Published Sep 27, 2013Young Galaxy have changed quite a bit since Stephen Ramsay, former touring guitarist for Stars, and his partner Catherine McCandless formed it in Vancouver eight or so years ago. Their numbers have swelled from two to five while their aesthetic has transitioned from indie pop with shoegaze leanings to gleaming, '80s infected synth-pop. Their angle has obviously worked, as they've gone on to make the Polaris Music Prize long list twice, and the short list in 2013 for their fourth album, Ultramarine.
The band packed the Electric Owl on a Thursday night, thanks in part to the Polaris Prize's service to the righteous cause of music, and partly due to this being a homecoming of sorts for the now-Montreal-based outfit. In any case, the crowd were onboard and the band turned the club out with a tight, loving performance of electro-pop delivered with pop punk enthusiasm, fighting their way through early bouts of feedback good naturedly.
From his station of pedals and effects, guitarist Ramsay was a ham all night. He dedicated most songs to friends and lovers in the audience, including a couple who hooked up six years ago after failing to get into the band's sold-out show at the Media Club. He teased the opening band, Human Human, who were on their first Canadian tour, noted the changing hair part of drummer Andrea Silver, and humorously pitched merch by announcing which songs from the new album were his parent's favourites. Later on, after graciously accepting a vigorous round of hoot-filled applause, McCandless let it slip that it was Ramsay's birthday that night, and his exceedingly jovial mood made that much more sense.
While McCandless didn't banter much, she was the star of the show. She has said in interviews that they have gone in the direction of placing less focus on lyrics as the bearer of meaning, and more on emoting through intonation, coinciding with her taking on full-time lead vocal duty, and her performance this evening proved that she's fully capable of delivering the goods. While she has professed a shy nature, McCandless seemed a natural front-person live. Occasionally picking up a shaker or tambourine, McCandless would alternately strut like a saucy peacock or hunch down and claw at the crowd, toying with her prey before going in for the kill.
McCandless's voice had a stern timbre with a classic vibrato, delivered with a slight grimace on her face, as if giving a piece of her soul away with each word. Her voice could be sweet and effervescent for songs like "Sleepwalk With Me," go pop diva for "Pretty Boy" and "Fall for You," and turn soulful for "New Summer." Meanwhile, Ramsay's underwhelming lead on "Cover Your Tracks" from 2011's Shapeshifting showed precisely why he stuck to songwriting for Ultramarine. Closing with an uproariously received cover of "A Little Respect" by Erasure, this homecoming was clearly a welcome success.