What: The Crooked Brothers
When: Friday, 7:30 p.m. (doors at 6)
Where: Upstairs Lounge at Oak Bay Recreation Centre (1975 Bee St.)
Tickets: $15 at Ivy’s Bookshop or Oak Bay Recreation Centre (250-595-7946)
Note: The Crooked Brothers also perform Saturday at the Native Sons Hall in Courtenay
There is no succinct way to describe the music of the Crooked Brothers. And that is precisely how multi-instrumentalists Darwin Baker, Jesse Matas and Matt Foster of the Winnipeg band intend to keep it.
The group’s creative streak extends to their choice of live music venues. The members don’t hide their fondness for festivals, but they also love hall gigs, house concerts and bar shows, Baker said.
Have music, will travel — that’s their philosophy.
“We have the ability to not let go of our roots and where we came from. Get in a van, and do it. Show up, play the show and meet the people on the other side of the stage who love what you’re doing. Build it.”
The band’s upcoming tour, which begins tonight in Vancouver and includes stops Friday in Victoria and Saturday in Courtenay, features a mixture of 30 shows, a dozen of which are house concerts.
“Our flexibility with the type of songs we play governs the kind of tours we go on. Now, it’s getting to the point where we can go out as a five-piece and play big festivals, and really concentrate on that one type of show, then we can go back out on tour again with a whole different style of show. Even though the songs are the same, we really approach it as a different concert altogether.”
After adding a pair of touring musicians for their recent trek through Europe, the Crooked Brothers will spend this upcoming leg of their tour as a trio. The flexibility of being able to shift lineups and scale up or down makes life interesting, Baker said.
“It’s like a band with a dual identity. We get to head out on the road [as a five-piece] and play these big parties and festival stages and get rowdy, but [as a trio] we don’t have to leave behind the folk side of what we do.
“We can be in a smaller room and showcase these other types of songs that we love just as much. Certain venues and certain shows demand a certain kind of concert, so it’s really nice to do both.”
Old-time folk is abundant on the Crooked Brothers’ three recordings, Deathbed Pillowtalk (2009), Lawrence, Where’s Your Knife? (2011), and Thank You I’m Sorry (2014). The curveball is that much of what Foster sings is delivered with a vocal nod to rye-soaked raconteur Tom Waits. Clearly, the band does its best to push the boundaries of music made from banjo, mandolin, guitar, harmonica and three voices.
“It’s a bit of a double-edged sword, I guess,” Baker said. “It’s good because we make what we want to make regardless of trying to be any one thing. But it does make it difficult. If you were pressed to say what [our music] is, I don’t think it would be very easy.”
As a result of its fierce individuality, life for the Crooked Brothers can often feel isolated, according to Baker.
“We’ve had to be self-managed and run our ship a little bit because we’re the only ones that have a vision for it. We don’t really care if there’s a genre or not, we’re going to show up in town and play anywise, regardless of whether someone else wants us to.”
The trio has been rewarded for its persistence, earning a new/emerging artist of the year nomination at the 2015 Canadian Folk Music Awards. The attention was nice, Baker said, but the Crooked Brothers are in the game for the long haul, not awards.
Feeling as if they accomplished something special with Thank You I’m Sorry was vindication enough.
“Pursuing songs as a matter of heart — wanting a song to be its best, regardless of whether it’s a recognizable format or not — gave us the freedom to not be scared, to try a few different hats on,” Baker said.
“Multi-genre music resonates with people today because hardly anyone only listens to one kind of music anymore. Our arrangements really reflect how everyone listens to music these days. We’re fans of everything, so we just put it all together in one soup.”