Every location is defined by a musical flavour. Music enters the canon and is permanently linked to that place – the Blues for the Mississippi delta, the jig or reel for Ireland, and surf rock for California. With their fourth album, Yes Please, The Bills look to create a sound that generations to come will recognize as pure West Coast Canadian.
The Victoria-based folk “super group”, The Bills, have released their first album in eight years. The 13-song Yes Please is likely to be the Juno-nominated band’s most complete work to date, which features original compositions and arrangements by the five currently touring members. Releasing the album at Victoria’s Alix Goolden Hall on September 6, 2012, the band’s renewed energy was infectious.
“Everybody is better than ever,” said lead-singer and guitarist Chris Frye two days before the concert. “This is our home town, and we’re really excited. We weren’t really gone, because we played 200 shows a year between 2001 and 2007 and mainly played festivals since, but it’s great to start a tour and visit places we have been before with new material.”
The Bills also features core members Marc Atkinson on mandolin and guitar, Adrian Dolan on accordion, fiddle and piano, and Richard Moody on viola and fiddle. The group was joined in Victoria by bassist Joey Smith, who played on the album and will tour with the group in 2012, and Joby Baker who produced the album and played percussion in the first shows of the tour.
Seconds into the first song, toe tapping vibrated the floor across the packed hall as the band moved fluidly across the stage, each member except Smith ending at various different microphones during the song; a strange feat with the varying heights of band members.
The Bills performed Yes Please cover to cover, giving the audience a taste of fine-tuned vocal harmonies, finger-bending instrumentals, and lyrical humour which had made the group so popular around the world. The styles in their songs seamlessly mix folk, roots, bluegrass, jazz, and even self-described “Cuban Celtic music” in the instrumental ‘Scotch Bonnet,’ with each one telling its own musical story.
Storytelling, important in any folk tradition, is a key feature of any Bills concert, both in the songs and the introductions. Frye and Atkinson, the core song writing duo, each share a lyrical sense of place and humour prevalent in songs like ‘The Plant Song,’ a tune about Atkinson’s long suffering potted plant. ‘Hallowed Hall,’a tune about great concert venues, was written with the Goolden in mind, and ‘Pandora’s in Flames’ is the story of the first floatplane flight (and crash) in Victoria’s history.
The musicianship of the group was the highlight of the concert. The Bills are a group of musicians of the highest caliber. Dolan’s four and a half minute piano solo, played on the Goolden’s grand piano, was a piece teasing the band’s children, who were hanging off the balcony’s railing. Their giggles and waves at Dolan and his musical responses during his solo demonstrated what one fan described as the “twinkle in his eye that oozes musical genius,” which resulted in some friendly chiding during his younger age compared to the rest of the band.
“The scheduling is a big thing,” Frye said, referring to the many groups each member plays with, “but it all influences us as a band. Me as a lyricist, Marc and Adrian as melody makers, it’s all influenced by our other projects. Marc sometimes jokes he can’t play mandolin because he’s a world class guitarist [with his Marc Atkinson Trio] so he’s playing more guitar than ever on this album. Adrian’s bringing in Celtic and country influences as well.”
The crowd in the Goolden twice sat silent in awe, jaws gaping at the musicianship displayed on stage. ‘Quarter Century Mazurka,’ a complicated Polish-themed lullaby written for Dolan’s friend’s birthday, and the closing song of the album, Moody’s first song writing credit with The Bills called ‘The Gardenton Waltz’ both made the audience say “Wow!” before remembering to applaud.
The Bills were joined on stage three times during the show, first by The Sweet Lowdown, a local acoustic folk trio featuring Amanda Blied, Shanti Bremer, and Miriam Sonstenes, who left their instruments at home and added the extra depth of close harmonies to the funky ‘Shining Face.’ Fiddler, Daniel Lapp, exchanged his violin for a trumpet when he joined the group for a raucous arrangement of Django Reinhardt tunes. Moody’s sister, Rachel, joined The Bills as fiddler for the final album piece of the night, her brother’s waltz, which saw him solo so quickly that it looked like he was trying to fly.
If feet were tapping early in the concert, they were stomping on the old wood floor as the Bills moved back into their old classics to end the show. ‘Let Em Run’ and ‘Bamfield’s John Vanden’ showed off the band’s famous five part harmonies while ‘Old Blue Bridge’ was almost drowned out by the audience’s excitement. The group left their places during the final song to mill about on the edge of the stage, striking poses and dancing to the joy of the crowd.
“The Bills carry a torch, lyrically and musically, to tell people about our region,” said Frye, “It’s a very conscious decision to sing about that and bring that across the country. Richard and I are already throwing around ideas for new songs; we want to keep this momentum going. The Bills are back, the Bills are brothers, and we hope everybody comes and joins the family!”
The Bills head will be touring major centres in Canada on short tours through the remainder of 2012 and will play festivals around the world in 2013.
THE BILLS LINKS:
Official website: www.thebills.ca