New Music West Day 3 - Read All About It...


Georgia Straight Awards

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Today started a bit earlier in the day. At about 6:30, I wandered over to the Railway Club, which was not being used this year as a NMW venue. This is surprising - in past years, it's been one of the top places to pack into to see some tunes. It's a neighborhood-style little bar, with a small front room for live music, and a back lounge for sports fans and social butterflies. Tonight, the 'anti-NMW' show was going on. CBC Radio 3 was hosting a showcase with a diverse few bands. The little room wasn't as packed as it can be, but this early on a Saturday, not many people are out yet. The sets were webcast as well, which crowded the room with cameras and tech people. The snazzy little earplug-holders they were handing out were pretty great. In fact, I acquired a lot of cool swag from them.

Third Eye Tribe was the first band I saw play. They are a trio of dub-hiphop kids, and they definitely struck a note with the crowd. It wasn't long before people were whooping and cheering to the band's politically-oriented lyrics. Shortly thereafter, a long-standing local favorite, the Grapes of Wrath, started up. The band has a lengthy and fairly tumultuous history, and sort of went on hiatus (if we can call it that) for a number of years, only they did it so silently that most people simply forgot they really existed. They just drifted off into obscurity like most bands do as they start preparing a new album, and people didn't pay it any mind until one day, a few began musing about just what happened to them and why it was taking so long for them to release any new music. Side projects came and went, and then, just as silently, the band reformed and began playing some low-key shows. Much of the momentum was gone from the band's previous successes, but the faithful fans were ecstatic to finally see something new from them.

The group's stage presence is gentle and casual. They always look really pleased to be playing their songs to an appreciative crowd, and they seem to put an awe-inspiring spell on their audiences. Yes, the spell of the Grapes of Wrath, which can magically transport you back to your formative years, to summers spent by the beach with a mixed cassette taped off the radio, to your first bar shows. The Grapes' set time, much to bassist Tom Hooper's amusement, seemed to be extended after every song they played. By the end of it, they were just improvising. More than a few peoples' attentions were caught firmly when they broke into a delicious cover of Bill Withers' Ain't No Sunshine.

Immediately after they finished up, I ran over to the Web Café. Tonight, the Café was hosting the annual CFOX Seeds Release party. CFOX, the local rock radio station, puts out a compilation CD every year with a selection of bands that have come out as finalists in the yearly DemoListen Derby contest. The bands that appear on the disc are then featured in a highly-advertised New Music West showcase. Last year, it was held at the Commodore, and this year, they downgraded to the little Web Café. It was already hot and crowded for Booti Dharma's set. My plans were to stay there for the first three sets, with little excursions to nearby clubs in between sets. Booti Dharma is a blues-tickled band, with an amazingly talented vocalist who goes by the name of Garfield. A startling, tall figure, he also sings backup for Colin James, and in fact left on a tour with James just after NMW wrapped up. They are a great band to sit back and sip martinis to.

I then went over to the next block to see what was going on with the Orchid Highway's endeavors. Orchid Highway play 60's-influenced super-pop. Nothing in this town makes you want to get up and dance quite so badly. In lieu of a pretty lousy NMW slot that they were given, they set up their own showcase at the Artist Support Society (ASS). They plastered the city with posters featuring their naked rear ends (ASS - get it?), then locked themselves in for 48 hours over the latter part of NMW, and kept the doors open to anyone who wanted to drop by at any point during the weekend. They wrote a single, Tea With Shandra, recorded it, and filmed a video for it. They put up art installations (Citrus Suspension), had a bar running, a wall of TV's, and planned to play a set at 2 in the morning, after all the other NMW festivities were completed. They had a full schedule set up that they handed out all over town, including such amusing points as the band's breakup over creative differences and subsequent reformation half an hour later, the exact moments in which perfect guitar solos would be played, their Poptart breakfast, and of course, all points of nudity through the weekend. Sadly, they never got the live goat plans off the ground. After the weekend, they were to take their newly-recorded hit to a local recording studio for one last NMW conference, a demo by one of the city's producers. At the time I went up to see them though, not much was going on. The only people aside from the band in attendance were a couple girlfriends and helpers for the weekend. I watched them practice for a few minutes, then went back to the Web Café.

What greeted me at the door was a pure melee. What was before a small, manageable lineup had grown into an angry, pulsating crowd. People were getting miffed that they couldn't get into the show all of a sudden, for many of them, one of two or three shows they would go to all weekend. The draw? ShoCore, one of the Seeds bands, which had promised all sorts of visual treats for their Crazy Town-breed of hard rock show. The Café had been set up that night to accommodate all show-specific ticket holders, and only then the festival wristband-bearers would be allowed in. I was not permitted entry for a single song to shoot, even at one of the following band member's insistence that I come in to shoot them. Defeated and severely angry at the lack of preparation for such events, I went instead to my next stop for the night. This was my one and only trek to the Brickyard all weekend long. The Brickyard has undergone some changes recently. It is located in the worst part of town, where many a band's gear has been ripped off by desperate junkies. It is apparently zoned as a pub, which means it's only allowed to have something like 150 people inside it at a time, even though it's large enough for easily twice that many. Previous owners often crammed more people in than they were allowed, got in trouble numerous times, and finally, attempted to renovate the room so it could be rezoned as more of a club - which also means they can't serve alcohol before a certain time of day. They finally just left it as it is, and since then, it hasn't drawn quite the caliber of bands it used to.

Tonight, it was playing host to a loud rock bill. When I arrived, Limestone was still on the stage. A rather unassuming red-haired fellow sings for them, and to me, they seemed to be just another imageless rock band. Yes, I know how much we all yammer on about the virtue of the band free from the shackles of 'image being everything', but really, it is important to have an identity, and these guys seemed blah both in music and appearance. I wouldn't mind giving them a further listen to see if that's the case, or if I merely stumbled in on their last couple slower-paced tunes. But shortly, the band I had come there for sauntered onto the stage. Mr. Underhill, the self-proclaimed Vamp-rock masters. Visually riveting, the band is outfitted in the all-around shiniest, blackest duds I have ever seen a full band wearing at the same time. Vocalist Nim Vind is this tall, statuesque creature with enormous hair and tastefully-applied eyeliner. Bass is supplied by Robbie K, the only one in the band with a 'normal' name, and the drummer, Labuda, could be seen here and at the Marilyn Manson keynote dressed in this insanely large-collared black vest thing. The elaborate costumes and "Vamp-titude" seem to be a shell for the same brand of rock that guys in jeans and tshirts could be playing. That's not to say it's bad or bland - on the contrary, I really rather enjoy it - but that the band has given rock a brand new face. Rock music isn't that terribly different across the board, but appeals to a totally unique demographic based on lyrical content and visuals. An interesting observation, if nothing else. They play a tight as hell show, and have a great energy to boot. The crowd gets uppity when they hit the stage, and all around me was black leather, vinyl, rubber, corsets, thigh boots, ornate makeup and bright hair. Pretty attractive crowd, if I do say so myself.

I left there and walked back by way of the Web Café again, where the next band was already onstage. It was still crowded with people pouring out the windows and a large line outside, and so I bypassed Morning Maker and SunLike Star and just carried on to my next destination, which was, of course, the Penthouse. The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets, everyone's favorite tribute to HP Lovecraft, was weirding out the masses at my favorite venue of the festival. This year, they were attractively dressed in matching red coveralls, which was peculiar and slightly confusing, but not nearly as delightful as their get-up last year. In that, one of my first tastes of really-screwed-up rock, I walked into a packed Brickyard club to see a bunch of guys on stage dressed in giant foam bug costumes and red silk hooded outfits with cow udders and long, spindly fingers. Now that was a sight. This time, what shocked me most was the fact that the bassist is a guy I knew from another band a good year ago plus that I haven't seen since. My, they make the rounds in this town. The music is equally as off-the-wall. The subject matter quite faithfully revolves around HP Lovecraft's twisted short stories, and so both the bands' lyrics and music are kind of jarring. Good for them for doing something so zany.

Off I went then to the little G-Note restaurant, which is a pretty unique venue for NMW. The restaurant has undergone a few name/management changes in the past couple years, and is basically just a really small, cozy, dark place to grab a bite, have a chat and a beer, and see some music. It is not a good spot for shooting, but that's beside the point. On stage then was Citizen Strange, a youthful group of guys from Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. I saw them about two years ago, and loved it instantly. Something really endearing and sad about the songs. They seem angry, but more of a passive angry rather than an I'm-gonna-beat-the-stuffing-outta-you angry. And again, the tiny vocalist with the enormous voice is so captivating. They describe themselves as a mix of a whole bunch of really mainstream rock bands, but I think they deserve more credit than that.

After a couple songs there, I took a quick trip over towards Planet Hollywood to see if I could catch Ashley Park. I've never seen them before, but have heard a mountain of good stuff about them. I arrived out front to see the Ashley Park guys loading their gear out. They hadn't played a set at all, as the band who was lending them a drum kit for the night apparently packed up and took off early. Nice. That failed, I turned back to the Penthouse for the Saddlesores. More killer rock-a-billy from these boys. I've seen them play a few times before, but watching them take full advantage of the Penthouse stage with its catwalk and golden slide poles was a huge treat. Loud, obnoxious, and the best covers of Johnny Cash one could hope to witness. I was thrilled to hear vocalist Billy Jay Millions proclaim to the crowd that he had shaved his armpits for this gig as he tossed his arms in the air for our inspection. The year before on the same stage, on the same day, at the same time, eccentric Canadian glam-boy Robin Black strutted out to the catwalk, and announced exactly the same thing before blasting the audience with pyrotechnics. Was this planned, or just some creepy coincidence? Apparently, body hair has no place in glam rock. The band, with a new drummer now in place of the fellow who fell in love while the band was touring in San Francisco and refused to come back to Vancouver, rocked heartily to an extremely enthusiastic and thoroughly entertained crowd.

A quick hop back to G-Note to see Star Collector. With a brand new album just released, the guys continue on the tradition of chiming 60's pop. Classy Rickenbacker guitars and cute shaggy haircuts add to the whole peppy, poppy feeling. They looked stifled on the teeny little G-Note 'stage', but also appeared to be having a lot of fun. After shooting them for a few songs, I crept around back, through the kitchen, and to a claustrophobic back alley closed off by chain link fencing, where the Citizen Strange boys had gone to escape the crowds and have a few smokes. I corralled them there, ever aware of how much it seemed like some odd mystery novel. It was a good chance to have a quick chat and learn about the band a bit before I went back to the Penthouse to endure a bit of the spectacle that is Thor.

The folks I was with (those 69 Duster guys again) couldn't handle it for long, and neither could I. The full-body armor and bending metal poles around his head were a bit much. It was fun only until the gimmicks became a tad too gimmicky. We then piled into a van and scooted across town to the Purple Onion to pick up some more band members, then back to the Penthouse to find the last pair of 69 Dusters, as well as a stray Black Halo and a NMW organizer. Now somehow successfully cramming 10 people into a van usually meant for no more than 7, we all headed over to the ASS to join in the rest of Vancouver in one last big hurrah for NMW 2001. This is truly where everyone seemed to be drawn to, with the promise of more schmoozing, more drinks, and more music. We missed all the earlier fun of the video shoot and the naked sushi (Orchid drummer Adrian is quoted as saying "the highlight of my night was eating sushi off my girlfriend's crotch.."), but the atmosphere was crowded fun nonetheless. Among the crowd were Star Collectors, Limblifter's Ryan Dahle, the aforementioned Black Halo and 69 Dusters, local diva Siobhan Duvall (who's Toronto cop story I must have heard a dozen times that night), and that guy who plays Michael Kelso on That 70's Show. I went into the bright green room, beneath the ceiling from which hung dozens of spinning lemons, to grab a plastic cup of wine from the makeshift bar. Then, out to the tiny balcony, where far too many people were trying to convene to smoke. I soon realized I was leaning against a duct-taped hockey stick, which was the only thing between me and the fire escape ladder four stories up overlooking a back alley. By then, it was about time to catch Orchid Highway in action. This was a room with a ceiling height on par with your average basement, lit by the wall of TVs and a couple lava lamps, the mix being taken care of by fellow multi-talented pop guy, Scott Fletcher from the Roswells. The Orchids are an interesting breed. The five members, three of which are brothers, all live in one giant house in the suburbs, and drive a huge diesel bus painted somewhat like the Partridge Family's. They play extremely clever and well-crafted pop songs that had the room raging in mere moments. They played for 45 minutes or so, and then let the party continue until the last stragglers had left the building and it was getting light out. There were seagulls perched on the adjacent roof.

I ended up catching a cab with a couple other girls to a pancake house to see if I could get some breakfast. The taxi left me behind the building, and I walked around front to see that it was closed, and not going to open for another hour (at which time it would be 8:00am on a Sunday morning). With no transit running for another hour either, I walked back downtown to a gross McDonald's to choke down some food before I could catch a train home, a few hours of sleep, and then get back downtown for the evening's awards show.