Hailing from Calgary, Canada, indie/folk singer and guitarist Chad VanGaalen has been active for ten years with four studio albums under his belt. He has acquired quite a following on the other side of the Atlantic, but only now is he starting to cause rumblings here in the UK. Tonight marked the end of his month long tour promoting his new album ‘Diaper Island’ by performing at Deaf Institute in Manchester. The venue housed about 150 people or so, predominately of an alternative student background. Having only listened to a couple of songs prior to the gig, I was quite excited to see what else he had in his catalogue. The show started peculiarly when he appeared on his lonesome, banjo in tow, singing the opening line, “Maybe if I Shaved My Pussy” and I wondered what the hell was going on. This must have been a gimmick and I found out afterwards that lyric was actually the song title itself, followed by another banjo influenced song, “Weighed Sin”. After this, the backing band (Matt, Eric and Scott) appeared and the initial bizarreness was forgotten about as a series of tremendous guitar work followed that really blew me away.
The first few songs were ‘Do Not Fear’, ‘Peace on the Rise’ and ‘Sara’ and all had a psychedelic /folk vibe where the fender strat was played majestically and Van Gaalen’s voice was angelic, reminding me slightly of Neil Young, with some use of the harmonica for certain songs to give a bluesy feel. It was like the Deaf Institute had turned into a time machine and we’d all been transported back to the 1960s, specifically San Francisco and California. These songs were trance like and hypnotic that wouldn’t look out of place on the famous “Nuggets” Collections. It was refreshing to witness a band that could still execute music so well from such an influential generation and have elements of peace and free love written all over it.
After that, he showed that this psychedelic vibe wasn’t all he possessed in his arsenal as he went into more faster paced anthems, yet still remaining original. His voice changed for these quickened melodies, moving from a higher pitched octave to a rawer sound, throwing in a couple of rock screams in the instrumentals. He wielded a diverse vocal range throughout the set, able to get a few members of the crowd dancing away.
The show went on fluctuating between the combinations of slower 60s sounds to slightly more grittier riffs, inter changing the style as the show went on. Much of the material reminded me of ‘Buffalo Springfield’, who could also interchange between rock and folk like psychedelia. Even though the pace changed, what did remain constant was the wonderful and echo like guitar rhythms being played on the fender that really created that 60s feel, invoking an emotion that pierced deep into your stomach, making you search for some sort of nostalgic comfort of a time we weren’t blessed to experience. Sometimes it was very drug like, as if we were stoned without smoking, being taken on a tranquil and spaced out colourful dream amongst the clouds, a journey through Chad VanGaalen’s vivid psyche, emphasised in his videos. Speaking of which, VanGaalen’s scope of creativity stretches to illustration and animation work and this is highlighted in a few of his music videos as well as his own album sleeves, which are beautifully weird, and give a very distinct feeling of the psychedelic 60s.
Many songs were packed into the set in such a short time and I liked the alternation between the fast and slow paced songs, which kept the audiences attention and focus. I was suitably impressed with Chad VanGaalen and by being a huge fan of the 60s scene in general, as well as the psychedelic sounds of San Francisco and California, I was loving an alternative reflective route back to one of the greatest periods in music history. By all accounts, his style has changed for the new album and is quite a different approach from the preceding others, where electronica features on the ‘Soft Airplane’ album. If that is the case then the new album shows a far more refined approach and end result that should appeal to an audience that really knows and feels their music. On the basis of the new album, this is an artist for anyone who loves the older, softer and consciousness-expanding sounds of the 60s, being taken on an exploratory voyage through the heritage and roots of music. Chad VanGaalen creates that vibe with this calming collection of modernised and original music, blending folk and rock with psychedelia, taking you on a trip down memory lane.