Words by Allie Mason
MONTREAL, QUE. – Imagine that it is your last day on tour, you have been sick for the past eight weeks, temperatures outside are reaching 90 degrees, and the venue you are about to play has no air conditioning. There are a couple hundred fans, pressed shoulder-to-shoulder, awaiting your first note. Their body heat is driving indoor temperatures up to 100 degrees or more. The lights are blinding. The air is heavy with humidity and perspiration. Even the beer bottles are sweating heavily.
This is what Chad VanGaalen was up against as he took the stage at Il Motore in Montreal on June 23. At first glance, VanGaalen appears innocent, normal, and anything but eccentric or extraordinary. His boy-next-door look, complete with comb-over and plaid shirt, seems at odds with the creative genius Franken-guitar he carries on stage it’s a chopped up, hybrid, electrified, strung-together contraption with strings.
His creativity does not end there. His songs and illustrations are like walking into an LSD trip, in the best way possible. VanGaalen, who illustrates all of his album art and video animations, is known for creating instruments that give his music a distinct sound unlike any other.
This year, VanGaalen released his fourth studio album Diaper Island and despite the current conditions, he performed it amazingly for his audience at Il Motore. The first thing a VanGaalen fan would notice at this show is that he relies more on the simplicity of his guitar in this album. That is, if you can call that beast a guitarâ€¦ or simple, for that matter. Combined with a tape deck, he uses it to multi-layer and alters the sounds he produces on his hybrid music-making machine. VanGaalen got the crowd even warmer by performing “Kiss, Kiss, Kiss” and “Burning Photographs” both songs oozing with alt-rock goodness. Somehow, people found the room and energy to dance amongst the unbearable heat and irritatingly crowded audience. Nonetheless, he managed to bring everyone back down with his dedicated ballad “Sara”, which he wrote about his wife.
“We have one more song”, he said. “Then let’s all go outside where we can live.” Clearly affected by the intolerable conditions, VanGaalen ended the show without an encore. Under those circumstances, no one could blame him. Instead, they joined him outside where he humbly accepted compliments and signed merchandise for fans. In his humility and appreciation for his fans, his attitude mirrors his seemingly contradictory boy-next-door look perfectly.
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