Wednesday, August 31, 2016

International Pop Overthrow Vancouver 2016: outtakes, insights, and so forth

Tonight is the opening of the International Pop Overthrow at the Fairview - a four day, twenty-plus band salute to a broad spectrum of music that can be described as pop. The curator of the festival, David Bash, flies around the world putting these on in different cities, showcasing talent from those same cities; the 2016 schedules, including Vancouver's, can be viewed here. A few bands I've thoroughly enjoyed on more than one occasion, like China Syndrome, Pill Squad, and Cass King and the Next Right Thing, play the festival this year, and I'm always looking for excuses to plug bands I like, so I pitched a feature at the Westender on it. It ran! I also had a China Syndrome feature sitting around at the Straight that fortuitously saw print last week, as the fest was approaching.

Here are some outtakes from the interviews I did to put the articles together...

From David Bash, curator/ emcee

Allan: Does Vancouver have any special associations for you? Is there stuff you like to do when you're here?

David: Actually, yes. I first visited Vancouver in 1990 and fell in love with its beauty. I loved the people, the casual nature of things and their liberal viewpoints. I actually tried to move to Vancouver in 1994, when I was working as a Marketing Director for a Real Estate company, and had a few interviews. One company wanted to hire me, but couldn't because I wasn't a Canadian citizen. The procedure for becoming a citizen was a bit too cumbersome and lengthy for me at the time, so I abandoned the idea, but never forgot how much I loved it in Vancouver. In 2006 we decided to do IPO in Vancouver when Vic Gailiunas of the band Star Collector said he could get us into The Railway Club, and he was true to his word!

Any comments on the Railway's closure? (I see that 2011 the IPO was all-Railway, whereas 2014 it was all-Fairview, what happened there? do you settle on venues?)

I was very sad to see the Railway close, but I'm sure most of the bands will agree with me that as soon as Janet Forsyth sold it, it went into a slow, steady decline. We moved to the Fairview because the current owner of the Railway stopped communicating with everyone, and because I knew the person who books the Fairview, Blaine Rice, from his days at the Railway; Blaine is a great guy and very dependable, so it was an easy choice.

Looks like there are several repeat acts - some bands play repeatedly at each festival. What newcomers to the fest are there this year...? Any one band you're particularly excited to see?).

Yes, we always have repeat acts in each city in which we do IPO; many of them are very good and deserve to play year after year. As for newcomers this year, there are quite a few. I'm excited to see them all, but I guess the Top Boost is at the top of my list (pun intended) because they do some excellent power pop, which is one of my favorite sub-genres of pop music.

Is Girl's Night Out a regular feature of the event in each city? All bands are female-fronted that night, right?

Girls Night Out isn't a regular feature in any city, but in certain cities like Vancouver and New York, it's happened from time to time. It's happened a lot in Vancouver because there is a very strong contingent of female talent in the city, and I think it's a fun feature. And yes, all bands are female-fronted, and some are solo females. This year Daisy Rock Girl Guitars is getting on board and donating a guitar to be raffled off that night, which is very cool!

How do you decide who gets to headline and given night?

If a band has proven to have a good draw, that's the one who usually headlines, but sometimes it's simply a matter of when bands are available to play. Anyway, it doesn't much matter to me who headlines, as long as they're good and their crowd can handle a later slot.

The Top Boost, photograph by Melanie Costa
21-year old Hunter Gogo of the Top Boost, on his early love for '60's music (which started when he learned to pick out Strawberry Fields Forever on the piano): "I went through a lot of phases after that, but in my teenage years, I realized that 60’s music was my favourite.”

Cass King, photo by Bob Hanham

Cass King on the Next Right Thing's fusion of soul and New Wave power pop: "We call it garage soul.. The soul is in the rhythm, the harmonies, and the vocalization, and the new wave feel is in our instrumentation and in our approach.”

Pill Squad by Allan MacInnis

Scott Beadle of Pill Squad

Allan: How did you end up with Tim Chan in your band, anyhow? 

Scott: When Tracy and I were mulling over the idea of starting the band, we had a short-list of possible guitar players, people that were not principally known as electric guitarists (one was mainly a bass player, and one was mainly an acoustic-playing folksinger) because our original vision was pretty raw and primitive, like the Cramps or Thee Headcoats or something like that.
But before we explored that list, I had one long shot candidate that I wanted to ask, even though I thought for sure the answer would be "No," and that was Tim Chan. I had played with Tim immediately previous to Pill Squad in a band called Full Leather Jacket, which went on indefinite hiatus when leader Darryl Stapleton moved to San Francisco. And I really really enjoyed played with Tim, and more importantly, really clicked with him as a person and as a friend. But, he also had his own band, China Syndrome, and I know he is asked to do other one-off projects from time to time — so I thought the chances were slim, but I also HAD to ask. And I was over-the-moon happy when he said yes!! Tracy and I couldn’t believe our good fortune. As it turned out, Tim had heard of me and Tracy’s old 1980’s band The Hip Type, and more than that, he was a radio DJ at Victoria's university station and he remembered some of their songs from back then, and he was eager to tackle some old Hip Type tunes in this band. He’s been so amazing in Pill Squad, such good chemistry with us musically-speaking, and more importantly on an immediate, friendship-level, I literally can’t imagine this project coming together like it did without him. He’s our rock, which is appropriate, 'cos he rocks.

Nick Jones of the Pointed Sticks was on my blog awhile back, talking about his dislike of the term power pop, and Tim Chan and I were talking about the boundaries between punk, pop punk like the Buzzcocks, power pop, and pop... I wonder how you feel about the term, your sense of these things?

I’m old enough to remember Greg Shaw’s promotion of this term, circa 1979 or so, through his magazine Bomp. I get the reason, there was a lot going on in the umbrella term “punk rock” that did not fit with the ‘headlining’ acts of the punk movement, like the Pistols, Clash, Damned and Ramones, etc. There was another attempt and re-branding the poppier or more “retro" arm of the punk umbrella, and that was the term "new wave." But that was so quickly taken up by corporate record label companies and their media, that it was kind of off-putting to people in the punk scene. I understand the desire to re-brand acts like Blondie and Television as something other than punk, but the way it was done was kind of like, “These bands are better than that yucky punk stuff, and so it’s safe to check them out and like them.” The term "power pop" seemed to come around just immediately after this kind of “scene” backlash against the term "new wave" (a term that I don’t think has been rehabilitated until very recently, with new wave revivalism or whatever it’s called. And of course the reasons for adopting the term was very much the same as the reasons for adopting the term new wave. The new music scene was just to fantastically varied, the term punk rock just couldn't contain it any more. The other value of the term "power pop" was a way to link the new music with what had happened in the past — linking more modern bands with acts like the Raspberries and Flamin’ Groovies (who were still around) and Big Star and Badfinger; and also classic rock bands like the Kinks, for instance. But I understand Nick Jones’s quibbling with the term. Ultimately it’s a label, and as such, like all labels, it’s both useful and silly, in equal measure. It’s all just rock & roll music. When “revivalism” and its labels get too strict, too intent on definitions, on who to include or exclude, then we’re in the realm of nonsense and rock-crit-speak. I think it’s useful and interesting, but only in small doses and not to be taken too seriously.

Returning to David Bash (pictured with girlfriend and IPO assistant Rina Bardfield

Allan: Tim Chan, Scott Beadle and I were talking about the differences between pop, power pop, and pop punk... what are your senses of the boundaries there?  If a band is "too punk," do you not include them in the IPO? Could the Buzzcocks play the IPO?

David: It's very difficult to draw lines here as they're quite blurred, but the festival has always showcased melodic music, whether it be more rock 'n roll based or more in line with singer/ songwriters. I would consider the Buzzcocks to be one of the tougher ones for which to make a distinction, but if I had the proverbial gun to my head I would call them pop/punk... however, I did put Green Day into my Power Pop Hall of Fame, so go figure. We have had many pop/ punk bands at IPO, but if a band is straight punk I will not likely include them because the pop melodies won't be present in their music.

You travel to each IPO, right? And emcee the shows?

Yes, I travel to all of the festivals, and our year runs between March and December, with some breaks in between. I also emcee every show. I'm hardly a professional emcee, but one thing is always true: when I introduce a band I do it with love, and say things that lets the band know that I am familiar with and like their music.

Girls Night Out is at the Fairview - at, what, Broadway near Oak? Somewhere out there - tonight, with ten dollars getting you admission to see six acts, including elle-ectric, Pill Squad and Siobhan Duvall. (btw, Siobhan, if you read this, check your "other" messages section on Facebook, my plan was to include you in the article... but quickly I had more than enough stuff to use, so I didn't try very hard... Oh, and sorry to Tim Chan that I didn't transcribe your OTHER interview re the IPO but I will see you Thursday for the China Syndrome set, okay? I just ran out of steam, and, y'know, the Straight thing was coming out... 

Sunday, August 21, 2016

A brief mention of Gord Downie and Al Wiertz

This has been a topic of some discussion on Facebook, so I thought I would weigh in, perhaps with a useful observation. I'm not sure why Gord Downie made the decision to go public with his cancer before the tour, but it reminds me more than anything else of a concert I attended in the mid-1990s by Vancouver jazz drummer Al Wiertz, who was also dying of cancer. He put on two or maybe more shows - the one I saw was at the Glass Slipper, a jazz club long since gone - to raise money for his daughter's post-secondary education. He drummed his heart out; I only just discovered now that there's actually footage of Wiertz on Youtube, starting at the 4:24 mark, here. That night - though he was emaciated and on pain meds - he played with even more intensity, as I remember it. I totally admired his decision to make his situation public, to give his fans and friends a chance to support him, and to salvage something good out of something awful.

I missed the Hip broadcast last night, actually, but I will probably catch up on it at some point. It's a bit emotionally heavy, for me, right now. But my respect to Gord Downie. The Hip have some fantastic songs; I'm glad I got to see them live a few years ago.

That was all I was gonna say...

Saturday, August 20, 2016

My new profile photo

The other day, my girl and I took a walk down by the dikes in Maple Ridge, down at the bottom of Laity street, where I used to catch frogs as a kid. There weren't as many frogs - we only heard one bullfrog, and saw nothing - and we didn't see any snakes - I once caught a red spotted garter snake there (see below, though that's not the exact snake in question, which was well over three feet long) - but the pond and river were recognizable, though a lot of benches and parklike functions - gates, dog-owner stuff - had been added and there were a lot more people.

Anyhow, I snapped a few photos, and one of them is my new profile pic. This is it:

Al's Top 10 video want list: help fill my holes!

For those curious, besides my passing desire to see more classic Charles Bronson movies, these are the films I'm most keen to own on DVD at present, some quite rare, though all have come out on DVD at some point.

1. The Amateur: I remember this getting raves in the 1980's and then being disappointed when I caught up with it on VHS as a kid because it looked like another crappy Toronto tax shelter movie. Now I love Toronto tax shelter movies! I want to see it again. Plus John Savage, Christopher Plummer, John Marley, Ed Lauter and MARTHE KELLER!

2. Endangered Species. What the fuck is this movie, exactly? I have never seen it, but I'm soooo curious. Alan "Robert Altman Jr." Rudolph directs a cattle mutilation SF film? Robert Urich is no draw, and JoBeth Williams, much as I liked her horny bitchy bitch in The Big Chill, is not much of an incentive either - but Hoyt Axton, Peter Coyote, and Dan Hedaya are all in it, all people who I like to watch onscreen.

3. Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell. I believe I have seen every Peter Cushing Frankenstein movie, except Evil of Frankenstein (which I think I have on a Hammer box set, and which I've heard is the weakest), and this one. The monster looks very appealing - David "Darth Vader" Prowse, isn't it? - and the title is great, and tho' I've heard mixed things about it, I would love to see it someday.

4. Fighting Mad. I'm no big Jonathan Demme fan, you know? He makes a good music documentary, I'll grant you, but his thrillers are all over-rated, including his hammy, Gothicky Silence of the Lambs, which is nowhere near as good a Lecter film as Michael Mann's Manhunter, and his silly, unnecessary wanna-be Hitchcocks, like The Truth About CharLIE and that totally unnecessary Manchurian Candidate reboot, or whatever it was. They're crap! I think I even sold Last Embrace, the last time I had it on DVD, because I was so disappointed with what a mess he makes of it; I love Roy Scheider, and the film has great moments - like when he almost gets pushed in front of a train - but it's one of those films that drives me crazy, because it's just forgettable enough that you feel compelled to revisit it every few years (if you're like me) only to be disappointed all over again when you actually watch it. HOWEVER, Fighting Mad looks to have connections to the gritty Hollywood films of the late 1960's and early 1970's, stars Peter Fonda, and has small roles for Scott Glenn and LYNN LOWRY, who so many of us met last year at Shane Burzynski's horror flick fest (thank you again, Shane!). Demme probably will make a few choices that annoy me - he almost always does - but it can't possibly be all bad, either. Need to see it once, at least.

Now I'm mad at myself all over again for having sold Last Embrace. I knew this would happen. It's like I have to buy it and keep it so I don't feel like I have to find it again. And, I mean (sigh) maybe it's not as bad as I remember it as being? (This is my version of the Eternal Recurrence of the Same, I guess).

5. Housekeeping. I haven't seen this film in decades, but I loved it back in the VHS heyday, and it IS out there on DVD. Christine Lahti - who I've loved since Whose Life Is It Anyway? - stars, Bill "Local Hero" Forsyth directs, and it was filmed in BC (and Alberta). Female outsider/ eccentric is left in charge of children, leading to great difficulties... I don't remember it well but I loved it, and I think my girl would love it, too.

6. The Night Walker. William Castle, Robert Bloch, and Barbara Stanwyck, I don't really need to say anything else, do I? And that poster... hey, wait a sec, it looks kinda familiar...

7. Remember The Night. Speaking of Barbara Stanwyck, she and Fred McMurray (whom I almost typo'd as Freddie Mercury!) team up again in a film about a female shoplifter and a district attorney stuck in a car together during Christmas. Or something like that! A great, character-driven, moving story of seasonal redemption, written by Preston Sturges.

8. Time of the Wolf. I don't always like Michael Haneke, and I kind of hated this depressing French apocalypse/ social breakdown film, my most vivid memory of which is seeing Isabelle Huppert barf. Somehow I really want to see it again, though. If memory serves, it's kind of like The Walking Dead, but without the zombies.

9. Session 9: okay, so I already have this on DVD, but I really want to upgrade to Blu-Ray! Hazmat team has a serious breakdown while cleaning out an abandoned - and HAUNTED??? - insane asylum. It was my first experience of Peter Mullan, as far as I'm aware, and I really want to revisit it now that he's become a favourite actor of mine, but I'm holding out for the Blu, which - wait, it should be out now! Plus I actually really like David Caruso, and Larry Fessenden is in it! (I need Fessenden's Beneath, too, come to think of it).

10. The Stuff. I don't want to spend $40 or more on an Arrow Blu, which I think is R2, anyhow, but I'd love to find this on a cheapie DVD. It's another one of those films that I am disappointed by whenever I revisit it, but the combination of talent (Larry Cohen + Michael Moriarty + Paul Sorvino) is really compelling and I need to have this in my permanent collection. Plus, I mean, how many killer ice cream movies are there? 

Why did I think Yaphet Kotto was in The Stuff? 

There's more I could put on the list, but these are the biggies for now. Plus, like I say, I gotta get some more Charles Bronson. And did I read somewhere that the original Willard was coming out on Scream Factory? I need that, too. Any film where Ernest Borgnine dies a particularly gruesome and unusual death is a must-see (he melts in The Devil's Rain; in Willard, he's attacked by a horde of rats!)

Friday, August 19, 2016

Bronsonquest 2016: into the wilds of Surrey

In my late 20's, I lived for a month or two in Surrey, not far from the Gateway Skytrain Station.

It's a bit of a story as to why I did that. On the advice of a rather remarkable guy whom I'm afraid I must describe as a "spiritual teacher" (but who was far less airy-fairy than those words suggest, a tough-as-nuts, conservative Lakota, formerly a jailguard, who kicked my indulgent, lazy, scared and unproductive ass all over the place, psychically-speaking, and got me back to school, seeking work, and trying to mend my relationship with my parents), I was taking Life Skills Coach's Training at Stellar College, a fairly remarkable institution that was kind of on its last legs. They'd rented an unused office building, or at least a floor of it, and ran a group there. It was a bizarre, difficult-to-characterize experience, involving a sort of confrontational, intense group therapy. We were "learning by doing," practicing counselling on each other, basically, while the group leader called us on our shit, along the way borrowing bits and pieces from est, Scientology, and First Nations practice (including smudges and a sweatlodge). The other people in the group were incredibly varied - a few ex-cons and people with past substance abuse problems, but also housewife-types and confused young people and whatever the hell you classify me as and... it's all a bit hard to explain or understand from the outside, and I'm as much an outsider to it all now as is anyone reading this, really. A lot of psychodrama, crying, screaming, confessional revelations, and maybe not very much of a safety net, but on the other hand, there were a few people who actually seemed to emerge from the program wholer, saner, better-put-together than they were at the beginning, including me. Like I say, a hard experience to describe.

In any event, I didn't want to commute from Maple Ridge to Surrey every day, so I asked if I could bring a sleeping bag and crash in the building after hours. They were more than willing - it was a shitty neighbourhood even then, with junkies shooting up in the bushes and occasional was-that-a-gunshot kinda sounds from the street, so I became the unofficial security guard at nights, smoking cigarettes - I did that then - in a room we weren't using and trying as rule to not go out much after dark. Soon enough, others followed suit, and after a couple of weeks there were three or four of us sleeping nights at the Stellar Hilton, as it became known, including a guy who, years later, went on to lose his mind and stab his daughter's boyfriend to death, because he thought - in the grips of paranoid delusion - that he was spying on him for the government. As I remember him, he was a hell of a chess player and an interesting conversation companion - a plain-spoken, uneducated but very perceptive Newfie who ended up one of my more unlikely friends, for a time. As far as I know he's presently in an instution for the violently mentally ill, or whatever the politically correct term for that is these days; I sometimes think of sending him a chess set or a few of the sort of violent westerns and crime novels he favoured -  he probably would get a kick out of Parker, if he can still read, and if his doctors would let him have access to something so antisocial - but really, it's probably for the best that I stay out of touch...

Anyhow, when class was out, I sometimes explored the area, checking out the Value Village and the pawn shops and such. I watched strippers at the Flamingo (known to some as the Flaming O). With other "trainees," I ate the odd dinner at Chang Mai Thai restaurant, which one of our group members confusedly mispronounced as "chang my thigh." Sometimes dinner was at the KFC down the street from the building, which I see is still standing ot this day. Oddly enough, I never ran into David M., at the record store near Surrey Central where he worked, which I don't think I ever stumbled onto. However, I did have coffee a few times at the Java Joint, which became a place of some renown (I believe even DOA played there). There used to be a used CD store next to it, too. They're both gone now, alas.

It wasn't the best of times, but sometimes I go back to the "old neighbourhood," so to speak. Usually on hit and run searches of the used stores. It started back when I was making a bit of extra money buying books for used bookstores, and remembered that I had a few finds back when I lived there. Also, there was a VHS rental place that I used to sometimes negotiate for movies at, back when I collected tapes. That shop is gone now, but there are still stores where you can buy DVDs and Blu's,  usually priced between $1 and $5, depending on the title. The demand has dropped out sufficiently that some pawnshops that used to carry them now don't even bother, and a couple of stores have flat out closed down since my last visit, but maybe twice a year I go poke around, and every time I find at least a few fun titles, while avoiding some seriously sketchy street people or people loudly discussing their impending jail sentences or such.

Anyhow, thanks to Robin Bougie, I re-watched Charles Bronson in 10 to Midnight the other week, and have been craving some more Bronson; and if Surrey surely has to be the sort of town where you're likely to find the odd used Charles Bronson movie, right? So today was Bronsonquest 2016, wherein I poked about six or seven pawnshops - the Value Village has closed down - trying to find, hell, I don't know, Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects or Mr. Majestyk or The Evil That Men Do or even a few of the Death Wish movies on DVD. They were common as dirt back in the VHS days but you actually don't see them around like you might Clint Eastwood or Jason Statham movies; Bronson hasn't aged well, I guess (though I liked 10 to Midnight the other week a lot more than I ever did as a kid). Three hours of wandering around Whalley and I found exactly one Bronson title: a public domain DVD of Cold Sweat, which no doubt looks atrocious, but which I've never seen (and it has James Mason and Liv Ullman in it!). This is the sort of movie I would sometimes find my father watching late at night in Maple Ridge, on television. It was overpriced at $2.99, but what's a Bronsonquest without a single Bronson title located?

But if Bronsonquest was a bit of a bust, I did find a few other choice titles that I don't have, the best of which were the Stephen King rats-versus-humans adaptation, Graveyard Shift, which I haven't seen since its theatrical run; and The Beastmaster, a Don Coscarelli I've never gotten around to. (Oh,a and I found a Donnie Yen film, Kung Fu Killer, for a couple bucks, what the hell). There were a few colourful encounters with sketchy locals (overhearing a woman telling her friend how she "just about busted her kneecap" on some guy's ass, "but that will fuckin' show him what's what"). The Mennonite Thrift Store had some pretty amusing VHS tapes stacked on the shelves, too, but I'm not equipped for that technology at present. Probably the most amusing finds where when I popped into eCentral, a used media store near Surrey Central, where I saw they had copies of Peter Bogdanovich's Targets, Wim Wenders' The American Friend and Lightning Over Water, Brian De Palma's Greetings, and a few other colourful films that I already have, all of which I remember contemplating the last time I was in that shop, about six months ago. How they're still open, I cannot say - maybe when I return next spring they won't be?

Anyhow, depressed areas and boondocks-type places are always interesting for culture hunts. When good stuff comes into these stores, people don't know what it is or want it, so there are always obscure finds to be had. (Maple Ridge used to be the same way but it doesn't take many people like me to hoover up all the good stuff).

Some pictures from my excursion:

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)