Friday, August 12, 2016

Gigs! China Syndrome, Pill Squad, Furies, plus Astrakhan and Waingro interview outtakes and Burger Fest set times

So many gigs, so little time!

Since Mom passed, I have a lot more free time. Life feels emptier, and barely a day goes by when I don't think of her: fleeting impulses that I should call her, check to see how she's doing, or buy this-and-that for her, then remind myself, a nanosecond later, that no, Al, she's not around anymore, you don't need to do that. I miss her a lot, but I don't have to spend eight hours a week on the bus to and from Maple Ridge, and (when I'm not working and don't have plans with Erika), I do have some time to go to shows again, when I can muster up the stamina and will.

Like this weekend. If all goes to plan, I have three gigs I'm really excited about (but one of them involves about twenty bands).

China Syndrome by lildrammerboy

First, there's China Syndrome at the Princeton tonight, perfectly timed so I can see Thieves' Highway at the Cinematheque before I head down. Tim Chan tells me the band "will be playing two sets, which is something we don't do very often. With three albums, we have a lot to draw from plus a bunch of new originals... and choice covers as always!" I'm particularly hoping they'll do "Let's Stay at Home and Let It All Hang Out" off Nothing's Not Worth Knowing, their second album; they brought that one back the last time they played the Fairview, on Canada Day, and it reminded me how delightful the song is - a sort of middle class, middle aged pop anthem about loosening your belt and shamelessly plopping down with your loved one in front of the TV. Nevermind the irony of a rock band writing a song about NOT going out to a show - and Chan prefaced it at the Fairview by saying "this is what we hope you don't do": as with many of Chan's songs, it's got a refreshing, relatable directness to it. You don't need a magic decoder ring to make sense of the lyrics. It's not that I mind cryptic lyrics, but I always kind of gravitated to songs that are about something, that take some sort of universal human experience that no one has written a song about before and make it accessible, give it its moment in the sun, make it something you can celebrate or at least sing along to. This is why - to digress - my favourite Guided by Voices song is "I Am a Scientist" (because I actually completely understand what Pollard is singing about on that one!!!), and why one of my favourite punk songs ever is the Crucifucks "Oh Where, Oh Where," about looking for a lost piece of paper ("I can't find my piece of paper/ I should have been more careful with my piece of paper"). Some people say it's about trying to find a misplaced tab of acid, and it may well be, but I much prefer reading it as a song about looking for some missing scrap with vital information on it, which is something, if you've added up all the time I've spent doing it, has probably taken up at least one year of my life now. I'm sure I'm not alone in that experience, yet no one had ever written a song about it before the Crucifucks! Gotta love it.

To come back to "Let's Stay at Home and Let It All Hang Out," the other thing to love about it is that it's written from the perspective of a mature adult. Like so many of China Syndrome's songs, it's a song that isn't aimed at teenagers, but for people in, well, let's say it, "my age group." Because how many times, as you get into your 40's and 50's, do you decide NOT to go out and do something cool, but to just relax at home with your Significant Other, make some popcorn, and watch a video in your comfortable clothes, whatever those may be...? If that's not a universal experience of getting older, I don't know what is; but who has really honestly set it to music before now?

The final argument on behalf of China Syndrome is that, unlike a lot of people on what David M. has described as the "zombie punk" scene in Vancouver, where people aged 45-65 are getting together to celebrate still being alive and cool with their equally grizzled peers, bandleader Tim Chan is not - at least not in my earshot - mining old favourites from the 64 Funnycars days, is not playing songs he wrote when he was a teenager, but writing new, fresh original songs from said adult perspective. It says something kinda cool that of his three China Syndrome albums, the best one, the most confident, the most sophisticated, is, in fact, is his most recent, The Usual Angst. That's NOT usually how it works, you know? Thirty years into their musical careers, people tend to start wearing thin on the inspiration, start repeating themselves, start working from formulas that they've set for themselves, playing it safe - the "I'm Dead (But I Don't Know It)" factor. And even when people from the 80's have gotten back together - let's pick on Mission of Burma, here, for a minute, a band whom I love and cherish having gotten to see live (twice!). It's GREAT that they're back, and may they play Vancouver again, but how often has their later material REALLY gotten you as excited as their first two albums? I've owned, at least briefly, every single new Mission of Burma album they've put out, and tried to give them their due, but none of them are half as exciting to me as Vs. and Signals, Calls, and Marches, and nor will they ever be, I expect, no matter how many times I try listening to them.

Anyhow, China Syndrome tonight. Tomorrow, Chan plays again with Pill Squad at Lanalou's, sandwiched between Orchard Pinkish and Vancouver's mighty garage-punk kings The Furies. I've said enough about the Furies, I guess - there's lots else on this blog - but they're one of those bands I can't get enough of. I caught Pill Squad and the Furies (and the Prettys, also excellent) at a show at the Buddha not too long ago, and had a great night. Lanalou's will be even better (since old farts will get to sit down and not have to negotiate the fucking SBC skateboard ramp!).

 Pill Squad, a non-half-bad pic for a change, by Allan MacInnis. Why is Tracy singing like Lemmy? Below: the Furies, the same night, by the same person; "let's hear it for the vague blur!"

But wait! How will I see Orchard Pinkish and Pill Squad and the Furies and still attend Burger Fest tomorrow? Well... I haven't quite figured that one out yet, to be honest. There's definitely a conflict of interest that will probably mean my missing Orchard Pinkish and Pill Squad, at the very least. I guess it depends on how much truly HEAVY music I can take... For those not attuned to Burger Fest, my West Ender article gives a bit of an introduction to the concept; it's really a showcase of local sludge, doom, stoner, and thrash metal bands, more than it's about burgers. The article makes it kind of obvious which two local bands I'm keenest to see, Waingro and Astrakhan. But that's mostly because I haven't heard most of the acts lined up: I've only caught Seer and Heron, who combine a fairly punishing approach to metal with elements of noise and drone, at Vostok awhile back. I did review the Expain CD for the Straight, and Lord Dying also sounds kind of great... could it possibly be that I will MISS THE FURIES for this show?

Heron at Studio Vostok by Allan MacInnis

Above: Burger Fest band roster by Asia Fairbanks, including members of Astrakhan, BRASS, HEDKS, Heron, Sand Witch, Craters, and Doctor Claw, in front of (contributing burger joint) The Heatley; below, Brian Sepanzyk of Waingro takes a "burger selfie": 

Anyhow, I have yet to see Waingro live, but I love guitarist/ vocalist Brian Sepanzyk's bluesy, melodic approach to guitar solos, especially on the new album, Mt. Hood. Besides Pantera's late Dimebag Darryl and Stevie Ray Vaughan, when I spoke to him, Sepanzyk nodded to early Queens of the Stone Age as an influence, and I considered describing Waingro as sounding like "Bison in a good mood," at least until I read the album's lyric sheet, which, considering how joyous and tuneful Sepanzyk's solos can get, is filled with surprisingly dark imagery: blood, graves, failing gods, and nods to the occult abound, though it seems like Sepanzyk is more into the occult as entertainment than practice, which is totally fine with me. I've never understood when people complain that this and that metal band is not "sincere" in their Satanism, since sincere Satanism, and/ or the many confused gestures towards it among young people, kind of scares and/ or saddens me, and I'd much rather listen to a band whose interest in the occult stops, for instance, at "let's all drop acid and watch The Exorcist." (Not that Sepanzyk said anything about doing that).

Still, there's definitely a religious intensity to some of Sepanzyk's lyrics, which you can credit in part to his Catholic background. “I grew up in a really heavily religious family,” he told me when we spoke. “It was really shoved down our throats growing up, and I think it inevitably comes out." He remembers being a young man in the midst of his devout family and reflecting to himself that he just wasn't "buying" the trip they were on. Plus, he adds, "There’s something frightening to religion, which I think is interesting. It’s like - ‘you exist, and it’s fucking scary, because it’s religious horror."

Astrakhan also has their share of religious and occult imagery in their lyrics. Guitarist/ vocalist Rob Zawistowski explains that he "grew up going to Catholic school, so all that religious symbolism is pretty deep rooted, and I've always been interested in spirtual/ occultist stuff - not because I take it seriously, but because I enjoy the imagery and the symbolism and the process. And I've also done a lot of psychedelics, and through that became interested in shamanism and stuff like that. There's a lot of that sort of vibe on the record," Reward in Purpose, which indeed would make a pretty interesting sonic-scape for psychedelic exploration.

As for the trippy album cover, it turns out that both the cover and the fourth track, "The Traveler," are based on a "vivid night terror" that Zawistowski has had. "It involved an extra planetary creature visiting me in the night, and I was so freaked out by it that I ended up lighting sage in my room. So the the outro vocals to that song say 'concentrate/ light your sage/ consecrate/ leave this place.'" The cover art is both a painting and a photograph that Zawistowski conceived of to recreate the nightmare, "by putting a tripod behind the bed and lighting the room in a weird way. I did a long exposure, and you can see my arm going across it" (in black and white, on the right side of the artwork). "Then we blew it up, 20X20, and then the artist that works with us, Nick Patterson - he did our first album cover as well - painted over the photograph, for the creature."

Some of the band's concerns can be seen in their video for "Turgid Waters" which is chock-a-block with mysterious, occult, and horrifying imagery. It's very much a full-band project, with members taking all the lead roles, besides a cameo from Burger Fest co-promoter Mitch Ray, of Art Signified. Zawistowski, who filmed and edited it, is "the shaved-head, bearded ritual man" who gets murdered at the end; bassist Dustan Toth is "doing all the murdering and stick eating," while Adam Young, the other guitarist, is the one "laying in the corner freaking out when Dustan opens a door." (It may have been Adam himself who said that).

I missed who drummer Jerome Brewer is in the video - the conversation was part of a somewhat raucous group phonecall, on cellphone speakerphone settings on both ends, so about 30% of it is incomprehensible distortion, though I did catch that Rob will be soon doing a video for HDKS ("Headcase"), also playing Burger Fest, and featuring Taya Fraser, also of Art Signified, and formerly of Sexy Decoy. I very nearly called the band Headcase in the article on Studio Vostok I did (the venue run by Ray and Fraser), so it's good to know that it's properly spelled H-D-K-S.

Anyhow, there's a lot of music going on this weekend. I've exhausted myself writing this. See you at a show?

Astrakhan live, by Milton Stille

Set times for Burger Fest 6 (provided to Mitch Ray, but subject to last minute revision):

2:00-2:20 - Sand Witch (Outdoors)
2:25-2:45 - Seer (Indoors) 
2:50-3:10 - Doctor Claw 
3:15-3:35 - Hallux 
3:40-4:00 - HEDKS 
4:00-4:45 - Dunk Tank Competition
4:45-5:05 - Heron (Outdoors) 
5:10-5:30 - BOG 
5:35-5:55 Expain 
6:00-6:20 Craters 
6:25-6:45 Amnesian 
6:50-7:10 - Bushwhacker 
7:15-7:45 - Dead Ranch 
7:50-8:10 - BRASS 
8:15-8:55 - Griever 
9:00-9:20 - Astrakhan 
9:25-10:25 - Wild Throne 
10:30-10:50 - Waingro (Indoors) 
11:10-12:10 - Lord Dying (Indoors)

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