Sunday, October 23, 2016

My Girl Has a Big Muff: a Night at the East Van Opry

Note: all photos from last night, or bad and blurry photos in general, are from Allan MacInnis and his cellphone. All professional photos are credited and/or taken from the artist's websites. 

Last night was my first experience of the East Van Opry, and what a treat it was.

I went for Kitty & the Rooster and Petunia and the Vipers. I've been writing about Petunia for awhile now (see here, here, and here, for starters). He's great, the new album is great, and it was really funny to seee him break down "Lulu" live with a spoken introduction that kindly laid waste to my confusion as to what language it's in (because along with a bit of French and a bit of English, it's mostly just fast-paced scatting - or do you call it scatting when it's not improvised? Heck, I don't even know what you call it, but there's a phrase that comes very close to Nardwuar's "doot doola doot do," though with a different "tune" to it: if you pack in enough phrases like that, bits of more than one language, and do it quickly, and you've got one brain-tickling bit of confusion goin' on). Apparently Petunia has a regular gig right now in the WISE Hall lounge on Mondays, where he looks to be workin' up new material; meanwhile, Jimmy Roy, Ray Condo alum and Petunia's lap steel player is doing something on Sundays at the Revel Room Supper Club with the Do-Rites, featuring (taxidermy aficionado?) Kelly Haigh on vocals (also onstage for a bunch o' stuff last night, including co-hosting). I bet his electric guitarist Stephen Nikleva has a regular gig, too, somewhere in town, but there is so much great music in Vancouver these days it is overwhelming and impossible to keep up.  
Petunia by Ed Araquel

Meantime, I know Kitty & the Rooster from Virgo-a-Go-Go; they're a genuinely funny, smart, and rockin' rockabilly-blues duo made up of (apparent actual couple) Jodie Ponto (drums) and Noah Walker (guitar). Having only caught them in contexts where multiple bands play, I haven't seen a full set from them - just high-energy spice added to a night - but it sure is a tasty spice. I had felt kind of self-conscious down front for Big Top (doing a haunted and haunting country-surf instrumental set), where all the other photographers had real cameras... I shot my Kitty & the Rooster video from the balcony, where, at least for the first part of the evening, was the only place you could get seats (later on, when the lame left and the lively got dancing, it was very easy to head downstairs). Maxed out the space on my phone, so that's all you get from me, besides a few photos. They're really brilliant; that's 2/3rds of their set, minus a bit of their amusingly Daptones-y introduction, plus they also did their song about people bitching about the "damp cold" in Vancouver that will get you grinning. See them ASAP - they have a gig at the Tractorgrease Cafe in Chilliwack on the 29th, if you're out that way.

The Rooster, Noah Walker, also sat in with Fort St. John's visiting female duo Twin Peaks, who themselves came back onstage to accompany Victoria's legendary Caroline Mark - whom I have managed (mea culpa) never to have seen before. She provided funny, rude MC service, along with Kelly, and during her set, surely had the best opening line in a song, "who you gotta fuck to get laid in this town," which kicked off a hand-gesture rich number with a chorus of "get it up, get it in, get it out, don't mess my hairdo."  

In fact, I would have seen Carolyn ages ago if I'd know she was this ribald. Paul Rigby joined them onstage, too, and the woman who I believe is the event organizer, Kathleen Nisbet, who played a mean fiddle with another band of the evening, Viper Central. (Incidentally, do y'all know where the whole "Viper" thing comes from? The reason vipers are so popular in music, to my understanding, has nothing to do with poisonous snakes, cool as they are, but the hissing sound you make when sucking air in to cool the smoke, when you're smoking a joint!). Lotta unruly women in the East Van Opry (also enjoyed a soulful set from Dawn Pemberton, another performer I have not caught previously in any context).

Khari Wendell McLelland, from the artist's website

The other real discovery for me, a guy who I have never heard of before, was Detroit transplant Khari Wendell McLelland, who did country gospel numbers, including a really engaging sing-along called "Leave It There," by Washington Phillips (speaking of misunderstanding lyrics, the first time he sang the chorus I thought he was inviting the audience to "take your bird into the Lord and leave it there" - a song about bird abandonment? No, wait...). Clearly, based on his spoken introductions, Khari has taken a deep plunge into this sort of music (I'm a mere dabbler whose heart remains in punk and metal). I knew none of the songs he sang, but loved them all; and he was probably the best person, last night, at getting everyone to participate in singing along, making it really, really easy for the whole crowd (including me) to join in on choruses, because our parts required no skill - one song our vocal contribution was "mm hmm" - and because he was so warm and inviting in the way he solicited participation. He has a project I'll be glad to be able to write more on someday, about music and slavery, which informed one of his songs last night, though my memory isn't so hot unless I'm taking notes, so I've got nothing on it (something about agitators? All we can remember is his great-grandmother's name - or was it great great - which was Kizzy, and we can only remember that because he got us all to say it. Twice.)

(Carolyn, Kelly and company in raffle mode, because I got no other photo for this space)

Khari also had Noah Walker and the Be Good Tanya's Sam Parton onstage with him (and Dawn Pemberton, too). I missed Sam Parton's sets, otherwise, if she did other stuff - I basically arrived as country-rock band the Great North were finishing, also didn't see Twin Peaks do their thing, and I kind of regret it, because everything last night was fantastic. I sometimes do that, though: I don't get really excited about stuff until I've seen it once, am skeptical about people I've never heard of, and that's the wrong way to approach the East Van Opry. 

Other firsts last night included seeing a washboard played live, by oldtimey artists the Burying Ground (unless the Creaking Planks ever did washboard stuff?); and seeing the Vicious Cycles do an acoustic set - including a tribute to the late Ray Condo, "High and Wild," with Jimmy Roy joining them at the margins of the stage. Yes, that's Neptoon's Ben Frith on drums with the Cycles - who is the guy on theremin, though? (First time seeing the Vicious Cycles with theremin, for that matter). This band just gets better, every time I see them, and will surely eventually persuade me to buy all their albums (tho' it took me something like ten years of seeing the Jolts live before I broke down, so don't hold your breath!).

Then came the raffles! They had some really oddball prizes - Fluevogs, sure, but bicycle crates? TWO of them? They gave a lot of cool stuff away (though you had to buy tickets to participate - my girl bought a big strip). When they announced that they were going to give away a "big muff," I honestly imagined some item of clothing, something like a feather boa (though Erika tells me a muff is actually more like a hand-warmer). Turns out it's a fuzz pedal! So my girl has a Big Muff fuzz pedal now, and no electric guitar to be seen here. 

And that comes to the title and the point of this, really: does anyone want to trade her something cool for it? If you want to know where to aim your arrows, she likes shoes (size ten or eleven, and comfort and condition are very important), needs new tires on her car (badly), and we kinda need to get a bigger bed, we're both killin' our backs trying to share a twin. Other offers will be entertained!

The East Van Opry is a must-see event, folks, if you have any love of roots music. Get tickets early, next year, because there were people being turned away last night; and once you have tickets, believe what they say about an early start, and don't miss a single act. (I'll likely have more to come on both Khari and Kitty & the Rooster, if I can sway any local papers to let me cover them).

Train to Busan was great, too (Phantasm double bill Monday!). Huge thank you to the event organisers and the Rio for making last night truly delightful. Seriously, folks, so seriously I'll put it in capitals: THE EAST VAN OPRY IS NOT TO BE MISSED.


Unknown said...

Hi Allan, Judith here. Awesome door prize Erika won! I couldn't help myself I looked it up on Amazon worth about 80 bucks. Sweet. Judging from the article's title I assumed this was the title of a raunchy song. The Big Muff had a big resurgence via Mudhoney in their heyday. I have a tshirt related to the band/pedal. Also, Twin Peaks is an excellent name for a female duo! Thanks for being all this revelry to our attention.

Allan MacInnis said...

Thanks, Judith. My girl's Big Muff is now spoken for!