New Music West Day 1 - Read All About It...

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Immediately after I got off work for the day, I began my journey through New Music West 2001. First stop? The Web Café, a trendy little restaurant that basically serves as a cafeteria for the prestigious Vancouver Film School. SuperJaded was already onstage. This is a transplanted Vancouver band, now based out of Seattle. While in Vancouver, they went by the name Daiz, apparently dropped a few bucks on getting their disc mixed by Mike Plotnikoff and putting ad spots on local radio, but despite all the glitz, they never really made it anywhere. Down they go to Seattle, and since then, I have seen their video on MuchMusic, and seen more reviews and articles about them in the papers. I guess they're doing all right. They are a pretty typical rock band, nothing terribly extraordinary about the way they play. Couple catchy guitar riffs, and vocalist Ed Shebani who doesn't do too much onstage except whine. It was a lukewarm start. It was peculiar beginning the fest, sort of like the feeling one gets as a child going out early to go trick-or-treating on Hallowe'en; really excited because there will be lots of treats by the end of it all, but in the beginning, there aren't too many other kids on the streets, the big kids for sure don't come out til later in the night, and some of the homes are dark and empty with no candy to give out. That's the feeling I had as I left the Web Café to head for Gastown and Club Sonar for Lily Frost.

After Lily's show with Flash Bastard the night before, I didn't know what to expect from her solo gig. It's been almost half a year since I have seen her play on her own. Sonar was pretty empty initially, but filled up really quick as it drew near and past 9:30, her scheduled start time. By the time she hit the small, dark stage (the club is primarily a house and hip-hop room, and the dim set-up is geared toward DJ's and dancers instead of live acts. The 'stage' is really the area at the top of a wide set of stairs leading to a second lounge area and bar), there was a fairly sizable crowd arranged at her feet. She put on a tight set, complete with chiming melodies, big Bambi eyes, and lots of tosses of her hand. I've never been too big on female-vocal pop, but I must admit she is started to grow on me the more I see her play.

While in the area, I jumped across the street to the Purple Onion, where Spygirl was in the beginning notes of a very competent set that left me wondering why the hell there were so few people at their show. The Purple Onion's big room isn't the best spot in the world to watch live music - there are big, obtrusive posts all over the place, and cushy couches set far back in the room, which is where everyone tends to pool. Vocalist Koralee Tonack is incredibly strong, the music having a bit of a jazzy tough-girl quality to it. The members of the band all seem to have wide-ranging side projects going, the influences of which are seen quite easily.

I emerged from the Purple Onion around 10:20. My next destination was all the way across town at the Penthouse. The Nasty On's set began at 10:15 - could I make it in time? Most of the walk is uphill from Gastown, which is right on the water. I hadn't gone more than three blocks when I ran right into a fellow who used to drum for a pretty successful Canadian band before he was dismissed under unsavory circumstances. I had toured to a few locales with said band and knew the fellow rather well. Trying to be friendly while still getting myself on my way as quick as possible, I learned that he was here playing with another band on Day 3, so I told him I would try to drop by, and scooted off. Somewhere between Pender and Dunsmuir streets, I became aware that all around me, I could hear music. Somewhere, there was an infectious drumbeat and some really talented vocals being created. I soon realized the sounds were coming out of the back of the Marine Club on the next block and ricocheting off the surrounding buildings to me. Sounded great.

I am convinced it was that brisk walk that gave me something akin to shinsplints, and I was out of breath and in pain by the time I reached the Penthouse. The venue is, ordinarily, one of the city's top strip joints. It's in a pretty sleazy area of town, the prostitutes hovering around outside in the surrounding two blocks, the kinda-creepy gay bar up on the corner (I was inadvertently dragged there by my friend's brother one day, and almost made to sing karaoke Celine Dion songs in a room full of pretty shifty characters), and, to make matters worse, a Latin/r+b club also nearby. On the other side of all this though, are three more of the year's New Music West venues. There was an interesting demographic there over the three days. I walked in the door and up the stairs, where the NMW volunteers were trying to tell a group of guys that there were no strippers that night, and entered the room to hear the Nasty On vocalist, over the fading strains of the previous song, announce that "this is the last one!" Woo, just in time! The wall of heat and humidity in the Penthouse is unbelievable and just about knocks you flat on your face. It generally houses the most interesting, raunchy shows of the festival, and gathers the biggest consistent crowds, which generally include the most stylish rock star types. I couldn't believe my good fortune of having gotten to the show at all, and almost wished I would have left the other side of town earlier to catch more of the set. As I wrestled my way through the sweaty throng to the front, I thought "This is incredible!!" It was probably the best thing I had seen all NMW, even though I only caught five minutes of it. The band was loud and unforgiving, and all over the stage and the catwalk like only a punk band can be.

After that set, I wandered to the next block to see what was up at Richard's. Noise Therapy, for years a favorite in the Vancouver hard rock scene, had split quietly when their guitarist took off to play with Tommy Lee and his Methods of Mayhem. This NMW gig was a reunion gig for them, and there was a giant line stretching down the block for it. In the careful planning of NMW, it seems the venue didn't leave a media buffer on the place, and they wouldn’t let me in for even one song to shoot. What I heard through the doors sounded pretty loud and energetic though. That show a bust, I walked to the next block to the Starfish Room. The Starfish is the last of the great mid-size clubs in this town. It's been the best spot for bands that are beyond tiny dives like the Picadilly, but still to small for the 1000-capacity Commodore, to play in. Sadly, we have just learned of the room's fate. The entire block has been bought out for more trendy Yaletown condos, and in the new year, the Starfish Room, which is in fact a heritage building, will be no more. On this night however, the place was still hopping, and Peppersands were onstage. Citizen A fronts the band, and she is one of the most fiery little bassists I have ever seen. She's a tiny girl, but shoots forth a mesmerizing power. She's quite incredible. Her voice is breathy and smooth, and the band at her back plays a delicious heavy pop sound. Marilyn Manson, in town to deliver the keynote speech the next day, was in attendance at this show, though I never saw him hovering in the back corner.

At 11:15 or so, I walked back up to the Penthouse for a couple of Jack Tripper's songs. The band plays some pretty tight rock, and I thoroughly have enjoyed them in the past and on record, but on this day, they weren't doing it for me. The crowd wasn't too pumped up either, and I left there fairly early.

I then backtracked to the Marine Club, which is almost back on the other side of town again. This is a small room that has been around for eons. The front portion is more of a lounge with pool tables and a jukebox, and the back is a small stage area. The club has its share of regulars who cluster around the bar for hours like any old Cheers-type crowd. I walked to the back, which was significantly more crowded than it was the same time a year hence, to see that a pretty rambunctious breed of rock had taken over the room. Five guys who collectively are known as 69 Duster (now that's some sexy ve-hicle!) were shaking the place to its very foundation. The stage is maybe four inches high, and tucked into the back behind a dusty piano and an overhang cluttered with old life preservers and other marine artifacts, but the band was nonetheless a pretty formidable presence. One of the guys, guitarist Sean "Rock" Kelly, I knew from a previous, significantly poppier band called Vibrolux, and had heard about this particular show through him. I was a tad surprised (pleasantly!) at this rock endeavor he was now involved in. The guys are fronted by one Dale Martindale, who is best known for his time spent in the Canadian '80's synth-pop band Images In Vogue. His voice is as strong as ever, and he cajoled the crowd by stepping off the stage and singing from the center of the room. I caught the latter half of their set, then sat around to wait for the next band to take the stage.

That band was superGARAGE, and they play some pretty tight radio-friendly rock. I stuck there for only a couple songs before I had to head off again. They didn't leave much of an impression on me, either positive or negative. They seem to have potential to go on to big and grand things, but need to kick it into high gear a bit more. As I left the Marine Club, I stopped to chat with some of the 69 Duster kids on the sidewalk, before escorting a young fellow named Trevor to his car. Trevor, I soon learned, is in a band called Zufo, who had played earlier at the Marine Club with the legendary Randy Bachman. A quick calculation told me that was the band that had provided me with the aural delights I heard while I was walking to the Penthouse earlier. Soon enough, I headed on to the Web Café again, where Bloomsday was just getting ready to hit the stage. There's something powerful and a little bit 'different' about Bloomsday, but I can't seem to put my finger on exactly what it is that sets them apart from other bands of their ilk. Maybe it's just that they are so incredibly good at what they do. They play pretty catchy music, rock that's neither too poppy, nor too hard and snarling. Just really exceptionally tight, solid tunes.

By that time, it was well after midnight, and I decided that going to Planet Hollywood (a questionable venue for live music anyhow!!) to see June was out of the question. So was heading back into Gastown to see Honeysuckle Serontina. I headed back to the Penthouse, where rumor had it the Black Halos were going to do an impromptu performance. No such luck; the Town Pants were there instead. I lost interest and jetted down to the Starfish Room. On the way, passing Richard's again, I decided to pop in for a minute, now that the lineup had disappeared. On stage finishing their midnight set was Midge. I had never ever seen them play before, but had seen one member, James, at a variety of NMW functions thus far (and would continue to over the weekend). He's a coordinator, what do you know? The vocalist was wearing what appeared to be blue silk pajamas, and the show was really pretty good. It was straight-up heavy rock, complete with loud and screamy vocals, wailing guitars, and noisy drums. They were pretty energetic, and the vibe in Richard's is always really neat. Everyone seems really into the tunes there, the stage is gorgeous, the lights are hot. The band was dead on, and had everyone buying them drinks by the end of the set.

As soon as they were off stage, I jumped over to the Starfish to catch the now-in-progress set from Rosco P Coltrane. I suppose I owe them something, as they may be almost singlehandedly responsible for hooking me up with my NMW media pass this year! They are a fun rock band that is, sadly, in danger of not really going anywhere due in a large part to the band's name, which makes them sound a bit like a slapstick group. They are a bit of an exercise in rock excess which doesn’t really become them. Too much family-guy, portly-guy, geeky-guy, distracted-guy, a little too much of the rock shirts and substances. This makes it sound a bit like I don't like them or something, which is absolutely untrue, but the fact remains that they seem to exude a personality that doesn't jive well with their peppy, upbeat-sounding acoustic music. They have a healthy North Vancouver crowd out to all their gigs, and always get people up and dancing. They even had a fellow from another local band join in on vocals from the crowd.

And so ended New Music West Day 1 for me. Not as fruitful an evening as I had hoped, but it was really fun, and I met a lot of great people. What would await me the following day?