“Look at this…what the fuck is this…this is fucking ridiculous!” Calgary freak folk/rocker Chad VanGaalen sounded genuinely shocked to see such a great turn-out for his first Toronto show in support of his fantastic new album, Shrink Dust. Vangaalen, who is always equal parts Neil Young and Flaming Lips, explained that he rarely comes out of his house, so when he does, he uses his live shows as a chance to catch up with friends that he usually hasn’t seen since the last time he has played in whatever town they live in…and on this night he had many to catch up with, including Holy Fuck’s Brian Borcherdt. The audience had been whipped into frenzy by openers, Halifax fuzz rock duo, Cousins, but VanGaalen was more than up to the task of keeping them interested.

Once the issue of electrical shocks coming from Chad’s microphone had been worked out, his set started with a selection from Shrink Dust. On record “Cut Off My Hands” is played as a solo acoustic number, but live it became a more full-bodied affair with the help of VanGaalen’s rhythm section. “Where Are You?” sounded like a ghost story being told around the campfire...with extra reverb!

What followed was an even distribution of songs from not only the new album but Diaper Island and Soft Airplane as well. The new record was represented with the choice cuts of “Weighed Sin”, “Frozen Paradise” and an ode to VanGaalen’s recently deceased dog “Lila”. In fact, he had introduced the song by telling a story of how he had taken Lila’s body out to decompose in the country fields, only to stumble upon it a few weeks later with his daughter and with her taking the jawbone home as a souvenir. It was here that VanGaalen’s bass player stated what everyone else in the room was thinking: “Is it just me, or is that story really fucked up?”

Diaper Island  gems “Peace On The Rise”, “Heavy Stones” and “Burning Photographs” were all treated to typically moody and haunting recitals and once again proving how stunning an album that really is.

Longtime fans were happy to hear “Rabid Bits of Time” and “Willow Tree” from the Polaris Prize nominated Soft Airplane LP and the mood in the room was only that much more joyous because of it.

Chad spent part of his engaging encore imploring everyone in the room to vote Stephen Harper out of office…actually stopping mid-song to say “If everyone in this room doesn’t vote for him, we can finally get that guy outta there. Just vote you guys!”

Whether he was performing, storytelling or just making sure we all get out to vote, Chad VanGaalen had the Lee’s Palace audience eating out of the palm of his hand…and frankly I wish I could have had the same meal the next night!

Chad VanGaalen is one of Canada’s truly great artists, do yourself a favour and get out to catch his live show.

- Johnny Hooper