I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be from Vancouver this week. It all started with a message:
“Anyone wanna see Grimes with me on Feb. 18 @ Fortune? She’s this wicked dreamy synthpop chick who opened for Lykke Li on her last tour. I can’t stop listening to her albums. (Yay!) Tix are only $13. Think about it! — L”
I rallied the troops to catch this rising star — born and bred of the same mountain air, sandy beaches, underground hippie culture, and leagues of outdoor space as myself.
Because this was the first sold-out performance of her Visions tour, which is her first release after signing to epic indie label 4AD (home of so many favourite bands: Blonde Redhead, Bon Iver, Iron and Wine, The National, Camera Obscura, Atlas Sound, Gang Gang Dance, Tune-Yards, Twin Shadow… oh the anticipation!), Grimes, aka Claire Boucher, was quite obviously a very nervous creature.
Plus this gig was in her hometown.
The tiny 23-year-old hopped onstage to face a packed crowd that was already feeling restless. I missed openers Born Gold so I wasn’t quite riled up, but people around me were gettin’ growly.
Grimes was dressed in a simple v-neck longsleeved, and she had her hair piled in a giant ponytail at the top of her head. Her eyes were awash with enough pink shadow to make Bowie proud. When she took the mic, she flopped her hair to cover one side of her face and said in a trademark, high-pitched register,
…Uh, I’m Grimes.
Hehheh. Thanks. Thanks for coming to my show!”
Or something to that effect. So awkward! She was like a nervous teen asking for a first date! Adorable.
Then she started up the synth and all cuteness evaporated into the ether.
This chick can lay down a beat. She started out with a more experimental sound, stopping at times to ask for more of this, or less of that, from the sound peeps.
She was joined by the two members of Born Gold who hit up the synths/keys/drum machines behind her as she would “coo,” or “goo,” or “gaa,” or “check” to test the sound at random intervals, which sounded strange — like a baby backed by a synthesizer and a lot of amps.
But what an unhappy baby that would be! Her bass was fucking loud. And her hits were immediately recognizable to the crowd. The chunky beats of Oblivion melted into the speeding momentum of Vanessa, which melted into the warm and fuzzy synths of Genesis. And all were matched with throaty catcalls and flailing limbs. The crowd ate her up completely.
The song Be a Body. Oh my god. What a GREAT track! And she absolutely KILLED it live! There was not a body there without arms in the air and feet stomping along to a deliberately simple electropop beat that masks some really impressive, experimental vocals.
Take a gander at her latest video for Vanessa:
I must say though, Grimes’ voice was underscored by frequent mic feedback and sometimes obscured by throbbing bass, so her high-pitched, R&B-influenced singing style did get a bit lost.
And yes, her voice did come across as inconsistent at times, but I expected it to because that’s how it sounds on the record. It doesn’t matter. Her voice is interesting, and her beats are fucking wickedawesome. Like, The Knife-style wickedawesome. (If you’re a fan of me or my blog, you will know I have a permanent love-on for The Knife — I even wrote them a poem. <3)
Regardless of any criticism of her musical ability, Grimes comes across as real during her performance. And that’s all I really wanted.
This is a tough feat I’d say, given the incredible amount of hype this girl is getting: New York Times, the National Post, the Sun, the Province, the Georgia Straight, Pitchfork, Exclaim!, Spinner, Discorder, etc. are all taking note.
And living in Vancouver myself (I grew up in Metro Van), it’s hard not to notice her popping up everywhere here. The sky’s the limit for this Vancouver girl, though now she calls Montreal home.
So what does it mean to be from Vancouver?
Let’s ask some notables:
“The sea has now changed from it’s natural, to river coloured water, the probable consequence of some streams falling into the bay, or into the ocean to the north of it, through the low land. To describe the beauties of this region will, on some future occasion, be a very grateful task to the pen of a skilled panegyrist.”
“It’s a foodie town, a chef town, a multicultural city. A proverbial melting pot where the elements don’t melt too much and lose distinct flavours.”
Hm. If you asked me what it meant for an artist to be from New York, or Tokyo, or Paris, or even Cleveland, I’d definitely have a picture in my mind; at least some distinctive imagery to describe the artist’s influence.
So what of Grimes?
I think her music — with its airy melodies and deep pop hooks; tingly synths and jagged beats — shows that being from Vancouver means we’re all a little raw.
You know. Edgy. Unfinished. Beautiful, but hauntingly vague. Like the rain we must endure for so many waking months, we can’t be pinned down.
People are really transient here. Friends come and go. Summer lovers get washed away with the seasons. The perpetually grey sky can make us desperate for light. We don’t talk to each other enough in public places. We’re inside our heads a lot of the time.
As Grimes herself said to the Vancouver Sun, ““I don’t have a phone. Everyone I know is always on their fucking phone on the Internet all the time. I just wanted to write a song about being alive in the real world — ‘be a body.’”
So you better check her while you can.