Chad VanGaalen is an artist that is not only continually impressive, but endlessly surprising. Coming on stage and creating a looping wall of feedback and sonic chaos from a series of mysterious boxes and effects, VanGaalen and his band then tore through a blistering set of songs, mostly from his recent albumDiaper Island and 2008's Soft Airplane. The band rocked through songs including 'Blonde Hash', 'Molten Light', as well as softer numbers like 'Sara'. Something was clearly and audibly different this time though, as each song seemed to be on steroids, blasting off into space. Taking full advantage of having a full band, VanGaalen added more depth and color to songs that were already quirky and inventive to begin with. Playing some sort of Frankenstein baritone guitar, the bass player produced some of the heaviest tones I've ever heard come from six strings. Meanwhile, the drummer hammered away on a very DIY-looking kit using a drum stick as a cymbal stand, playing his kit with a mix of sticks, mallets, and other percussion instruments. And yet, none of this seemed out of place, as these are the surprises we have come to expect (or unexpect!) from VanGaalen.
Despite fighting a cold, VanGaalen was still endearing and awkwardly charming as ever, his tall frame dwarfing his guitar and microphone stand. Set closer 'Rabid Bits of Time' was heartbreaking and beautiful, but blew through the ceiling with waves of distorted guitar while the drummer used mallets and tambourines to play the shit out of his kit. The crowd of mostly seemingly barely-of-age hipsters that talked through and ignored opener Jennifer Castle's beautiful and haunting set, were all ears for VanGaalen and his band, hanging off every word and chord. Unfortunately, I arrived late and missed local troubadour Giant Hand's set, but word is the Acorn side-project Silken Laumann covered his backing band duties.
Aside from the talkative crowd during Jennifer Castle, my only gripe from the night was that the simple folksy 'Shave My Pussy' (VanGaalen's Diaper Island album closer) was on the set list for the encore but was never played. I guess this was just another surprise we have come to expect from Mr. VanGaalen.