Imaginary Cities / The Coppertone Biltmore, Vancouver BC November 24

Imaginary Cities / The Coppertone Biltmore, Vancouver BC November 24
The Coppertone is essentially the world of fiery singer/guitarist Amanda Zelina, who can play one mean guitar. Not that she's the most precise technician, but she oozed more swagger than James Dean ever had, as she nailed the big blues rock riffs and let loose the odd bit of slide guitar soloing, her red hair blazing in the dimly lit cabaret. Her voice was a little broken sounding, almost like Kurt Cobain in his more motive moments, and by the end of their set, she sounded like a pack-a-day smoker, which just made it all the more authentic.

Zelina's touring bassist somewhat ruined her mystique as the female answer to George Thorogood. He gleefully thanked the crowd between most songs and was forced to amiably banter when Zelina broke a string tuning up. His cuteness almost counteracted her fierceness, but when he got down to rocking, they painted the perfect picture of a classic, hard-living rock'n'roll band, like the Pack A.D. with less of a punk influence.

One cannot deride Polaris Music Prize nominee Imaginary Cities for lack of song variety. These Winnipeggers channel glistening synth pop and late '70s AM rock, all the while updating the sound of Motown with new forms. Their more synth-heavy numbers wouldn't be out of place on a John Hughes soundtrack, especially their Cake cover. And more epic moments like "Cherry Blossom Tree" had the band cast in soft blue lighting flanked by a pair of mirror balls, all working amazingly as they delivered their soul-tinged pop.

When lead singer Marti Sarbit tossed her hair across her face, she almost looked like Janis Joplin, though her voice is more like an introverted Amy Winehouse. Sterling guitarist Rusty Matyas was rock solid, on the other hand, even when playing trumpet solos on a digital piano.

Imaginary Cities were incredibly gracious and genuine people, thanking the bustling crowd for showing up to their first headlining date in Vancouver after reportedly playing to six people in Portland the night before. About halfway through their set, Matyas said that, though it was cliché, he was the happiest he had ever been as a musician at that moment. And with moments like that, it's hard not to like Imaginary Cities.