The Ballantynes go above and beyond at the Cobalt
At the Cobalt on Friday, June 15
There are those magical nights when a band plugs in and delivers an above-and-beyond effort, signs of which include massive sweating, no shortage of clever stage banter, heavy drinking, and a complete refusal to stand in one place for more than four seconds.
And then there are those even rarer nights when a group truly leaves everything on-stage, sending no one home disappointed. Think playing hard enough that instruments literally end up trashed. Think projecting enough unhinged charisma to scare both Lux Interior and circa ’77 Johnny Rotten. And think having the nards to not only roll out a Clash track from the immortal London Calling, but actually matching the energy of the original.
Amazingly, Vancouver garage-soul upstarts the Ballantynes pretty much covered all the above bases June 15 at the Cobalt, where they were the guest stars of the excellent new weekly Come Friday.
There were no passengers in the band, whether you were talking ever-busy bassist Max Sample, guitarist Corey Poluk, or dual drummers Mike McDiarmid and Trevor Racz, the former looking retro-’60s-classy in a snappy thin-cut suit and the latter projecting an early Keith Richards–meets–Richard Hell coolness.
Visually, singers Jen Wilks and Vanessa Dandurand were the early odds-on favourites to strut away the show, especially considering that the liberally tattied Dandurand hit the stage in shorts and clutching a honey-bear bottle seemingly filled with something higher-proof than honey. As impressively as the two acquitted themselves, they had some unbeatable competition from a man who would ultimately trump everyone in the band spectacle-wise.
That would be keyboardist, singer, sometime-guitarist, and complete lunatic Jarrod O’Dell, who, right from the maximum–R & B kickoff number “Stay” came on like a man who’d just escaped a mental institution. The start of the show found him hunched over his Hammond with the studied intensity of a Hastings tweaker scouring the sidewalk for crack rocks. O’Dell also displayed a propensity for completely hammering away at his organ (which admittedly sounds dirtier than it was). He must have done some major damage during the breakdown in the pump-it-up new-waver “Message”, because shortly thereafter he announced, “I can’t believe I broke another key, man!”
Give the rest of the Ballantynes props for having the stamina to (almost) keep up with him. Dandurand and Wilks gave every indication they were having a blast, whether enthusiastically trading off vocals in “Faith” or unleashing their inner soul sisters for the revved-up “The Railtown Abbey”. (Bonus points during the latter number went to the bespectacled, baseball cap–wearing BrooklynVegan subscriber on the dance floor who sang along like a born-again southerner at a tent revival.)
There’s a valid case to be made that O’Dell ruined some of the sugar-spun sweetness of “Misery” by staring off into space psychotically, but he compensated for that with moves that suggested James Brown hopped to the tits on angel dust.
The set concluded with the Ballantynes’ now sweat-stained wild card announcing “This song is about being an asshole. Which I am.” That may be true, but at least he’s an epically entertaining asshole. You could tell how much he was givin’ ’er by the fact that his pit stick had completely failed by the encore number “Hateful”.
Considering how hard his fellow Ballantynes were working, he probably wasn’t alone on that front. Yes, this one was that perspiration-drenched, over-the-top, and all-round awesome.