Monday, June 13, 2016

Gigs! China Syndrome, et alia, in Nanaimo

Lotta stuff happening this upcoming weekend. On my radar: Shearing Pinx plays an all-too-rare-these-days local show on Thursday, somewhere-or-other (I think involving the colour red in the name). My Xtra article on them is here, a favourite early song by them is here... Great noisy Vancouver avant-punk/ No Wave band, and as far as I know this is their first gig in town in months...
 Lexi Marie pictured with Drum & Bell Tower at the Todd Serious Memorial, May 20th

For those who prefer their musical passions packaged less abrasively - and there's no shame in it! - Lexi Marie, who was so powerful a presence at the Rebel Spell Todd Serious Memorial at the WISE, has a gig - a "collection of feels" - at Chicken Sessions house (??? ...and what's with the word "feels" as a plural noun these days? I keep seeing this!). Hear her song about Todd, "We Sing Louder," here - or another new song, "Mantra," here. I know almost nothing about her - I think she's from Williams Lake, I believe she sings backup vocals on some songs on Last Run, and at the Rebel Spell show (the one I was at, anyhow) she did "All We Want" and "I Heard You Singing." Might have more to come from her on this blog, we'll see; she'll have another gig in Vancouver on July 25th...

And then of course there's this Furies/ Prettys/ Pill Squad gig at the SBC on the 18th, written about a few posts back. (Street shot of Chris Arnett to the right by his wife Barbara). Tim Chan (who plays in Pill Squad, as his main other band besides China Syndrome these days) tells me that Fashionism has been forced to drop out of that particular show. I'm stoked to see the Furies do their thing again.

And speaking of Tim Chan, my girl and I had a great, great weekend in Nanaimo, where we went to explore, shop, and see a China Syndrome gig at the Nanaimo location of the Cambie. No idea if they're actually related to the Vancouver Cambie, but they're also a hostel, so I suspect so. Incidentally, though the bar was quite nice - a goodly-sized room of wood and brick, with decently priced beer - the room upstairs that we slept in, to be polite about it, blew bloated goats, was by far the most spartan, loveless, and uncomfortable place I've stayed and the source of the worst night's sleep I can remember. Nevermind decoration, it lacked basic amenities like soap and shampoo - tho' they offered to sell me some! The room had no trash bin in the washroom, had a bare, exposed, cut-your-foot radiator, a dollar store shower curtain (with a shower knob that was basically a wingnut on a screw) and had some of the hardest, least comfortable mattresses imaginable, which neither my girl nor I had much luck falling asleep on; I got the one with the springs digging into my back, and she got the somewhat firmer one that we dragged off the top tier of the rickety wooden bunk and put on the floor, because no way were we going to trust that creaky thing with either of our weights (yes, she slept on the floor mattress, and I on the bunk, but believe me, I was chivalrously taking the less desirable position). I have only stayed in a couple of hostels in my day - the St. Clair in Vancouver and the Green Tortoise in Seattle - but put both head-and-shoulders above this one for creature comforts. Plus they seemed weirdly worried about making us leave deposits for the towels ($5 each) and keys ($10), which was a wee bit insulting - the guy who forked over my deposit told me that they had had problems with people checking out and then selling the keys on the street, which I can assure y'all had not occurred to me to do, though I guess it might have been a reasonable concern, given that there were people running around, whooping to their friends, in the halls and stairways, late into the night, well after the bar had closed - which was another factor in the crappy night's sleep.
But said crappy night's sleep aside, the night was great. There were four artists in the lineup: Thee Dwayne, who offered interpretations of traditional folk numbers, including "Reuben's Train" and "The Cuckoo," on electric banjo, along with what I presume were some striking originals, lost now to the fog of poor memory and beer; he should consider getting some sort of web presence...!

Thee Dwayne was followed by Teenage Tiger, who take their name from the song "Goo Goo Muck" (which yes, I too know as a Cramps song, but it was written by Ronnie Cook), and who are fronted by Steve of Fascinating Rhythm, a terrific record store where I was also pleased to find a generous selection of DVDs, including many I wanted (Charley Varrick, The Laughing Policeman, Costa Gavras' Betrayed, Barbet Schroeder's remake of Kiss of Death, Altman's Thieves Like Us, all at very reasonable prices). Strikes me as the kind of shop that has wayyyy too much good stuff for the community it serves to take full advantage of, so it's a great destination for visitors, right in the heart of the cool part of Nanaimo.
Teenage Tiger had a few issues with their set - a noobish soundman and a slightly variable rhythm section - but they seemed mostly to irritate the band, not the 20 or so people in the audience; they put across a highly entertaining package, complete with some very enthusiastic mid-song whoops from Steve and some highly tasty licks from their lead guitarist, whose name I do not know (you can actually hear some of their tunes on Youtube, again with very little information about the members of the band, but it's not far off what we heard on Saturday night).
Songs tended towards a sort of garage-cum-rockabilly Americana and included at least one song that I actually think IS a Cramps original, "All Women Are Bad" (but do correct me if I'm wrong, it's listed as an Interior/ Rorschach composition on the album but how many traditional blues songs end up being credited to Jagger/ Richards or Page/ Plant...?).
Teenage Tiger also whipped out a few Sonics songs, including "The Witch," which I was just meditating on recently, since its author Gerry Roslie - who seemed to be getting lost when performing that song the last time the Sonics hit Vancouver - has since retired from touring, as has Larry Parypa, leaving only Rob Lind of the original band in their steady lineup. Not that that matters much, since the Kingsmen's Freddie Dennis is still around, and he kicks ass, even if he wasn't a Sonic from the gitgo.
Third up, there was the Tower of Dudes, who have a very entertaining Wikipedia page that I suspect is a) full of falsification and b) written by the band themselves (I could be wrong). The bandleader, Johnny Feelings, was vocally happy to see my Nomeansno Mama shirt (mentioning to me that he was amused by the many lies on the Nomeanswhatever website, and lending credence to my theory about their Wiki). The band - whose name I must admit did not make me anticipate greatness - was a very pleasant surprise, doing a very smart, funny set of folk-punk that seemed to fall musically somewhere between Devo and Camper van Beethoven, with a generous spicing of vaguely Semitic/ Gypsyish Eastern European trad (and maybe a bit of Cajun?). Their lineup included two women, on accordion and vibes. I keep seeming to run into bands these days - Alien Boys, Brothers of the Sonic Cloth - who have male-gendered names and women in the lineup, which I guess serves as a sort of counterpoint to the days of the Sun City Girls and Sisters of Mercy. They were absolutely tickled that my girl (at my urging) got them to sign the LP (on vinyl) for Make Your Own Culture, and seem generally to be really good people (I mean, isn't this the most charming rock video you've seen lately?). They were humble, too - when I bought their first and third records (on CD and LP respectively), Feelings gave me their second one for free, saying "this is our worst album," somewhat with a hint of self-mocking pride (what exactly he was mocking and what he was proud of remain open questions). Check out their "Drink, Fuck, Drive Truck" here (it's kind of revealing of what I'd expected Nanaimo to be like, actually). Fans of the Creaking Planks would love them, I suspect (and they do come to Vancouver about once a year; follow them on Facebook here).
Tower of Dudes by Erika Lax
Tower of Dudes featuring Thee Dwayne, by Allan MacInnis

At that point, I was on my third Blue Buck, and it was past midnight, so details get a bit sparse. It really was a great theory, though, the whole go-over-for-a-gig-and-sleep-above-the-venue thing. For a guy who has had to worry about late night commutes after shows more or less since 2009, it was a welcome change of pace. I just gotta try it somewhere with a better mattress.

The last band, and the one we'd actually come over to see, was China Syndrome, going on after midnight and performing an abbreviated but energetic set. The more I listen to their third, most recent album, The Usual Angst, the more its riches grow on me; these are great songs, beautifully arranged and recorded, and deserve to be better appreciated in this city (Nanaimo could stand to send a few more people out to see them, too). They opened with "It's Happening Over Again" and closed with "One Too Many," both of which are on their website, linked above. I was a bit sad they skipped their Memphis-y "My Pal Dan," my early favourite off the album, but "One Too Many" is actually my current fave by the band, boasting some seriously compelling, menacing "submarine guitar" hookiness. Thanks to Tim for dedicating their covers of Squeeze's "Another Nail in My Heart" and "Ashes to Ashes" to Erika and I!(A little video I shot here).
China Syndrome by Erika Lax

Having only ever hitchhiked or driven quickly through there a couple of times in my life, I was really quite surprised by how cool Nanaimo felt, giving off a sort of Bellinghamish college town vibe. I thought it was basically a redneck berg, but no: there were a couple of nice little bookstores, next door to each other, where I found two Charles Willefords, a copy of Black Sunday, and an Ed Wood novel for a friend. There was a funky brunch place the name of which I neglected to note (but it was in a giant space that used to be a bank, and had cool art on the walls), and there was at least one really great Indian restaurant, Tandoori Junction, which served us the brightest green spinach paneer I've ever seen, made with very fresh spinach, as well as a really lovely eggplant dish, a perfectly yummy butter chicken, and some of the most garlic-heavy garlic naan I've experienced (I salivate to remember it). Plus there was an Island Farms street cart with bubblegum ice cream for dessert!

(I chose salted caramel, myself).

Sunday was the morning after the Orlando massacre, mind you. I first read about it on Facebook, checking my phone on my mattress from hell and seeing Michael Muhammad Knight's post that he was "Torn between crying for last night and crying for what happens next," which was enough for me to guess that a Muslim had done something horrible in the United States. I'm glad there are Muslims like Knight who are speaking up against this awful hate crime. By coincidence, that Sunday was also the day of the Nanaimo Pride march, which - though we had other plans, meeting Erika's parents for brunch - spilled into our Sunday at a couple points, like the guy in the sundress shopping at London Drugs later that afternoon. Lot of colourful people around, in general. I didn't even know Nanaimo had a Pride march! Hostel aside, it was a perfect weekend. There were even purple starfish on the pilings at the waterfront, and plenty of little fish visible, swimming about... Seems like a town that would make a good summer daytrip, and a worthy place for overnight travellers from the mainland to take in a gig. Just find a better room than we did!

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