By contributor Sacia Burton
On a brisk evening in mid-January, Nanaimo musicians and Radiohead fans alike bundled up for a quick boat ride in the name of nostalgia, nachos, and dreamy music. Together we were ferried across the harbour by our captain, Bernard, to the Dinghy Dock Pub on Protection Island. Amidst adornments of seaglass, life preservers, and the odd mermaid, the crowd was serenaded throughout the night by six acts covering their favourite Radiohead songs.
Paul Mitchell kicked off the show with a crowd-pleasing rendition of “Karma Police.” A quick survey showed many heads bobbing and mouths silently singing back-up to this well-known tune. It felt like a room full of people who are in on a secret, which is a good way to start a show. Mitchell kept the tempo up with his rendition “Just,” and left it on a mellower note with “High & Dry.”
Mercedes Courtorielle took the stage second, summoning the crowd to settle in for a few quieter songs. Having heard her cover “Creep” before, I was eager to hear it again. Her take on “Fake Plastic Trees” and “No Surprises,” similarly, left nothing to be desired. With incredible control over her voice and a warm presence that immediately draws you in, this lady and her ukulele sure can (and did) stop a show.
Dane Letourneau and Jesse Janzen (of Nanaimo’s art rock favourites Gold & Shadow) graced the stage third. Whether they missed or ignored the “acoustic” memo, I don’t know. Either way, I am happy they did. In addition to guitar, Letourneau brought in synth sounds while Janzen’s kick drum and shaker set the beat. This combination allowed the duo to stay true to the complex songs they covered from Radiohead’s 2006 album In Rainbows. As someone whose introduction to Radiohead came by way of In Rainbows during high school, I felt a particular soft spot for Letourneau and Janzen’s true-to-the-original covers of “Weird Fishes – Arpeggi,” “15 Step,” and “Videotape.”
To further prove the magic of Radiohead, Letourneau shared a story about the 2008 In Rainbows concert he and Janzen attended in Vancouver. According to Letourneau, for the encore of the show, Thom Yorke asked if the crowd would rather hear “Idioteque” or “Paranoid Android.” To Letourneau’s disappointment (as an “Idioteque” fan), the popular vote went to “Paranoid Android.” Then, as if by some divine (or at least badass) force, when Yorke sang the line “rain down/rain down/rain down on me,” the weather, in fact, complied. The skies opened up; the crowd went wild; and everyone slodged home afterwards, mesmerized and muddy.
Back at the Dinghy Dock, three more acts graced the stage. In addition to two songs played solo (“Idioteque,” likely to Letourneau’s delight, and “The Tourist”), Sean Patton brought Elise Boulanger on stage for a delicate duet of “Pyramid Song”. Boulanger’s vibrant voice aligned with Patton’s rambunctious guitar and lingering vocals. Boulanger’s training as a classical opera singer rang through the long-held, captivating notes. I had chills.
As the night continued, David Bitoni re-energized the hushed crowd with enthusiastic covers of “Paranoid Android,” “Everything In Its Right Place,” and “I Will.” Finally, Nick Begg and Katelyn Wood capped off the night with delicious harmonies on “True Love Waits,” “How To Disappear Completely,” and “Faust Arp.” A loop pedal brought layers of the playful pair’s voices to the, once again rapt, crowd.
I was impressed that each act covered three of their favourite Radiohead songs with no overlap. “We did a lottery to make sure that each artist did three unique songs,” said Andrew Roberts, owner of Got Pop? concerts, and promoter of the show. Each performer made a list of 10 songs they wanted. Roberts then worked his way down the list, starting with their first picks, to sort out a line-up that fit everybody. This is the first tribute night that Got Pop? has hosted at the Dinghy Dock. After seeing the success of full-band tribute nights popping up in Vancouver and Victoria, Roberts believed there was a market in Nanaimo for something similar. The Dinghy Dock also hosts a running series of acoustic shows put on by Got Pop?, so Roberts had no doubt that a stripped-down tribute night would be a hit.
Surprised to have recognized so many of the tunes, I was reminded of the scope of the Radiohead canon. Their broad range of works have infiltrated our collective pop culture headspace, and I’m quite OK with that. As a fan, it was a treat to hear what Radiohead means, and could sound like, to a diverse roster of local artists.