Monday, April 5, 2010

Jean-Paul De Roover & City of Glass

at The Pearl Company, Hamilton, ON, March 10, 2010

Do you remember as a child, playing with Lego? Building some imaginary thing with dozens, no hundreds of small plastic pieces and being amazed as it took shape before your eyes? My father spent his retirement years constructing beautiful models of houses out of popsicle sticks. He worked with an exacto knife and white glue, even cutting sheets of sandpaper into representations of shingles which he then glued to the roof. Hinges on the doors? Made from pins! An artist I know creates his sculptures by tirelessly welding thousands of rods together to create huge representational constructions. This desire to create a whole from many disparate pieces is what keeps Jean-Paul De Roover working on his music. Even when playing to empty rooms, he displays an excitement about the creative process that is contagious, even thrilling. The first time I saw him play was last fall on a Thursday night, the Pearl Company accommodates nearly 200 but there were only five of us there. Last night the numbers were more like twenty, and we were scattered around the room, on the most comfortable chairs. Did the small turnout bother J-P? Not so you'd notice. He bounced, and danced with his guitar, a Fender acoustic that he borrowed from his sister. He's an energetic performer, I don't think I noticed that the first time, but watching him last night left me exhausted.

Upon arrival at the Pearl Company, Hamilton's gem of a new performance space, J-P greeted me like an old friend. (I had written about the autumn show on my blog.) He looked at the small group of friends I'd brought, and said, "Well, you did your part! You've quadrupled the audience!" We laughed and shared stories about what we'd been doing since last we met. He is just starting a new, longer tour. And playing with opening acts. Tonight it's Vancouver's City of Glass.

City of Glass is a quartet made up of Michael Champion (guitar/vocals), David Phu (guitar/backing vocals), Georgia Korba (bass) and Alex Cumming (drums). They list New Order, Coldplay, Weezer and Deathcab for Cutie as their influences, but they play mainly original material. They joked about doing an AC/DC tune but when it came down to it the one cover version was a Radiohead cut. That's the kind of ambient rock they play, chilly almost spiky guitars, against solid rhythm from Alex and Georgia. Georgia plays a Fender Precision and it's bigger than she is, but she has mastered the beast. Their set was plagued by a few audio problems, the wrong mix in the monitors and a rented amp that gave up the ghost, but they weather the storm well, and their fifty minute set was well received. Then they repaired to the merch counter to flog their T-shirts, buttons and CDs. And they come back to watch De Roover. They opened for him the previous night in Toronto. They know what's coming.

Jean-Paul doesn't take too long to set up. His gear is all placed on a construction of red plastic tubes, not unlike a building toy from his youth. His whole thing is constructivism. Even the package his CD/DVD comes in is an art piece, it has no text, and unfolds to create a house. But on the red construction is a series of little boxes, looping gear, a drum pad, samplers, cables, buttons, pedals into which the guitar is plugged and a pair of microphones. He wears a set of headphones, and begins to build. Whether he starts with voice, "Ahahahahahahaaah!" maybe "Bada, baadaa, baaaaadip!" or a guitar part, he then adds harmony, rhythm, texture. Beats appear out of the ether. He sings the melody, and his melodies are strong, and then layers a harmony, and a third voice over top. He controls all of this by bending and twisting, stopping this track, starting that one, playing some rhythm guitar, he looks like he might fall, but catches himself, eats a bite of a butter tart, and all the while the audience is enrapt. They are singing along with songs they did not know three minutes ago. They spontaneously applaud. You can hear them whispering, "Wow! How does he do that?"

It's like this for over an hour. He plays his original songs. Most of them have one word titles like "Walk," "Lapse," "The Knife," "Fix." My favourite might be the new one, it's untitled so far. The chorus is "I love you," but J-P thinks that's too obvious a title, a bit too generic. I think of it as "Blue." It's a fine song. He wraps up with an audience participation tune, where he puts down his guitar and walks around the entire place shaking everyone's hand and thanking us for coming. It's a nice touch.

Jean-Paul is building his audience the same way he builds his music. He bonds an ever growing number of people together with the glue of his personality, his creativity and his imagination. Oh, and it doesn't hurt that he's just plain musical, too!

Thanks to Barbara and Gary at the Pearl Company for bringing outstanding new music like Jean-Paul De Roover and City of Glass to this city.

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