Pelican Rickshaw Theatre, Vancouver BC, June 18

Pelican Rickshaw Theatre, Vancouver BC, June 18
Photo: Joshua Peter Grafstein
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The return of Pelican to Vancouver, the Illinois instrumental post-metal quartet's first visit to the port city since 2007, started off with a stumble. Trevor de Brauw had a problem with his guitar on the opening track, forcing him to ditch his axe, scramble for a backup, and frantically tune it, while the rest of the band held the structure of "Dead Between the Walls" from 2007's City of Echoes together. He needed a new cable or something, because he ran offstage with his instrument after the track, then came back and switched some things around while his band mates filled the void with a couple minutes of improvised drone. Successful in his mission, de Brauw alluded to a quote from Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, and got back to work on "Tundra" from their most recent album, 2013's Forever Becoming, the record from which most of their set would be pulled.

With Bryan Herweg holding down bass centre stage, his brother Larry Herweg on the kit behind him, flanked by guitarists de Brauw and Dallas Thomas (also of the Swan King), Pelican had the heads of most of the modest Wednesday night crowd slowly surging with their dynamic, sludgy rhythms. While de Brauw was a little slow to recover from his early setback, he was shredding hard and hopping around a few tracks in. By "Lathe Biosas" from their Ataraxia/Taraxis EP, de Brauw was head-banging furiously, hopping back and forth with moves reminiscent of AC/DC's Angus Young, while Thomas let loose some of his most epic shredding. Otherwise, Thomas seemed more tightly wound, a little contained until he would occasionally point his axe skyward and unleash his full power. Conversely, de Brauw had a looser, more athletic presence, and handled all the amiable banter.

The rhythm section held it down as the backbone, with Bryan putting every iota of feeling into his growling bass lines, and Larry ever on-point, but never too flashy. In fact, power stances aside, none of them overtly showboated. Their attitudes and instruments blended seamlessly into a cohesive unit, which was at once their greatest strength and a mild weakness. As a whole, they were tighter than psychedelic doom-metal instrumentalists Shooting Guns, but somehow a little less exciting, similar to seeing impressively skilled yet subtly subdued post-rockers Explosions in the Sky in that respect.

Still, when Pelican sunk their teeth into heavy riffs, like they did in encore tune "Mammoth" (from their untitled EP of 2003), it felt as though the long-awaited big one had finally hit Vancouver, that our mountains would crumble and slide us all out to sea, though the ominous, sepia-toned nature visuals of touring projectionist Kenneth Thomas might have helped to influence that impression.