Chad VanGaalen @ The Deaf Institute, Manchester 20.08.11

It’s been a couple of years since Canadian one-man musical dynamo Chad VanGaalen was last over here, and tonight at Manchester’s Deaf Institute found him on the very last date of his European tour to promote his latest record, the rather excellent Diaper Island.

Aug 20th, 2011 at The Deaf Institute, Manchester / By Paul Robertson
Chad VanGaalen A healthy crowd had gathered at the Deaf Institute, one of Manchester’s newer venues and a thoroughly lovely spot with a cosy, intimate vibe, to see and hear Mr VanGaalen and his live band beguile them with his lonesome tales and eclectic tunes.

First up, however, in the support band position were local foursome New Hips. The presence of a Meshuggah t-shirt on the drummer of what appeared at first-glance to be a straightforward indie band should have been a slight clue as to the kind of crazy polyrhythmic madness that was about to be unleashed upon the unsuspecting ears of the audience.
Guitar necks were tapped with abandon, drums were thrashed in insane time signatures, tumbling, jagged riffs were smashed into one another and nervy vocals were yelped… however… at no point did it become an atonal shredfest. This was mathrock with a real joie de vivre. Certainly the melodies coming forth from effected guitars and synths – one of which was skilfully wielded by the bassist, revealing herself to be a multi-instrumentalist as she slap-a-da-bass, tinkle the keyboard and smash the bejesus out of a floor tom and a couple of rototoms too – were odd, but they all meshed beautifully, if intentionally awkwardly. Fans of Don Caballero, Foals, Cardiacs, Clor and other such weirdos should keep an eye and ear out for these young scamps playing out and about, and also for their forthcoming debut single.

The main event, Mr Chad VanGaalen, arrived onstage shortly after, somewhat unceremoniously slinking on stage – if, indeed a six foot seven inch man can be said to slink – armed only with a ukulele and a harmonica on a harness around his neck ala Dylan, and proceeded to pluck out a low-key, tremulous rendition of ‘Shave My Pussy’, the closing number from his latest record.
Over the course of the next two numbers Chad was joined onstage by a drummer, Eric, a second guitarist, Matt, and a guitarist by the name of Scott wielding a Fender Jaguar baritone guitar in place of a bass and singing backup vocals. By the time they chimed into the enormous-sounding ‘Do Not Fear’, all four musicians were hitting their stride full-on.

A slight derailment occurred when guitarist Matt apologised for the overall smell of the band, what with their having been on tour for some time, only to have Chad point out that, having knelt down earlier to set up his gear, he noted that it was in fact the stage itself that smelled of vomit. Always good to know.

Momentum and dignity regained, Chad and the boys serve up a chunk of more tunes from Diaper Island, including ‘Sara’, the countrified ‘Heavy Stones’ and the propulsive, Joy Division-esque ‘Replace Me’ – replete with bloodcurdling screams from Chad – quickly followed by the welcome surprise of a cover of The Pixies classic ‘Here Comes Your Man’.

Crowd-pleasers ‘Willow Tree’ and ‘City Of Electric Lights’ from the Soft Airplane LP were served up, alongside a few more Diaper Island tunes, and the night just flew by until Soft Airplane's ‘Rabid Bits Of Time’ marked the end of the show and a clearly drained VanGaalen and band trouped offstage to loud cheers.

Of course, after a set like that, there was no way the band would get off without delivering an encore, and so it was that a return was made to the stage and a handful of extra songs were played, climaxing with the beautiful ‘Sing Me To Sleep’, from Skelliconnection. Only then were the exhausted singer and band allowed to crawl offstage to crash out somewhere backstage in preparation for their impending return home to Canada.