Indie legend John Vanderslice returns to Velour, Book On Tape Worm opens

by M. Lewis Barker

April 2011 has been quite a month here at Provo Music Guide. As you may or may not know, I have two rules about who/what can be reviewed on this site: 1) Bands from Utah County, and 2) Shows in Utah County. A few weeks ago, I reviewed Sugar Ray’s awful show at Riverwoods and shortly thereafter Arcade Fire’s awesome show at UVU’s McKay Center. And last night, 

Bleached hair straight out of 1999.
John Vanderslice at Velour, April 25, 2011.

I had the opportunity to see John Vanderslice at Velour. Six or seven years ago, my friend Nick (the same one mentioned in my Arcade Fire article) sent me a song of his called “Bill Gates Must Die”. Eventually, I managed to get more of Vanderslice’s music, and I was especially fond of the album Cellar Door. He had a very unique sound, quirky and personal without overbearing eccentricity. He didn’t become one of my favorite artists, but his music was a perfect companion for cleaning the kitchen or walking to campus.

Vanderslice stops by Velour on every tour. I was out of town during his last show, but I knew it was only a matter of time before I could see him play. Vanderslice helped contribute to my favorite month of Provo concerts ever. (There has got to be a more journalist way to write that.) Seeing Toy Bombs and Chasing Kings, Arcade Fire and Local Natives, the Lunatic and Empirates and Glowing Heads (twice), and so many other great bands, has done so much to prove to me that music here is alive and kicking. Not once did I leave the Provo/Orem area. How can anyone complain about Provo? No, we don’t get all the bands that Salt Lake does, but there is no where else in the country like our scene. And last night’s great show was icing on the cake.

We sit on the floor, serenaded by lullabies.

Book On Tape Worm had the good fortune of opening for Mr. Vanderslice. I had never bothered to attend one of their shows because I associated them with Provo’s excess of Indie Folk. If I’m going to pay $7 to see local bands, it best be a rock show. But oh, how wrong I was to dismiss them. They describe themselves as a “lullaband”, and I could not make up a better word. The acoustic guitar/piano/cello trio plays some of the most engaging, heartfelt music that I’ve ever heard. People say they cry at Book On Tape Worm shows, and now I understand why. Scott Shepard’s warm voice is complimented by Emily Brown’s distinct harmonies. They use their instruments to their full extent, playing complex structures with absolute perfection. Shepard introduces their music with “This song is about the end of the world” or “This song is about time travel”. Each is beautiful, but I could see myself quickly tiring of their soft lullabies. Like all good things in life, Book On Tape Worm may be best in moderation.

And “I know a place where darkness is just light waiting to come back to life” may be the best lyric I’ve ever heard from a local band.

Vanderslice’s fans sing along.

And then John Vanderslice took the stage. Despite having listened to his music many times, I had no idea what to expect from his show. I like to get up so close that I hear his vocals through the monitors, not the speakers. He was accompanied by a drummer/keyboardist who managed to flawlessly juggle the duties of percussion and melody simultaneously. Vanderslice played his guitar through an assortment of spacey effects which made his songs something more than what we hear on his records. When a famous act sounds different live than they do on their records, the show becomes more unpredictable (and is better for it).

Vanderslice played my favorite song of his, “Up Above the Sea”. It was wonderful to have one where I could sing all the words. It’s a shame that the concert wasn’t well attended. BYU’s Winter Semester ended last week and UVU has their finals this week. And, being a Monday, most people don’t go to concerts. It made the show all the more special for those of us who came though.

April is “Audience Participation Month”, meaning that several audience members were pre-selected to go on stage and perform with John. This was the highlight of the show. Everyone who played with him did a fantastic job:

Hansen e-mailed
Rory Hansen and Shark Speed’s Thayne Fagg on lead and backup vocals, respectively.
Landon is a swell guy.
Landon Young, of Dream Eater and The Crylics, plays a solo on the feng-huang qin.
Oh Marceline, why are you so mean?
Lauren Smith, of Emily Wolfe and Vulpes Vulpes, has a duet on the floor with Mr. Vanderslice.

“(Velour owner) Corey (Fox) is a huge help… having a guy who runs a club like this is a big deal. I have long time ties to him, and we’ve done a lot of shows together. I always love coming here. We always make sure we stop here on a tour. And it’s hard. We’re playing Kilby tomorrow night so we have to make sure it’s okay with them, but we always make it happen.”

He played his last two songs on the floor, without the aid of microphones. Choosing instead to walk around in circles.

After the show, I asked Vanderslice why he always comes to Provo. He had this to say:

Hopefully he spreads the word to the rest of the Indie scene.


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