Published Feb 21, 2016Sometimes, it all just seems to click, the right bands in the right venue coming together at the right moment. Perennial favourites at Art Signified's Psych Fests, Vancouver's own Eric Campbell & the Dirt set the table perfectly last night (February 20) at the Cobalt. Sure, they were a little rough around the edges as former No Sinner guitarist Eric Campbell, backed up by bassist Erik "Hans Muler" Mulder, violinist Emily Bach and drummer Colby Morgan, chunked the odd sour note in their delivery of gritty outlaw rock, but they nailed the big moments and worked the lows to their advantage.
During "Down at the Bottom," from their 2013 album Kill Your Love, Campbell accidentally unplugged his guitar. Unperturbed, he wrapped the cord around his neck like a noose before plugging it back in and finishing the solo hunched over. Campbell looked like a one-man British Invasion, a scrawny young dude in English loafers accenting a long velvet jacket over a silky patterned shirt, with a dangling ascot collar that barely concealed a bolo tie.
He practically pranced as he played, mauling the mic and tripping over its stand during their closing rendition of "Miss U So Much," as he preached its last vocals going into its shamanic crescendo, then butt ended his amp with his guitar. They were in it to win it, and did not deserve the shameful beer can pelting they received for the effort.
The energy only ramped up from there for Diane Coffee. Their presence was announced by the arrival of bassist Glenn Myers, drummer Ben Lumsdaine, guitarist Drake Ritter and keyboardist Caleb Hickman, who jammed on their own for a couple of minutes like the M.G.s until frontman Shaun Fleming came strutting out.
Looking glammed up in a sharp grey suit with dark lipstick and blue eyeshadow, Fleming struck a pose on a Fender deluxe amp before picking up his guitar and joining in on "Hymn" from their 2013 debut, My Friend Fish. It was practically impossible to take your eyes off him from that point onward.
Fleming's makeup accentuated the perpetually absurd expressions on his face, fully embracing his Electric Warrior-era T. Rex come Bye Bye 17-era Har Mar Superstar swagger as filtered through the psychedelic Motown sound that is Diane Coffee. The mesmerizing showman embodied every lyric as he performed, falling to his knees when he sang, "Now that I can hardly stand anymore." His rapid-fire banter came off somewhere between George Carlin's Wonderful WINO radio DJ character and an evangelist preacher, the latter of which was particularly evident when he put down his guitar to extoll the virtues of love before they launched into their ecstatic take on "Green."
Fleming left the stage midway through "Down with the Current," allowing time for the band to show off more of their instrumental chops. He returned wearing a bejewelled flapper jumpsuit, as if he could get any saucier, and clapping like one of the Supremes as they seamlessly rolled into non-album single "6 As You," featuring a scintillating sax solo from Hickman. Amazingly, they only seemed to pick up steam from there, with blistering takes on "Mayflower" and "I Dig You," and a thoughtful delivery of the heart-wrenching ballad "Not That Easy."
Overall, none of Fleming's band really stood out, aside from the sax solo and a couple slick drum fills from Lumsdaine. It was a good thing: Well dressed with suit jackets and bolo ties, they looked the part and jelled wonderfully, complemented the performance with gospel vocal harmonies and making all the little album moments larger than life in the live setting without being overly showy. They knew what they had to do, and they did it with the kind of humble grace not often heard since the days of the Funk Brothers and the Wrecking Crew, maintaining a shimmering flow throughout the set with lingering tones and foreshadowing phrases perfectly bridging the gaps.
Their somewhat brief set was pulled equally from their debut album and Everybody's a Good Dog, easily one of the best albums of 2015 and the best yet of all Foxygen and related releases. That album hammered home their classic approach to song writing — mostly love songs that recall the golden age of soul — but their fresh ideas in the fringes and overwhelming passion took it far beyond the realm of mere homage. It was inspiring to see that they could just demonstrate the talent and vision from the record, but go even further in the flesh.