Crash Vegas was a band known for soul wrenching lyrics portrayed within a moody, musical landscape. "Sometimes sadness is just kind of an opening into something, but through that it can be kind of empowering or emancipating," singer-songwriter Michelle McAdorey told Mary-Lou Zeitoun in Impact. "The main thing is hopefully affecting people some way. I think it's hard to be too simplistic about it, because there's not usually one note. There's usually many colours, like sides to something you're trying to do. It's a lofty kind of conceit, but I think you hope to affect people. That's why you go public with your stuff, because you have this desire to perform and get it out and communicate."
Network's Perry Stern reported, "The word 'aurora' (as in borealis) appears only once in the new Crash Vegas album of that very name, but considering the band changes shape and colour as frequently, consistently and unpredictably as the northern lights, there are reasons other than recurrence for elevating the mere word to Title." The band endured many changes in its eight-year career and one of the most visible differences was the frequent rotation of personnel. Crash Vegas evolved from a quartet in 1989 to a duo in 1995 before finally breaking up the following year. Throughout the life of the band the constant factors were McAdorey and guitarist-songwriter Colin Cripps.
McAdorey started her musical career in England in the early 1980s. Five years later she became disillusioned with the business and returned to Toronto with thoughts of giving up music completely. Her then-boyfriend Greg Keelor (from the band Blue Rodeo), convinced her to consider a career as a songwriter and perhaps even form her own group. McAdorey founded Crash Vegas and Keelor played an important part early on, cowriting five songs on the band's first album.
The other major founding player of Crash Vegas was guitarist Colin Cripps. He and McAdorey met in 1982. Cripps described McAdorey, formerly with The Spoons and The Heavenly Brothers, in Network: "She likes to check things out from different sides, rather than just straight on … She's a very vibrant, spirited soul who likes to travel in more ways than the obvious." The original band was rounded out by bassist Jocelyne Lanois and drummer Ambrose Pottie.
Crash Vegas' first album was released in 1990 on the Risque Disque label formed by Blue Rodeo. Red Earth had a folk rock/rootsy feel. "Singer McAdorey is a real find," wrote Alan Niester in the Globe and Mail. "Her style falls somewhere between that of Natalie Merchant of 10,000 Maniacs and The Pretenders' Chrissie Hynde, but her delivery definitely has a Queen Street affectation not seen since the days of Martha and the Muffins. The musicianship is superb, understated as opposed to flamboyant, but with a precise and earthy feel that falls between The Band and The Neville Brothers." The album went gold and made Crash Vegas an instant contender for star status in the Canadian music industry. Due to personality conflicts, founding bass player Jocelyne Lanois left the band in January of 1991 and was replaced by Darren Watson. McAdorey told Dan Hughes in Network, "Let's just put it this way. It was best that Jocelyne left and I think it was clear to everybody."
After Risque Disque folded, Crash Vegas was left without a recording contract. Polygram soon signed the band and Stone, their second album, was released in 1993. Although the album didn't fare well in terms of record sales, it was highly praised by critics. Much of the album was written at the time of McAdorey's breakup with Keelor. She cited the songs "Stone," "My City Has A Place" and "Please Don't Ask Me" as stand-outs on the album: "To me those three songs are a marriage of intent through the lyrics and the music where it all comes together … each song sets up and enhances the other so that even if they were sung in a foreign language you'd still be able to get something from them," McAdorey told Canadian Composer.
"The territory mapped so vividly on the Crash Vegas album, Stone," wrote Hughes in Network, "is that well-worn pop music path: pain, loneliness and deception. It's a rather bleak emotional venture, but the journey is brightened by the songs' shining lyrical honesty … it takes the listener beyond the snares of anger and regret." Stern also commented on Stone's "predominance of sorrowful melodies and break-up songs … a map of romantic dissolution."
After Stone, the band again found themselves between record labels. They contributed the song "Pocahontas" to the Neil Young tribute album, Borrowed Tunes, which led them to Sony Music Canada. Now pared down to just Cripps and McAdorey, plus select studio and touring musicians, Crash Vegas released their most critically acclaimed album, 1995's Aurora.
"The waxing and waning of moods on the album," wrote Zeitoun in Impact, "is similar to the feeling of approaching dawn, hence the title Aurora." The album features a progression of deep, mood evoking pieces that draw the listener along a dark, sultry pathway. Network called the album "an earthier, more sonically-aggressive and impassioned version of Crash Vegas than anything they've done before … a blueprint of sensuality and seduction."
Zeitoun's Aurora review went on to say, "With Aurora, Crash Vegas may have reached their potential. McAdorey's voice has never been so subtle and expressive, and Cripps' guitar playing never so varied and intense. Listening to their new, many levels, a cynical fan could concede that their previous folksiness was a polite acquiescence to the rootsy flavour of the day … McAdorey and partner Colin Cripps have created a work that really does evoke the eerie shadows of dawn."
Chris Dafoe also praised the album in the Globe and Mail: "McAdorey brings a keening, pleading rawness to her previously cool, sweet voice and a darker, more sensual side to her songwriting." While critically successful, Aurora did not sell well in stores. Zeitoun reflected, "even though Aurora received critical praise when it came out … this is the kind of slow burn album that creeps up on you."
With the frustrating lack of industry recognition for Aurora, Crash Vegas finally disbanded late in 1996. Colin Cripps moved on to the band Junkhouse, and McAdorey opted to pursue a solo career, releasing the album Whirl in 2000. During their eight-year run the various members of Crash Vegas produced a substantial collection of thought-provoking material.
Red Earth, Risque Disque, 1990.
Stone, Polygram, 1993.
For the Record …
Members included Colin Cripps , guitar; Jocelyne Lanois (left group, 1991), bass; Michelle McAdorey , vocals; Ambrose Pottie , drums; Darren Watson (joined group, 1991), bass.
Group formed, mid-1980s; released debut album, Red Earth, 1990; bass player Jocelyne Lanois replaced by Darren Watson, 1991; released Stone, 1993; released final album, Aurora, 1995; group disbanded, 1996.
Addresses: Record company—Sony Music Canada, 1121 Leslie St., North York, Ontario M3C 2J9, Canada, phone: (416) 391-3311, fax: (416) 447-6973.
Aurora, Sony, 1995.
Contemporary Canadian Musicians, Gale, 1998.
Canadian Composer, Spring 1993.
Impact, July/August 1995.
Globe and Mail, February 1, 1990; April 29, 1995.
Network, April/May 1993; April/May 1995.