Green Hour updates the '60s
Officially, this is the Green Hour's first appearance in the Georgia Straight. Unofficially, the band already made a splash when its members were singled out by Mike Usinger in his review of the White Stripes at Deer Lake Park, in June. Our own hawk-eyed version of Richard Blackwell couldn't help but note how great "the Austin Powers–inspired dandies in the stage-left VIP area looked".
"It was pretty funny," remarks keyboardist-guitarist Randy Kramer. "And what are the chances?"
Well, the chances are pretty fucking good when you dress like the Green Hour, three of whom are squeezed onto a tiny couch at Little Red Sound, a facility on south Cambie Street not much bigger than Saddam Hussein's old hiding place.
Like his bandmates, Rowe is eye-poppingly turned out in duds reminescent of Carnaby Street circa '67. He's also flat-out handsome, with radiant eyes beneath Brian Jones hair and oversize mutton chops. Nineteen-year-old drummer Nick Eccleston–who keeps his shades on, even in the dimly lit environment–is prettier still, and Kramer is hardly a slouch. Elegantly scruffy in the poet-ruffian style of any Little Red Book–toting, street-fighting sociology student, he sports sandy hair bristling from beneath a tweed John Lennon cap.
Obviously, the members of Green Hour attach a certain degree of importance to style, and they have been met with more or less equal amounts of admiration and disdain because of it. "I usually just get stuff that fits," Rowe explains, perhaps a little disingenuously. "And I like good fabric."
"I always liked rad style and being well-dressed," pleads Kramer, with a shrug, while Eccleston adds, "We get heavily judged by our image, and it's kind of ridiculous."
It's one of the oldest and best games in the book: make a scene of yourself and then feign indignation, dismay, or surprise when everybody notices. It points to the Green Hour's natural sense of pop-culture history, not to mention its low-key feel for the absurd. Mercifully for the four-piece, which came together in early 2007 and also includes absent bassist Clint Lofkrantz, it has the musical muscle to transcend all the more obvious and immediate considerations.
Previewing four tracks from the Green Hour's forthcoming album–tentatively titled Shades of the Green Hour–the first thing that's apparent is how the band has expanded on the promise of its first, eponymous CD-R release, from back when the group was called the Yesterdais. If that disc established the band's intuition for a fuzz-driven stitch-up of the Hollies, the Seeds, and the Velvet Underground at their most arch, Shades is sonically adventurous enough to sit beside neo-psych contemporaries like the Brian Jonestown Massacre, the Warlocks, or the eternally alarmed-sounding VietNam.
In "Intro", the band delivers its mission statement: tempestuous noise art with "familiar sounds", as Rowe puts it. In this case, bowed cymbals, a medieval flute called a shawm (fed though a phaser), and a harmonium all face off in an electrifying crescendo. "Yesterday's Tomorrow" follows, and it's another fried workout that pits an insistent bass loop against the piquant sound of a vintage Gibson Clavioline keyboard. The galloping "Understand" gives way to an unnerving choir of wailing souls in its chorus, and "Chapters 123" brazenly takes "Polythene Pam" by the Beatles and shrouds it in violence and darkness. In short, anybody expecting a slavish re-creation of rock's primary period will find something considerably more vital. "You can be a '60s-inspired band and still sound new," states Rowe.
Bassist Lofkrantz adds a further dose of uptight energy to the mix. A veteran of Vancouver's Oblivians-inspired Ladies Night, Rowe characterizes Lofkrantz's harder-edged input as "healthy". "Because he's a little impatient," Rowe explains, "which is a natural punk mentality. But it keeps things going."
Kramer and Eccleston, meanwhile, both cite Sigur Rí“s as a big influence.
All this adds up to something quite removed from the indulgent retro-redundancy the Green Hour's detractors have pinned on the band. In other ways, however, certain of its members simply refuse to be dragged into the present. Asked if Shades of the Green Hour will see the vinyl release it deserves, Rowe responds like it's the stupidest question he ever heard. "Well, I hope so," he says. "I won't be able to listen to it if there isn't."
The Green Hour plays the Railway Club next Saturday (October 6).