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In light of transit strikes, a day job, and working knowledge of significantly more bands in Vancouver this year than last, New Music West this time around was an experience bordering on completely insane. A good sort of insane, but one that left me exhausted pretty stressed out. The focus for this year's festival was more on the local scene. Where last year, it was as well, one could also find a large number of signed bands, bigger name bands that drew oodles of spectators, and maybe stole the spotlight from some of the local less-recognized talent. And the event proved that we have plenty to be proud of in this little burg.

May 9th was the kick-off day. No individual shows were scheduled, but the annual Georgia Straight (the local news and entertainment weekly, for the uninitiated) Reader's Choice Awards was on the agenda. This spectacle ended early enough that those in attendance had enough time to skip to the Commodore to catch the big Placebo show later in the evening as well. The GSRCAs are pretty unique. It's a casual awards show, with none of the grandeur of a typical Grammy show or whatever. When I arrived at Richard's Club, there were a fair number of local faces gorging themselves on the free buffet, consuming the free beverages, and schmoozing away to the sounds of Australia's The Waifs. This was my first experience with the Waifs, and certainly wouldn't be my last. The band is a sweet and fun group, kind of folky, with vocal duties shuffling mostly between a couple of gals, sisters Donna and Vikki. They played a full set, and then out popped NMW organizer, John Donnelly to give a brief inaugural speech. He then launched us into a truly twisted exhibition courtesy of Circus Orange. I'm not sure where they're from, but they came out in baggy industrial suits juggling fire torches, and shortly stripped down to femme-fatale and neon-superhero costumes, then proceeded to light themselves on fire, eat fire, and throw tiny stuffed animals into a chin-balanced overturned lawnmower. After we were thoroughly showered in animal stuffing fluff (the stage and room becoming quite the mess at this point), they tossed a bag of paper confetti into the mower's whirring blades. Poof!! Welcome to NMW 2001!

Much rejoicing.

Then began a pretty backwards awards ceremony. A cheesy bright screen would light up alongside the presenters, who would read out the nominees that readers had been given to vote between. True to form, the Matthew Good Band cleaned up just about every award. Don't get me wrong, I love those boys to bits, but they've got to move over and give some of the rest of the people in town a little credit. They've got their trophies. Matthew Good hates awards shows anyhow, so why do they keep giving him these things? Suffice to say, Mr. Good was not in attendance. In fact, the only member of the band present to accept awards was their bassist, Rich Priske. I suppose one could viably count Blair Dobson as a fifth member of MGB by now. He was part of an only-in-Vancouver outfit called DSK, along with Priske and MGB guitarist Dave Genn. Dobson is typically outspoken, and downright hilarious. He accepted many awards on behalf of MGB, giving little acceptance speeches, all the while with some bandage taped across his nose.

Local morning radio DJ's Larry and Willy, Vancouver's favorite duo, were on hand to present awards, as was Nardwuar the Human Serviette, a university-radio personality. Nardwuar has met and interviewed/offended countless big name rock stars and political figures, among them Danzig, Iggy Pop, Courtney Love, Rob Zombie, Mikhail Gorbachev, Canada's Prime Minister, Jean Chretien, and even Dan Quayle. The man has absolutely zero shame, is the biggest, cutest geek you could possibly imagine meeting, and also probably Vancouver's favorite media member. Some bands picking up awards included Honeysuckle Serontina, who have decided just pre-NMW to change their official moniker simply to HS to avoid all the difficulties people seem to have both saying and spelling Serontina. The New Pornographers, we are delighted to see, also picked one up, and if you know what's good for you, you'll pay attention to this band if ever you hear anything about them. What began as a between-fulltime-projects project for a group of local musicians (among them Neko Case and Limblifter's Kurt Dahle) has turned into a hugely popular gig that is spawning tours and who-knows-where-this-will-lead. Upon the opening notes of their CD, Mass Romantic, pouring over the speakers after the Dandy Warhols soundcheck last December, DW lead guy Courtney Taylor-Taylor was stricken almost dead with rapture. It takes a lot to grab that guy's attention musically, and I can guarantee you, the groovy melodies will have you tapping your toes in no time.

The performances that evening, each one lasting for a few songs as opposed to one at most awards gigs, were a spicy blend of local bands combined with selected guest musicians to create a shiny new dynamic. Chin Injeti, now on a solo project and previously with fairly popular funk group Bass Is Base, teamed up with Craig Northey. Everyone in town seems to love Craig. He is most notably a guitarist with the now-defunct band the Odds, who were notorious for their sense of humor, catchy pop songs, and amusing relationship with Canadian comedy troupe, the Kids in the Hall. Northey now seems to be playing with everyone, contributing to everyone's albums in town both musically and production-wise. He, along with fellow Odds members, has created a funky, loungy group called Sharkskin, and also plays with high-flying Canadian blues guy, Colin James.

Alternative-folk group Zubot+Dawson snagged fellow folksters Radiogram for their performance. The range of instruments from horns to strings was impressive, and the touching version of Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head turned the room into a big sing-along. The Be Good Tanyas, also still in the folk range, recruited lovable-guy Rich Hope, with his country-rock stylings, into their set. It was my first experience with Rich as a soloist, even though he wasn't really solo at this time, and wasn't playing his music. But move over for now, folk, 'cause here comes the rocků

The Black Halos leapt onstage with DOA guitarist Joey "Shithead" Keithley on guitar #3, and Grant Lawrence from the ass-kickin' Smugglers (who picked up a much-deserved award earlier in the night) taking over vocals. Halos' singer Billy Hopeless, donning a DOA shirt, remained in the background for a rare time, sitting near the back of the stage, his arm in the air and his head nodding to the music. Lawrence is an active guy on stage. The Smugglers always put on a killer show, and his leading the Black Halos for a couple songs was equally as engaging. Soon enough, Billy took his rightful forefront and began his own wailing and cavorting. As usual, he spent a lot of time right down on the stage, and guitarist Rich Jones spent a lot of time in the air. I have never been bored during one of their shows, and this was no exception.

Peculiar juxtaposition of the night? Flash Bastard, a group of crass, brazen, glammy rock boys, teaming up with Lily Frost, local pop sweetheart. Lily donned a long, platinum blond wig over her short brown locks for the performance, which threw a lot of people off at first. The guys in Flash Bastard have a tendency to hurl themselves wildly about the stage, and Lily pulls the ol' kneel-and-scream move a lot. They ended up looking really good together up there. At one point, Billy Hopeless grabbed the microphone away from the Bastards on stage to begin his own vocal performance.

The space cleared slowly after the awards were officially over. People seemed to be having a lot of fun chatting with the who's-who of Vancouver music in attendance. It was the perfect opportunity to well-wish and see everyone in the same place at the same time before the pandemonium of the actual festival took over. Times like these make you realize just how desperate some bands are for attention; I was grabbed and chatted to by numerous folks who had seen me wandering around all night with my camera, handed flyers for their bands' gigs, and asked for my information in return. The night spawned fun like a fellow reviewer convincing Billy Hopeless that Larry and Willy should really remove their clothes while on stage. It was a great way to begin the week, and the cozy, casual, technical difficulty-ridden atmosphere of these awards was far more appealing than one might have expected.