Hopping on the Bus at Schwieg show

Two members of Grand Theft Bus deliver a few riffs at Elixir.
Two members of Grand Theft Bus deliver a few riffs at Elixir.
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Concert Review: Grand Theft Bus @ Elixir Justin Schwieg Foundation Benefit

Experiencing an absolute silence—one so still that a pin drop would echo off the rear walls—is unusual in a crowded bar. But then, this particular evening was not your usual night out.

Though the Elixir frequently plays host to bands, this show was unique: it was the first of two fundraising concerts for the Justin Schwieg Foundation, dedicated to the former Queen’s football player’s memory. Schwieg’s brother Jason took the stage before headliners Grand Theft Bus to explain the foundation’s goal—funding and supporting minor football in Kingston.

Jason Schwieg’s microphone was turned down low and didn’t penetrate the between-band hubbub. But, in a twist on normal speaker-crowd volume dynamics, it was the crowd who adjusted its volume. Conversations swiftly came to abrupt ends in a ripple away from the stage, and a silence thick with respect was broken only by a single, under-amplified voice.

The speech was short and heartfelt, and was met with thunderous applause.

The night’s musical acts were also well-received. First up was local group SuperCell. Although this was the band’s first show, a small crowd assembled early to see them, perhaps due to the fact that several of the band’s members are long-time players in the local music scene.

Wearing their diploma from the Eddie Vedder School of Rock on their collective sleeve, SuperCell played a brief set of mid-tempo modern rock. Whether or not this particular brand of songwriting appealed to those in attendance, there was no denying that the band, especially the rhythm section, was tight and well-rehearsed.

Dr. Jelly, another Kingston band, treated the growing crowd to a set of covers, frequently adding their own touch to keep everything at a uniform level of light and accessible white-boy funk. Their opening song, a cover of Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” set the tone for the rest of the set as they worked their way through a series of mainstream funk staples, including a Stevie Wonder song, two by the Dave Matthews Band and another by Marvin Gaye.

It was a pleasant surprise when they launched into their take on the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Aeroplane.” Over a close-to-faithful rendition of the Chili Peppers’ trademark guitar work, singer Dan Roud gave his best impression of Anthony Kiedis’ yelp, though he came up a little short at times. This song was essentially a microcosm of the Dr. Jelly’s entire set—the band was more than competent the whole way through, and Roud sang in key and with enthusiasm, though sometimes his voice was a little too weak to really give the song its due.

When Grand Theft Bus—hailing from Southern New Brunswick—took the stage to a wash of swirling lights, the crowd moved en masse towards the front of the stage. Heads were nodding and feet were tapping as the band launched into the jam-electro-haunted funhouse sounds of “Leader,” from their recently-released second album. The second song, “Plastic,” brought a touch of rockabilly. Following it was “Street Sleeper,” the first tune of the night to really hit a deep groove.

As the crowd cheered and danced, “Street Sleeper” meandered along a slow melodic progression, easily striking the balance between lasting long enough to establish its groove and moving fast enough to never be boring.

It’s difficult to describe Grand Theft Bus’ style in just a few words, since it shifts dramatically from one song to the next. The rest of the set included a poppy ska guitar tone that jumped back and forth with progressive interludes; a long, shimmery electro intro; fuzzed-out keyboard sounds; an eerie synth melody that could have been the soundtrack to an early-’90s edu-tainment video about outer space; and a tiny hint of a grunge influence. The band must be aware of their eclectic sound, as they sang the self-aware line “This is a pop song” over funk guitar and a walking jazz bassline.

Sweaty and charming, the members of Grand Theft Bus were at ease on stage. To many fans’ delight, they announced that “Kingston’s always a good time, every time we come here.” Unfortunately, this charm wasn’t enough to keep the whole crowd enthralled, as people began to leave toward the halfway point of the set.

Those who remained continued to dance as the set moved towards more noisy, experimental territory. As the songs began to drift away from their earlier melodic emphasis, they became loose and rambling, and lacked the tight groove that marked the better songs earlier in the set. The singing, which up until this point had been fine, began to waver in and out of tune. It felt like the band, who by this point had been playing for an hour and a half, was losing focus.

Had Grand Theft Bus played a shorter set, they would have been fabulous. But as it was, the fans still left pleased, ending this special night on a high note.

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