Venue: The Railway Club, Vancouver, BC
Date: Friday, August 1st, 2014
by Shane Scott-Travis
All photos by Alan Derksen

For the devout music devotee some nights are more hectic and hustling than others and this was certainly the case last Friday (Aug. 1st) as it seemed every venue in town was highlighting some of the best local and touring acts around. It was bliss and heaven, all right, but also a little frantic and unfair, too (my apologies to Synthcake, whose show at Fortune Sound Club was a blip on my radar that never, sadly, corporealized). But that said, I somehow managed to motor at top speed directly from work to the newly refurbished Fox Theatre — Tokyo drifting with wild fire flourish — for an early show featuring nouveau riche psychedelic indie rockers Quilt and Woods, on their last stop before hitting up the Pickathon Music Festival in Oregon. Knowing full well that a late show at the Railway Club across town was going to close the night in expert and elegiac fashion, I was foolishly presumptuous of my concert-attending imperium.

At some point just before 11pm, raising hell in front of the stage as Brooklyn’s Woods made good on their promise to obliterate in freak folk flashes, I received a text from my provisory and unwavering photographer Alan that Olenka was up next and that I had better hotfoot it over there, pronto. With the decorum and tactlessness of Orlando Bloom blindly throwing an impotent punch at Justin Bieber I made my exit, leaping into a taxi and gunning it downtown (mad props to my wife for her taxi-hailing skills, btw) as Alan texted “hurry hurry hurry.”

Out of breath but happily hopped up I was soon ascending the steps of the Railway Club as Olenka and the Autumn Lovers ended their first song. Having recently relocated from London, Ontario, Olenka Krakus played a solo house show a little while ago that I was fortunate enough to catch, but seeing her now on stage and backed by a first-rate four-piece band was a jubilant thrill. I freely admit to being in an enthusiastic and open relationship with Olenka and the Autumn Lovers from the moment I first heard their music — a CD of their 2008 nostalgic inflected and country-tinged EP, Papillonette — and I’ve been voraciously pursuing her ever since. Krakus’ brand of neo-traditional folk and indie-rock intimacy has rightly gained her comparisons to such esteemed artists as Elliott Smith and Gillian Welch, and both are apt and evident.

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Leading her taut troubadours through an impeccable rendition of “Odessa,” the album opener off 2010’s lavish orchestral bijou And Now We Sing the fans in front of the stage were in rapture. Though not truthfully at all a country outfit, Krakus has always taken the best parts of country music; its raw, nerve-exposed emotional content, its elegance and simplicity of songwriting and created something complex and, at times, candy-sweet. There’s a lush and loyal sinfonietta feel à la Patsy Cline and Hank Williams yet it all barrels and bucks forward with a folk-infused fuzzbox and Canadiana travelogue that is as uncommon as it is extraordinary.

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Every time I’ve seen Krakus live her guitar playing has caught me off guard, and tonight was no exception. Dismissing her band briefly for a solo number, she applies to “Bisclavet” a werewolf leitmotif and gashes your heart with it. Lyrically this lachrymose but lovely little ditty actually reminds me of Beat Generation outsider Richard Brautigan’s poetry (he even has one about a werewolf on a Ferris wheel, come to think of it), but I think that’s more fortuity than intention. Hearing Krakus sing in that somber, nocturnal way she often does, is like espying a pink baby bird one minute and then a matured and mighty chanticleer the next. There’s something both imposing and affecting in the design and delivery of Olenka and the Autumn Lovers, something that pulses in Krakus’ brain, heating her blood while adding a trembling and desolate quality to her voice that’s also an emotional amenity.

Smiling and even-tempered, Krakus, with her bewitching blonde locks recalled a confident yet come-hither Deborah Harry, while her expert band boosted and enhanced her every nuance (and a special shout out has to go to Ridley Bishop, whose smooth sax and conquering clarinet were truly only rivaled by his tireless and entertaining dancing).

Watch Olenka and the Autumn Lovers perform ‘Hard Times / Winterlude’

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On stage, above, Olenka and the Autumn Lovers

On stage, below, Young and Sexy

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After a brief turnover Vancouver pop rock luminaries Young and Sexy stormed the stage, and seeing Lucy Brain and Paul Pittman’s smiling, perspiring faces before me on the familiar and affable Railway Club stage I was suddenly struck with the thought that this is probably where I first saw them perform some sixteen years prior. Well, they certainly haven’t lost any lustre, and their chamber pop predilection and charm is as endemic as ever.

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Their harmonies still call to mind the best parts of the Scottish twee pop collective Belle and Sebastian, and songs such as “Yes! Princess” and “The Beauty and the Beast Machine” weep appeal and pastoral pleasure. “The City You Live in is Ugly” from 2002’s Stand Up For Your Mother and “Herculean Bellboy” off 2003’s Life Through One Speaker were both standouts, summoning the early noughties Mint Records salad days in all of their inventive, hook-addled majesty.

Watch: Young & Sexy vid for ‘Curious Organ’

Young and Sexy displayed such stamina and express tenderness as they trod the boards that I couldn’t help but regret how infrequent their appearances have been in recent times. However if the warmth they radiated on this night is any indicator, perhaps a resurgence is in the works. While I didn’t notice any new material, they were flexing their musical muscles so blithely and with such savvy that I, fingers crossed, speculated this might be a harbinger of what’s ahead.

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All told it was an exceptional night of stirring, heartening music that, tired as I was at the end of it all, left me revived and ecstatic, as if touched by the divine. And I may have even added a few new dance moves to my repertoire (thanks, Ridley!). For the time being Olenka and the Autumn Lovers are calling Vancouver home and we couldn’t be any more pleased. Let this be an affair that endures now and forever.

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