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The ti­tle of Pugs & Crows’ Un­cle! can be read in a num­ber of dif­fer­ent ways, from a child’s cry of sur­ren­der to the ad­mis­sion that some­times things need to change once you reach adult­hood.

The Georgia Straight - - Music -

f all the au­dio­vi­sual images that re­main in my mind from this sum­mer’s Van­cou­ver In­ter­na­tional Jazz Fes­ti­val, one stands out: Marin Pate­naude, spotlit on the Per­for­mance Works stage and singing with mag­nif­i­cent panache as the mem­bers of Pugs & Crows waxed un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally rock­ish be­hind her. Now, I al­ready knew that Pate­naude is a great singer, hav­ing heard her in in­ti­mate cof­fee-shop set­tings as well as on larger stages, and that Pugs & Crows is a pow­er­ful band has been widely rec­og­nized; the quin­tet even won a 2013 Juno for its al­bum Fan­tas­tic Pic­tures. But the syn­ergy be­tween all six per­form­ers was star­tling.

It’s rare, in Van­cou­ver, to come across a vo­cal­ist with gen­uine star power fronting a band full of vir­tu­osos and blessed with such emo­tion­ally com­pelling ma­te­rial, but that’s what Pate­naude, Pugs & Crows, and their gui­tar-play­ing band­leader Cole Sch­midt have achieved with the songs that make up their just-re­leased ful­l­length, Un­cle!. At Per­for­mance Works, Pate­naude seemed borne aloft by the mu­sic, and so was the au­di­ence.

“That’s so won­der­ful to hear that you had that ex­pe­ri­ence watch­ing us, be­cause that is the ex­pe­ri­ence I’m hav­ing on-stage with them,” Pate­naude says, reached at home in the Koote­nays. “It’s new ter­ri­tory for me, com­pletely. I usu­ally have a gui­tar in front of me, so what to do with my hands alone is a whole new world. But I love the mu­sic so much ’cause Cole’s just such a won­der­ful weirdo. He cre­ates such unique sounds, and to be able to sing his mu­sic and his jour­ney and his lyrics, and go through that jour­ney with him, is so fun. And then be­ing on-stage… They’re all such cere­bral play­ers, but ev­ery­one’s al­ways lis­ten­ing to one an­other.…i have a hard time putting it into words, but it’s fun. It’s re­ally fun. And I’ve never had such a thrill on-stage.”

Un­cle!’s ti­tle needs some ex­pla­na­tion. It is, Sch­midt says in a sep­a­rate tele­phone in­ter­view, a ref­er­ence to the fa­mil­iar cry of sur­ren­der that ac­com­pa­nies child­ish games. But in this case, the 33-year-old mu­si­cian con­tin­ues, it’s also a nod to the kind of sur­ren­der that comes along with be­com­ing fully adult, with see­ing your friends, cousins, and band­mates be­come par­ents, with tak­ing on a se­ri­ous job. (Sch­midt re­cently be­came a pro­gram­mer with the Coastal Jazz and Blues So­ci­ety.) And Un­cle!, the al­bum, is also a deeply felt ex­am­i­na­tion of the heartache that comes when older friends and fam­ily mem­bers die. The record is pri­mar­ily a me­mo­rial to Sch­midt’s un­cle Russ Mackay, who as much as any­one is the rea­son why he’s a mu­si­cian to­day.

His un­cle’s legacy, Sch­midt says, is “a big ques­tion, so I’ll try to dial in the shiny pieces that are still there. He was ba­si­cally the first per­son to show me the Bea­tles, and he taught me how to play barre chords, and he took me to med­i­ta­tion classes when I was a teenager, and sent me post­cards from all over the world when he started trav­el­ling more. He was the guy who showed up at Christ­mas and brought the light into the room. He was an ex­cit­ing per­son, you know, and yet ev­ery­thing felt a lit­tle more calm when he ar­rived.”

The love is ob­vi­ous in Sch­midt’s voice, and in his mu­sic, and in the way that the ef­fu­sive Pate­naude and the cere­bral Pugs com­bine to bring it to life. Some­times real beauty comes from great pain— and, alas, there’s one more sad thing to men­tion be­fore com­ing to a close here. Sch­midt be­gan writ­ing Un­cle! af­ter his un­cle died, and com­pleted it in time to give an ad­vance copy to his pro­gram­ming men­tor, Ken Pick­er­ing, who passed away in Au­gust. When a me­mo­rial for the jazz-fes­ti­val founder was an­nounced for the same day as Un­cle!’s al­bum launch, a hard choice had to be made.

“It came up,” Sch­midt says. “Like, ‘Well, maybe it’s not the best time to be do­ing some­thing else. Maybe this is a day for Ken.’ But I would much rather be play­ing mu­sic than not—and this mu­sic was def­i­nitely made with friends pass­ing in mind, so go­ing ahead seemed ap­pro­pri­ate.”

Pick­er­ing would ap­prove.

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