May 16th at the Cobalt: The Furies, The Green Hour, and Duvall Star
You know it’s spring in Vancouver when the Cobalt starts to smell like a rotten apple stuffed into a dirty jockstrap. I slumped in at 10:30, slightly stoned and eager to blow off my week at work and attain some element of catharsis. Femke, Bev Davies, and Carola of the JEM Gallery and JEM Productions were sitting with John and Taylor of the Furies at the tables in the center of the bar, so, snagging a bottle of $3 Pacific - much less likely to produce a hangover than whatever’s on tap - I dropped my bag and sat down, as Siobahn Duvall, in an orange t-shirt with “New York City” on it, finished her soundcheck and started her set.
Tho’ it must surely seem like spoilsportism to say it, since Siobahn Duvall is clearly the real thing, and since the pool of Credible Women in Rock is fairly small, I can’t admit to any great enthusiasm for Duvall Star. Duvall enthusiastically slings a sort of tough-girl bubblegum guitar rock just this side of punk; it’s delivered with considerable charisma and not a trace of pretense, and, even in the stripped-down guitar-and-drums format we were offered at the ‘balt, got a couple of fans dancing. However, I'm a snob who doesn’t even own (no shit) any Ramones albums, because the songwriting is too simple and the lyrics too often stoopid. Duvall is anything but stupid, but you can seldom tell what the songs are about, for one - there is no strong central chorus to hook onto, no words you can make out as clearly as the snarl with which they’re delivered, no sense that they were crafted with utility in mind. Ain’t much you can do with ‘em but shake your ass, which I don’t generally do. It says something that of the three times I’ve seen the band, my favourite song they played was a cover (“Sonic Reducer” with Chris Arnett on additional guitar, a couple of years ago. Now THAT’s a song with an attention-grabbing chorus and abundant use-value! Who among us doesn’t want to be a pharaoh soon?).
Funny moment: Siobahn made a comment about how she’d never noticed how bright the lights were at the Cobalt - she could really see how much she spits when she sings. Femke van Delft - who, like Bev, was documenting the night with her camera - called out, “Thank me!” Turns out Femke, arriving early, long-frustrated with the somewhat crappy lighting in the venue, did the DIY thing: she went down to the corner store, bought some brand-new home-variety lightbulbs, and installed them in the ‘balt’s spots. I wonder how many other bands will comment on the improved lighting in the next while... and how many other punk clubs across the continent owe their lighting to photographers tired of shooting in the dark?
The Green Hour, up next, scored a bit higher for songwriting, and a bit lower for authenticity; they’re another local band, with an upcoming eponymous CD to be distributed by Scratch. Great twin-guitar sound, a strong drummer, and an interesting variety of sources - ranging from early Pink Floyd to athletic Led Zeppelin, and covering a lot of UK psych-pop territory in between. I’m sure they have an audience, or will soon acquire one; personally, I couldn’t quite get past the elfish 60's haircuts, the floppy hobbit hats, and the odd paisley shirt, which combined to produce the effect of a band more interested in earnestly imitating their forbears and correctly mastering the cultural ephemera around a scene than in making anything particularly original. Which, I guess, is a silly objection to make in the oft-derivative, image-obsessed world of rock, especially in a city where recidivists like Black Mountain - for whom the Green Hour have opened - are the reigning champions; but at least Black Mountain dress in ordinary East Van attire. If Stephen McBean started getting onstage in a wizard hat and robes, say, I’d probably vomit. Here’s hoping the youthful Green Hour will become less green with age, and that the “force that drives the green fuse through the flower” will push them in more distinctive directions, as they build in confidence and courage. At this point, I can only say that they’re good enough that I’m sure they’re going to get better, weak praise tho’ it may be.
But, I mean, fuck me: Adrian Mack likes them, and Chris Arnett of the Furies stood for their set and danced: that should be praise enough, because the Furies are the kings of no-bullshit; they’re the type of band that, when the guitarist breaks a string (unless he has Bill Napier-Hemy waiting in the wings to fix it), will say “fuck it” and keep going without sounding appreciably different... which, as a matter of fact, happened on this occasion. Arnett’s grimace, his shades (which are not bullshit so much as an ironic “bullshit catcher,” putting the bullshit right out in the open where you can see it and be amused by it, so you know that no one is trying to sneak anything by you) and the bulging veins in his arms delight me; it is a wonder that anyone with fingers as thick and meaty-lookin’ can play so fuckin’ hot as Chris. His solos - often played with his guitar slung below his knees, as he teetered at the edge of the stage, dripping sweat - sounded more and more like they were the reincarnation of the guitar sounds on White Light/ White Heat, veering as close as they could to the edge of anarchy without becoming an onslaught of noise; he's come a long way since the enthusiastic spazzouts I saw at the Vancouver Complication, now actually channeling his furies through his equipment, rather than assaulting his equipment with same.
As steeped in The Tradition as Arnett may be, tho’ - because the VU, the Stooges, the MC5, the first Modern Lovers album, etc., all hover in the background of what the three-piece does - there is also something utterly unique about’em, some recombination of elements that is distinctly theirs. (Maybe I should reread T.S. Eliot's "Tradition and the Indivdual Talent" and apply it to the Furies' music; that would be fun, eh? "We dwell with satisfaction upon [Chris Arnett's] difference from his predecessors, especially his immediate predecessors; we endeavour to find something that can be isolated in order to be enjoyed. Whereas if we approach [Chris Arnett] without this prejudice we shall often find that not only the best, but the most individual parts of his work may be those in which the dead [rock musicians], his ancestors, assert their immortality most vigorously.") I didn't quite understand the references to Jimi Hendrix during the night, but no matter... The band didn’t so much as slow down when violence erupted in the moshpit, some guy knocking another down in a flurry of fists, which made a bit of extra space up front for seated folks like me to see the stage (I think it was wendythirteen I overheard saying, “there’s nothing like a bit of emo to thin the crowd.”) Looks like some people needed a more radical catharsis than I did...
Unflattering tho’ it may be, tho’, my favourite song in the Furies’ set is also a cover: their adaptation of a certain Moldy Peaches tune, “Vancouver is Like a Graveyard,” which - I think I’ve said this before - has gotta be THE song for the 2010 Olympics, the equivalent in wit and downtrodden moral righteousness of the Spores’ “Expo in BC.” Yeah, fuck these “tombstone skyscrapers” and Yuppie dreams: Arnett, with a troglodyte’s glee, provides a musical club with which to smash up some of the most contemptible of this city’s bullshit.
After their set, a certain sometimes-editor of mine, his hair down and his breath smelling of eau du Cobalt, ranted outside the bar about wanting to leap around the venue slapping people: “DON’T YOU KNOW WHAT YOU’RE LISTENING TO? DON’T YOU REALIZE WHO THIS IS? WAKE UP!” Yep. Bassist/drummer Dave Chokroun, leaning back with a smoke, commented that he’d never seen Furies’ bassist John Werner so animated. As I contemplated whether the Skytrain was still running, several of us were regaled with the random hostility of a Native woman who seemed to be growling at us, as she passed, that soon “the Europeans will be Gandhi.” (That’s what it sounded like she said; unless I was mishearing a word in her language, she must have meant that we’d be “gone,” tho’ frankly I can’t tell which is more unlikely - that we’ll all leave or start behaving like Gandhi. I wouldn’t hold my breath on either count). Given that the last time I’d seen Chris onstage, he was wearing a “No 2010 Olympics on Stolen Native Land” shirt, I’d have to say that her rage, understandable as it may be, was misguided in its particulars; in fact, in the one new Furies’ song Chris debuted as part of his set, there was even a lyric about how “the Indians are out to kill the white man.” Though that’s all I could really make out, I can’t imagine it was sung without sympathy.
The Cobalt is a font of grubby virtue, in our increasingly shiny, happy, nihilistic little town - as long as you don’t mind the occasional punch up, the occasional ranting streetperson outside, or the florid crotchy smell. Too bad I had other things to do on the 23rd, or I'd have gone to see the Rebel Spell there too - another local favourite o' mine. Having jokingly compared them to primates in my Skinny review, I have to confess, compared to the brute passions of the Furies, they might as well be playin’ fuckin’ Bach...
Holy fuck: I referenced Dylan Thomas and T. S. Eliot in a fucking Furies' review??? I need to stop this journalism shit and get back to my English lit studies, I think I'm getting restless or sumfin'.