Feist concert review: Opening act, Chad VanGaalen

A review of Feist, live at Calgary’s Jubilee Auditorium (Saturday, May 19, 2007).
This is a review of the opening act, Chad VanGaalen. To read the part about Feist, click here!

Opening act: Chad VanGaalen

Chad VanGaalen live

I think every opening act I’ve ever seen has somehow convinced me to follow up with the band. It’s through the wonder of opening acts that I’ve been introduced to bands like Eisley, The Music, and Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks. Given this track record, I was looking forward to seeing who would warm up the stage before Feist took it over as the headliner. The merch table in the lobby, just beside the Feist stuff, featured robo-Japanese pandas on black shirts, and the blocky font seemed to say the band was called “Chrovangralen.” The only clue this offered was that it would probably be really weird sounding. Maybe like Deerhoof or something.

Turns out, the strung-together all-caps text actually read “Chad VanGaalen.” He’s a guy from Calgary, who brought his band along for the tour with Feist, and will be opening for her for the whole duration of The Reminder tour.

Chad is definitely someone you call by his first-name. Even though his surprising vocal presence could easily take centre stage, he seems more comfortable playing his guitar in the corner by the drummer. Chad takes an unassuming skinny-tall-guy’s slouch, wearing jeans and leaning into the mic like he’s just trying to tell you about an idea he had.

And he’s got plenty of ideas: five giant hand-drawn cardboard cut-outs of animals were hanging out on stage with the band, and these critters seem to inhabit Chad’s imagination. He drew all the animals himself, draws the cover art for his albums, his t-shirts, his website, and draws just for fun in his spare time – and it’s mostly strange, magical animals. His lyrics are spotted with images of pterodactyls and “wind-driving dogs,” but that’s where his music takes a turn for the career-defining. His friendly quirkiness is matched with a wide-eyed sense of apocalypse: “I wish a were I comet,” he sings in one songs, “speeding towards Planet Earth.”

Like a smarter, more stable Daniel Johntson, Chad VanGaalen makes music in his homemade bedroom studio, recording tapes and tapes full of music, and stuffing them into suitcases and forgetting about them. “Most of these songs are new ones,” he told us at the show. “I’ve been getting bored of all the other ones.” He writes and evolves quickly as an artist, and even his set at the Feist show demonstrated that: the boy can’t keep himself within one style of music.

The most surprising thing about Chad – the thing that made my wife and I stare at each other in amazement while he performed – is his voice. VanGaalen has an incredible voice: during his uptempo rock songs, he pulls off the plain, singing-like-I-talk sound of the Weakerthans or Pavement, but once he drops that persona, he showcases an incredibly powerful falsetto. (Here: go to his page on CBC Radio 3 and listen to his song “Somewhere I Know There’s Nothing” while you keep reading). Sometimes with the fragility of the Innocence Mission, and sometimes with the concert hall intensity of a Jeff Buckley wail, Chad VanGaalen is morphing into a powerful monstrosity from his own library of creatures. More than just a kid from Calgary, Chad has the capacity to make a significant mark in music.

Recently signed to the legendary label SubPop, you can check out his videos on YouTube, his page on MySpace, and his write-up on Subpop or Calgary-based Flemish Eye Records. You can also read this interview with him from a couple years ago – it’s a really interesting read about Chad’s music-making process — or this one, from Coke Machine Glow.