper interest with each subsequent play; it is one of my go-to albums for when I feel the need to question every choice I have ever made in my life and dwell on the things I have become professional at suppressing. With the release of his single “Face To A Name” this past year, anticipation has been building for the new music to come from this self-described experimental one-man band whose kaleidoscope of electro-sounds have mood enhancing powers.
The real surprise of the night was JP Maurice. I’m not sure what I expected from this charismatic voice who has his hands in a multitude of projects and seems to pop up everywhere within the music circles I follow. His relative high profile has contributed to the intrigue surrounding him and how he is choosing to market his current music among the jigsaw puzzle of his expanding career. I immediately took notice of how his distinct sound translated live. His performance of his recent single “Poison Heart” completely took me off guard, so much so that I literally stopped a conversation mid sentence to give it my full attention (hence my earlier ramblings about the challenges of the evening).
What may have impressed me the most about his show was that there was both a crisp polish to it and a malleability that could bend and twist with the audience. This is typically hard to achieve, but JP Maurice isn’t typical. When you think of the independent music scene in BC, his music would not be considered “trendy” in terms of sound right now, and he doesn’t fit what many would classify as pop either. His melodies and hooks are bold and remind me of some of my favourite 80’s era bands. With his commanding stage presence, he gives an air of mature confidence beyond his years. Wearing a sharp black jacket and black jeans, amid a packed bar of twenty-somethings, he was the man of the hour. Interestingly, his recent music videos have been heavy on the sex appeal which can be misread as a smoke screen for lackluster talent. But it only takes a few minutes in a room with his voice and a guitar to see what all the fuss has been about in recent years, including emerging from the shadows of his highly publicized record deal with David Foster to become one of Music BC’s most multidimensional artists since his first appearance as a Peak Performance Project finalist in 2011.
Along with his original material, what came later in his set was ridiculously awesome for anyone who experienced any of their adolescence in the mid 90’s…he performed a cover of Blackstreet ft. Dr. Dre’s “No Diggity” that was insane. I am still pinching myself about it actually happening. As the night went on, Windmills and JP collaborated to perform some crazy pop mash-ups that were a whole lot of fun, but covers after all are just that. At the end of a night it’s the artist’s own music that I’m hoping will stand out and it did. I am left with a sense of wonderment about this phoenix of sorts who causes quite the stir wherever he appears. I have a feeling the surprises are going to keep coming.
Windmills and JP Maurice performed at Fernando’s Pub in Kelowna BC on December 27, 2014.