I was sitting in a graduate level university music class when I first heard The Bills. It was a class on music & urban culture and the initial task was to bring in a song about a place, one of my friends (a Pacific Northwest native) brought in The Bills’ “Old Blue Bridge” — a timely and topical choice as we were in Victoria and the debate about dismantling the landmark had reached its height. We discussed the musical features of the song, including the lyrics, and then moved on to the next student’s selection (which was something by Sufjan Stevens if my memory is correct). The song was my gateway into The Bills’ music, but its straightforward bluegrass flavour belies the diversity of styles that was heard at their show in St. Albert’s Arden Theatre.
If the eclecticism of CKUA could be captured into a single live show it would be The Bills or some group a lot like them (if that is even possible). In the mood for a historical tune? “Pandora’s in Flames” recounts the tragic tale of John Bryant’s fatal flight over Victoria in August of 1913. If a gorgeous instrumental is more to your liking, you could try “West Bay Crossing” written as a processional by Adrian Dolan for his bandmate Marc Atkinson’s wedding. Perhaps a song about invasive plant species? What about a medley of the great French-jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt played on a mandolin? The Bills have you covered with “Blackberry, Ivy, and Broom” and “Love’s Medley” respectively.
The enthusiasm and musicianship of The Bills, in addition to their interest in a wide-range of musical styles, was evident with the ease that this band of 20 years interacted with one another. Gathering around the microphone to lend their voices to a chorus, The Bills would just as quickly disperse and focus their intensity on their own instrumental lines.
Their accomplishments were not just limited to combining vocal & instrumental parts. They brought the house down when for the second song of their encore (heralded by a standing ovation) they sang “Bamfield’s John Vanden” a cappella (resulting in a second standing ovation).