Published Jul 19, 2009Even though most of this concert's attendees did not appear to be god-fearing types, St. Andrew's-Wesley United Church, a neo-gothic Vancouver landmark built in 1933, lent an aura of devotional solemnity to the proceedings. Having once hosted shows by the likes of Sigur Rós and Antony & the Johnsons, the church is well known for its grandiose interior and exceptional acoustics, and given the majestically slow and expansive soundscapes produced by Grouper (aka Portland, OR's Liz Harris), there could be no more fitting venue for her performance.
Opening the proceedings was Diadem, which consists of Vancouver's Aja Rose Bond (of In Flux) and Gabriel Saloman (ex-Yellow Swans). They wove guitar (played, at times, with a bow), synths, percussive noises and reverb-drenched vocals into a hazy wash of sound, to stunning effect. This was music that benefited from an acoustic environment that amplified your every move, with sounds that would be lost in a more traditional venue jumping to the forefront. The same applied to the next act, Empty Love + Les Beyond, also of Vancouver. Looped guitars slowly swelled, faded and droned, as coloured circles of light scanned the herald angels at the back of the church.
Though Grouper's 2008 album Dragging a Dead Deer up a Hill earned Harris some gushing press coverage, this concert showed that her live act is an equally important part of her success. Launching into her set without a word, Harris took something similar to the "noise" or "drone" music of the night's previous acts and added her key ingredient: memorable and beautiful melodies. Seeing what Harris does live with her voice and guitar through a loop-effect box is jaw-dropping, and the visuals designed for the show - alternately resembling shooting stars and sunlight peeking through a thick canopy of trees - beautifully illuminated the back wall of the sanctuary. Still, it was when you closed your eyes and realized how pretty and, well, good the actual songs are that everything became clear - this is not something that can be said of most "drone" music.