Thursday, January 30, 2020

Dear Vietnamese spammer

To the people repeatedly trying to post spam comments on my blog in Vietnamese:

1) I moderate these comments.
2) I will never publish your comments.
3) If I get annoyed enough by having to moderate your comments, however, I will simply turn off my comments function until you go away, which will interfere with my friends' ability to interact with me here
4) I get paid no money for this blog and do it as a service to my friends and the community, and for fun; could you bother someone who is at least being paid to deal with you?

In other words:

1. Tôi kiểm duyệt những bình luận này.

2. Tôi sẽ không bao giờ công bố ý kiến ​​của bạn.

3. Tuy nhiên, nếu tôi đủ khó chịu bằng cách kiểm duyệt bình luận của bạn, tôi sẽ tắt chức năng bình luận của mình cho đến khi bạn biến mất, điều này sẽ cản trở khả năng tương tác với bạn bè của tôi ở đây.

4. d) Tôi được trả tiền không có tiền cho blog này và làm nó như một dịch vụ cho bạn bè và cộng đồng của tôi, và cho vui; bạn có thể làm phiền một người ít nhất được trả tiền để giao dịch với bạn không?

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Bison! Warbaby! Fuck February! Plus Michael Kiwanuka and Sammy Brue, last night at the Commodore

I don't really know what the other bands are doing - I think I might have an album Bob Sumner is on somewhere - but I dig Warbaby and love me some Bison. And I need some Rickshaw in my life this weekend.

Meantime, here's a link to my Michael Kiwanuka article, plus some bad photos I took during the encore...

And last but definitely not least, Sammy Brue!

...signing a record for Erika, as mentioned in the article:

Nothin' else going on right now: worn out and ready for the weekend. Other irons in the fire writing-wise but not for public consumption yet!

Sunday, January 26, 2020

A night at the Black Lab

Jeff Andrew by Allan MacInnis

Jeff Andrew, between songs at the Black Lab last night, commented that he was a bit shocked to learn that some people in the audience hadn't been there before. That, I must confess, included me. (I was glad the other person he was referring to - whose not having been there before came up in conversation with Jeff and I - was someone cool, lest I feel self-conscious: that being Conrad, who plays bass in Devil in the Wood Shack and was playing mandolin for Mary Matheson last night). But what can I say? I don't get out to many gigs these days, I'm not entirely keen on exploring the DTES at night - Erika even less so - and I am reluctant to go to any venue where there seems a chance things might be run down or dilapidated. It wasn't! It was a very comfortable, safe, well-run punk space, and as Jeff also remarked, was a great place to see a live show. Better yet, my wife and I were sheltered on the walk from the car from any of the sadder or scarier aspects of the neighbourhood: Erika usually won't even come to shows on East Hastings, since she finds it really upsetting to see people shooting up in doorways, and I was once violently side-checked into a tree by a passing, raging street person in the grips of, uh, what's the euphemism these days, "emotional elevation?" Living insulated out in the suburbs, you get un-used to that sort of thing, making it even more upsetting than when you actually live in that neighbourhood, or regularly walk through it...

...But there was none of that really intense bad weirdness last night - just a few disenfranchised people socializing on the sidewalk or trying to sell things on blankets spread thereon. In fact, the only real weirdness of the night came from a dressy young woman, inside the Black Lab, repeatedly gushing over how "cool" my wife and I were for being there, telling us how we shouldn't change anything at all about ourselves (which, aside from wanting to lose some weight, we hadn't really been planning on doing, making her advising us not to seem a little odd). "I'm serious, don't change anything!"

Uh, thanks!

I mean, sure, we stood out - we probably have more debt, a bigger apartment, and straighter jobs than 90% of the people in the room, and, I mean, we were also the only married couple visible, the two heaviest people there, and two of maybe three people over the age of 40, since, a skinny dude in an Alien Boys t-shirt aside, the audience was mostly filled with a combination of arty musician-types in their 20's (maybe that's what punks look like these days? I don't know anymore). Are Erika and I now middleclass? I guess so, though that feels increasingly like what my parent's generation knew as "working class" - it ain't like we're going on any vacations abroad, folks. Did we make this girl uncomfortable? Was her gushing on us her way of dealing with that? ...We speculated about it afterwards. It seemed friendly, though, and kind of amusing, with maybe only a slight subtext of condescending.

However: great venue, great show, and like I say, being strangely gushed on is not the worst thing that can happen in that 'hood. Fun to peruse the graffiti (ample) and to see creative design elements like a shelf held up by the legs of a mannequin, which may have been secretly positioned so that anyone with their arm hanging over the edge of the shelf looked like they were reaching for the crotch (points to Erika for spotting that, when Jeff was leaning there. We didn't get a picture, though). There was a colourful 'zine library of punk, political, queer, and arty mags, for reading while you were in the venue, including Mongrel 'Zine, whom I wrote for briefly. Also, Elliot of Freak Dream (and formerly the Rebel Spell) was one of the people working, though I didn't trust that I recognized him at first and ended up feeling a bit stupid when I asked if he was, in fact, Elliot. We've mostly just interacted online for the last year or two, what can I say? (My interview with him about Freak Dream is here).

Noelle - one of the people behind the scenes - was on hand to explain a bit of the predilection punks have these days for cassette culture (which would require me to buy another piece of stereo equipment to participate in, which I have no plans on doing, thanks: thrift store cassette players are very often dodgy, and there's simply no room in the stereo cabinet for another console, all parts of which have also, note, been sourced from thrift stores). I have intentions, once I clear a few projects, to write about her band, Chaos, Disorder and Panic, get some of her stories about Todd Serious in print, and explore her insights into the city's politics and music scene, which I'm curious about, because, hey, indeed, my way of life is probably pretty remote from hers (but don't go changing, Noelle!).

Incidentally, about that one dude in the venue noticeably older than Erika or myself: it was kinda fun to remember that when I poked my exhausted nose into the Rickshaw to catch a few songs from the Adicts' spectacular set last year, I mused on Facebook that some of the kids present must have wondered who the "old guy in the Alien Boys t-shirt" was. I wasn't wearing that shirt last night, but the gaunt fella in his 60's (I'm guessing), who danced so expressively all night, was wearing that shirt, and I caught myself wondering about him who he was, then realized that... well, you get the idea. I was participating in the same mindset that I imagined directed at me that previous night. No one gushed on him, that I could see (don't change anything, old guy!), but his dancing became part of the night; loose-jointed and supple, he seemed like a jangly marionette with a superb sense of timing.

The music was uniformly great, too. I shot some video of Spencer Jo and Jeff Andrew (covering the Rebel Spell), and you can see the dancer dancing in both (one of several people who took the floor that night, I should add). I wish I'd recorded Spencer's song about class privilege - the punkiest song of the night, in terms of the ferocity of his strumming; I gather both he and Jeff will be working on new albums this spring, with Spencer flying in from Calgary, I guess, and I'm excited about both of those, though I don't really know Spencer or his other project, the River Jacks, at all (or Calgary's Martyr Index, whom Spencer covered at one point).

Spencer Jo by Allan MacInnis

I did not get any vids of Mary Matheson, but Erika and I loved her set and bought her CD. She started with a cover of Jolie Holland's "Old Fashioned Morphine," also on Mary's CDMaryonette; later, she would do a pretty awesome cover of "I Put a Spell On You," which she introduced as a Nina Simone song (it's originally by Screamin' Jay Hawkins), and another of "Heartattack and Vine," a fantastic mid-period Tom Waits song, from just before he started to go "out there," musically. She also does "Fumblin' with the Blues" on Maryonette, which makes me wonder why she opts for older Waits songs, since I think that period of his music is not so widely known among his younger fans, despite some great tunes throughout. That's part of what I was chatting about with Jeff and Conrad, actually: whether any of the sort of folk/ blues/ swing/ oldtimey revival among punks would be happening without Tom Waits. Conrad agreed that it wouldn't be. Cool that Mary has the cojones - or whatever the girl equivalent is - to actually interpret songs like these, not just cover them. It is entirely possible that she did "Fumblin' with the Blues" in her set, and I failed to clue in, since I haven't owned The Heart of Saturday Night in some years.

Mary Matheson by Allan MacInnis

With covers as fun as that, it's neat to note that the strongest songs of Mary's set were Mary's own, like "Damn Blue Eyes.' She probably did her whole EP during the course of the night, I kinda lost track. I had known of Mary's photography before last night, and pictures she took have elevated some of my interviews with Jeff Andrew, like this one, but I hadn't heard her sing before. She was amazing. A ton of enthusiasm in her delivery, and a really fun fashion sense, including the best hat of the night, and illustrated leggings (which apparently she's had for ten years, my wife learned afterwards) that compliment her tattoos in such a way that you end up wondering if the leggings are transparent and you're seeing her tats through them, or if the pictures - hot air balloons? - are in fact on the leggings, which, as I say, they are!

Erika also really liked the bumblebee patch on the back of the jean jacket of the girl who sang a song or two with Spencer Jo (whose Bandcamp page is here, by the by), and was really impressed by Jeff Andrew's keyboard player, Adam Farnsworth, who was expressive in his playing indeed, and whom we've probably seen before with Joey Only. I was glad she had a great night, was glad I had a great night, and have added the Black Lab to my list of places where I like to see shows.

Don't go changin', Black Lab! (See you again soon).

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Strange Dreams of David Yow

So I don't remember all of this dream, and can't make sense of it. But it was unsettling enough to wake me up at 4am. Almost what you might call a nightmare. Welcome to my subconscious mind, folks.

In the dream, I am visiting my father (who in the dream is very much alive, unlike in real life) in an apartment (apparently mine, because my stuff is in it, but it's not my actual home, more on which below). Not sure where my mother is in this scenario tho' she's apparently alive too. I've had a bad day at work, apparently, but I forget now what's happened. I think, in fact, that the apartment is supposed to be mine, because my stuff is in it, my movie posters and DVDs and books and such. One of the posters is for a film called Great Balls of Fire, about the life of Jerry Lee Lewis, and I've been watching that film for the first time that night, except the film I'm watching stars Nick Nolte and Jessica Lange, neither of whom, as far as I know, are in Great Balls of Fire, which I know full well in the waking world, but apparently not in the dream. It's not a very good movie, it turns out.

Anyhow, somehow, after I'm watching that movie alone, I am sitting and talking with my father, when David Yow shows up (I have a big interview with him in Big Takeover at present, in real life.). I'm hurt, offended, confused, because he hasn't replied to an email I sent him, but here he is in the dream, visiting my Dad, whom he had met when I was interviewing him (but not really. The only person I have interviewed that my Dad had any interaction with was Eugene Chadbourne, who signed a DVD to my Dad, once, at my request, since my Dad was sick and Eugene is a nice guy. He never actually met my Dad, tho'. All that part is true, and may even have some sort of role in the dream, since - see below - Eugene is coming to town... but my father was long dead by the time I was meeting David Yow).

But back to the dream: emotionally bruised, I'm sitting between my Dad and David Yow on the couch, and asking Yow, "Whattaya mean, you'll visit my father but not me?" I say to him. "What, do you like him more than me?"

"No secret there!" he blurts back, then tells me to check the news, so I do, scrolling through my phone. It's all over the news that, in disgust with his country, David Yow has become a Canadian.

I give him a "wow, congratulations," kinda comment or two than go back to expressing my surprise that he hasn't been in touch with me (which is also true, but what the hell, the interview was last year). I get all hurt and angry with him and tell him to go fuck himself, and he tells me something back - turns out he'd rather hang out with my father anyway.

Fine, I can tell when I'm not wanted. In a huff, I leave them to it. I step out the front door and it turns out to get out of the apartment I have to navigate along a narrow ledge, kinda like, what was it, Robert Hays in one of the Creepshow movies? Or Cat's Eye? Whatever movie it was - I actually can't remember but it's a real movie, some kinda Stephen King anthology flick - where a guy is forced to sidle along a ledge outside a building, pigeons pecking at his ankles, and come back in, having circumnavigated the building at the risk of falling to his death in the streets below. Below me, though, it seems like some hellish inferno, not city streets, but to get to the exit, this is what I must go across. David Yow and I should some parting barbs at each other, and I can hear Yow talking happily with my Dad, making observations that Great Balls of Fire was not a very good movie. And I'm thinking, well, it's cool that David Yow will see all my stuff, but he's right, that poster shouldn't be on my wall, people will think I like the movie and in fact, I don't.

My dream-brain flickers with some memories about how I came to have the poster on my wall, involving a friend giving it to me or my finding it cheap or something, but even if they are exculpatory of my dream self, justify my having a poster for a crap movie up there, in truth, they're not real memories, since a) the poster for the movie is not the actual poster for Great Balls of Fire, looks nothing like it - looks more like the poster for another movie with Jessica Lange (but no Nick Nolte) called Sweet Dreams, about Patsy Cline; b) I have seen neither of these films in real life; and c) I do not have the poster for either of these films in real life, let alone on the wall of my apartment (which, I should also add, is no apartment I've ever actually lived in, is not laid out like any real place I've been at all). Why is this mis-remembered movie that I haven't seen a feature in the dream, complete with false memories of how I came to have it (framed, no less)?

I can't say, but in my dream I have some dream-justifications that seem to satisfy me. 

In fact, I've been reading a rock bio, of Ice-T, and enjoying it, and contemplating which rock bio I will read next - maybe the Keith Richards bio that Billy Hopeless gave me? - and both of these movies are rock bios, but... neither of them are films I care about or have thought about, ever. Maybe it's related to my music journalism?

Anyhow, self-conscious that David Yow will judge me for my poster for a movie that I hadn't seen when I put it up, and hurt that he's fallen out of touch (but kinda happy that he's hanging out with my Dad, since he seems like a neat guy), I circumnavigate the pits of hell on this ledge, and arrive at the exit of the building, and make my way to - what, the building where I live now, which does resemble (in the hall and elevator) a building my parents lived in when they moved out of my childhood home. I think that I am supposed to be going home to my wife, though since the dream (or at least this portion of the dream, given the building) appears to be set in the 1990's, I wasn't actually married then, so I'm not sure who that wife was supposed to be. But there is a cute neighbour in the elevator, and I hit on her, making an excuse that I'm stoned. She is flattered and blushes and smiles but declines. I wake up feeling guilty, beside my (actual) wife (and actually a bit stoned, still, since I took a puff on my vape pen earlier in the evening, which might be why I'm having nightmares; I haven't had any in quite awhile, but I felt kinda crap after work yesterday, and didn't want to feel that way).

Awake, disturbed by my own dreams, I check my phone. It's 4am. But I need to pee, and I've gotta write this down.

Now that I've written it down, I gotta pee again.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Preoccupied, but...

Eugene Chadbourne and in 2005 at the Western Front, photo by Dan Kibke, I think! (Look how brown my beard was!). 

I will be away from this blog doing other things, including some actual writing.

There's an excellent article by Grant Lawrence on the insane way property taxes are calculated and charged to the small businesses who rent spaces in Vancouver.

The Red Gate Arts Society have a related petition on their website.

Cass King and the Cassettes have an album release party this Thursday at the Fox.

And a February show has been announced where (the great) Eugene Chadbourne will share a bill with Stephen Hamm, Theremin Man!

There are also a few other February gigs in the States for Doc Chad, if you're a fan, and probably an island show (and maybe even a couple other BC shows). Eugene will be playing February 13th in Oregon at a club called Turn Turn Turn, and February 16th, in Seattle, at Gallery 1412.

That's all I got for now. Have fun.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Bowie Ball 5: a maximal, crowd-pleasing party at the Rickshaw

All photos by Bob Hanham, not to be reused without permission

NOW WITH ADDED CORRECTIONS! (Facebook friends weighed in)

In case you weren't there, apparently over $10,000 to fight cancer was raised at the Rickshaw at Saturday's 5th annual Bowie Ball. Seventeen bands performed, with emcee duties from Dennis Mills and Tony Lee. The show was huge - as sprawling as the first Bowie Ball, if perhaps a little smoother in transition between bands - with a very full house (which thinned out towards the end of the night, which was a shame, since one of the highlights came in the final set). There was too much to take in, too much to possibly review fairly, but the main observations that I came away with were:

People really opted for the "crowd pleaser" side of Bowie, with plenty of Serious Moonlight-type songs given flamboyant expression, usually by larger bands (more than one unit ran to nine members, inspiring a restaurant joke from Tony Lee, that with nine you got free eggrolls and miso soup). The artier, weirder, more demanding side of Bowie was mostly absent, with (I do believe) only the Blackstar Band touching on Bowie's final album (one member was wearing a Freak Dream shirt, so it's no surprise they had an ambitious, experimental edge). I admit to kinda preferring the hits of Bowie myself, but it was a bit odd that some crowd-pleasers appeared more than once ("Wild is the Wind" was sung by both Cass King and the Cassettes and Rong; Cass - who I wrote about at length here - was energetic but not the scene stealer she was for BB1). All the while, odder (but well-known) later songs like "Ashes to Ashes" or even "Andy Warhol" were skipped altogether; and pretty much no one did small-scale, acousticky things, which would have been welcome, especially between larger acts, in the name of variety. It was kind of an all-dance-party-all-the-time night, which I guess is understandable, and maybe even preferable, if you want to dance... if not entirely true to Bowie's own varied self-presentations...

Tony Lee and Dennis Mills by Bob Hanham

Cass King and the Cassettes by Bob Hanham

Another observation: Many of the bands that performed that I had seen doing their own material, elsewhere, seemed (oddly enough) less exciting when they were doing Bowie covers.This is not always the case with covers; it's my opinion that a really good cover should both deliver the energy and vitality of the original AND connect with the spirit of the band in question. When it comes, say, to the work of David M., whose past "small salutes" to David Bowie I have posted bits of here, here, and (outside the first Bowie Ball) here, it is often hard to tell, if you don't already know, whether the songs he plays are his own or covers, since he chooses covers that really fit his own style, and delivers both kinds of songs with equal verve and conviction, making the covers his own. I would just as soon see him do "The Laughing Gnome" as (his own) "I'm Not Taking Suzy to the Be-In;" in fact. It's a lesser Bowie tune, maybe, while the latter is one of NO FUN's (sorta) hits, but in his hands, they're kinda equal. 

David M. by Bob Hanham

By the way, M. performed six songs in front of the Rickshaw, guerilla-style, before the show again on Saturday. Eventually he was asked to shut'er down; he'd had Mo and Dave's blessing, but apparently the security guards couldn't hear each other over his set. He waited around no less to give me a Christmas gift of William Shatner Christmas tunes (Shatner Claus, and it's no Has Been, I tellya, unless you really want to hear Henry Rollins sing "Jingle Bells"). He also gave Erika the full length Muppet Christmas Carol. When Erika and I arrived, he told us he'd also been invited to play a pre-concert thing which no one, apparently, knew about or attended. Happy New Year, M.

The Campfire Shitkickers, by Bob Hanham

But to return to my point - to pick on one band, but only one, by way of example - while I actually really enjoy them, the Campfire Shitkickers are, in fact, much better, much more convincing at playing Campfire Shitkickers songs than Bowie ones. They were still plenty of fun - I mean, "Fame" scored for mandolin, guitar, drums and two basses? What's not to like? ...and their stand-up bassist deserves some sort of mention for having an Iron Maiden shirt on: playing a rockabilly instrument in a folk punk band while covering Bowie and wearing a metal shirt covers so many musical bases it ain't funny. But from the moment they started their set, with "Let's Dance" - which apparently segued at one point into "Magic Dance", one of which the singer quipped was the "fucking best worst David Bowie song" -  I was thinking back to seeing them at the Flamingo in Surrey, opening for China Syndrome and Circus in Flames. They were even MORE fun that night. I was looking forward to seeing them again, since both my wife and I really enjoyed their goofy, ribald take on folk - and I may even snag their CD! - but for me, seeing them cover Bowie was, I dunno, like seeing the Pogues cover Elvis. Wouldn't you just rather the Pogues be the Pogues?

In fact, I was much, much more amused by hearing the head Shitkicker in the men's room upstairs, as I peed in a stall, lead a rowsing chorus of "What do you do with a drunken sailor" with his urinal mates, then remarking on the no-longer socially acceptable variant on the lyric, "What do you do with a drunken girl?" That was much, much truer to the rude and rowdy spirit of the Campfire Shitkickers than "Let's Dance." As Dennis Mills quipped at one point, "if you're campfire shit, you better look out, because you're gonna get kicked."

Abel Collective by Bob Hanham

Of the people who opted for more obscure Bowie covers, the tendency seemed to be to go for early Bowie. No one touched "The Laughing Gnome," sadly, but the Abel Collective did, for instance, "Silly Boy Blue," a song I had not heard before. While I enjoyed their take on other, better known Bowie ("Absolute Beginners," say), "Silly Boy Blue" didn't really work for me: for a band you have not heard before to succeed at impressing you with a song you have not heard before, they either gotta pick a really great song - one notable for something other than its obscurity, which I'm thinkin' may not be this one - or they really, really have to own it, package it, and sell it. It must be a tough feat, when you're only playing two or three tunes in a night, to get there, which may explain why there were so few lesser-known tunes presented...

Danny Echo by Bob Hanham

And to get my criticisms off my chest early, Danny Echo had similar trouble with their take on "Ricochet," a lesser Bowie tune that just didn't really gel for me. The sum of its parts didn't add up to a coherent whole - though it's hard to tell if that's on Danny Echo or David Bowie; I don't always get where Bowie is coming from, to be honest. In fairness, tho', the band themselves admitted to more comfort covering the Who's "I Can't Explain" and Them's "Here Comes the Night," both of which Bowie had also, at some point, covered. I enjoyed their goofy, bubbly, but enthusiastic reading of the latter tune best. (I am humbled to see they shared this post despite my being critical of 1/3 of their set).

On the other hand, to return to the theme of covering lesser-known early Bowie - the prize for selling a lesser-known Bowie song goes unequivocally to the Vanrays, whom I interviewed awhile back, for digging up and completely inhabiting a song called "I Pity the Fool" - no Mr. T reference intended. The song has a long history that pre-dates Bowie doing it. Prior to this writing, I had no idea what the Bowie version sounded like, but the Vanrays made the song sound just like a Vanrays original, with vocalist Spencer McKinnon delivering an amped up soulfulness that was one of the night's high points. The Vanrays also totally claimed "It Ain't Easy" - a fantastic combo in fine form.

The Vanrays by Bob Hanham

If the Vanrays won the prize for making Bowie sound the most like the Vanrays, the Pack AD managed to completely confuse me with how little the songs they chose or the performance they delivered reminded me of anything about the Pack AD as I thought I knew them. Nowhere to be seen was the fearsome female duo that struck me, when I saw them maybe ten years ago at a Mint Records event, as a black-clad all-female Gun Club, playing compelling, energetic, stripped-down garage punk blues. If that is still in any way their identity, their brand, their sound, I could not see or hear a lick of it in their take on "The Man Who Sold The World" and "Heroes." They've even added a member, at least temporarily; Mo Tarmohamed - who thought they did a killer job - imported the bassist from Landline for the "The Man Who Sold the World." If you're not sure what I'm talking about here, the difference in sound, check out this very typical, very entertaining earlier single. I had been expecting something in this vein!

 All of that's fair game, but was very distracting to someone who was unprepared for it. It made me wonder if they decided their former identity was too constricting and ditched it?

The Pack AD by Bob Hanham

Friends of mine were of different minds about the Pack AD's performance, and one even picked it as one of the night's best, but none of them had seen the previous incarnation of the band, nor had anyone else I asked about them, later on, as I was trying to make sense of their apparent sea change. I don't know that I *could* evaluate the quality of their covers, because I just couldn't get over how different they seemed from the band I remembered....

China Syndrome by Bob Hanham

China Syndrome - who are in the act of switching out guitarist Vern Beamish, absent last night, but not yet blessed with a permanent replacement - also sounded remarkably different from the band I knew previously, with a temporary guitarist filling in for Beamish (Mark Richardson of what Tim Chan described as a "local symphonic metal band," Ophelia Falling). Richardson (below) was much, much more inclined to rock the fuck OUT, but the change really worked in the context of the ball, as did the addition of CLONE/ Coach StrobCam vocalist Rachel Strobl and percussionist Tony Lee. Check out this clip of "Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)." Don't misunderstand me - Beamish is a hell of a player, a smart collaborator for Chan, and probably a really interesting composer in his own right - you can see him with China Syndrome covering "Ashes to Ashes" at a past Bowie ball, here; and when the two of them really lock into each other, they have amazing chemistry; but he is seems much more serious, mathy and introverted, live, than Tim Chan or bassist Mike Chang, who approach the stage with a lovable, totally sincere, competely-engaged glee; based on the other night, it will be interesting to see where they go with whoever ends up their full-time replacement, because with Richardson, they were a different beast altogether.

Tim Chan points out that one of China Syndrome's songs was "a relatively recent deep cut, 'You Will Set the World on Fire' from his 2013 album The Next Day. I can think of only Joseph Blood who has covered something from that album at the Bowie Ball." I also don't know that album, don't know that song, but like I say, the first time I hear a song I don't know, played live, it's really hard for me to form a secure impression of it! Overall it seemed like China Syndrome were stepping up their game, trying for the next level: it worked.

Mark Richardson by Bob Hanham

Another band that did a great job of (apparently) expressing their own identity through Bowie was the aforementioned Rong. I don't know what they sound like, on their own terms, actually - had not heard them at all before last night - but I know "Life on Mars" well, and loved what they did with it, rephrasing the song's 70's quasi-folkiness as early 80's New Wave/ power pop with maybe a hint of hair metal.  I balked at first but grew to love it, and was completely on board for their reading of "Starman," which kinda conveyed that Bowie really had meant something to them, even though they appeared to be one of the younger bands on the bill. The female vocalist - Aaron Chapman tells me she's one Kristy-Lee Audette - did indeed show up on trumpet with Rawk Lobster (who were weirdly lacking Betty Bathory). Rawk Lobster were maybe the silliest band the evening boasted, featuring one player decked up in a Christmas-light festooned GWAR-type costume. For a lot of people, that seemed to be where the evening peaked, because the Rickshaw was notably thinner for the final few bands after them.

Rong by Bob Hanham

Rawk Lobster by Bob Hanham

Rawk Lobster got points for the wittiest stage banter, courtesy of Aaron Chapman - whom I'd write about more often, except these days, I read slowly and seldom, and he tends to write books, rather than do things that I can take in in one brief sitting. (His new one is called Vancouver After Dark). Chapman wore a military style costume that channeled Bowie's in Oshima's Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, which reference I didn't twig to at all - I wondered if it had to do with the Australian fires! - until he actually said on mike, "Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, wherever you are," riffing on Jimmy Durante's signature line, "Good night, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are." Not many people can combine references to Japanese cinema, David Bowie, and Jimmy Durante in one turn of phrase.

Rawk Lobster by Bob Hanham

Rawk Lobster pushed the whole big-band-crowd-pleaser aspect of the night to the furthest, with "Dancin' in the Street" and "Young Americans" in their set, with Bowie Ball vet Orchard Pinkish (above) taking the vocal for the latter. Maximal, unsubtle, and as I say, a very frequently represented side of Bowie, last night, but shamelessly entertaining, and a helluva dance party if that's what you had come for. "Under Pressure," their final tune, seemed a bit more serious, and they invited Betty to the stage for it, dedicating it to her, but she didn't materialize.

Costume contest, by Bob Hanham

The band most present while being totally absent, meanwhile, was EddyD and the Sex Bombs, whom I'd interviewed in the run up to Bowie Ball 1, and whose big-band soulful take on, I think "Sound and Vision," was one of the highlights of that night. A few members of that band appeared in other combos on Saturday, and the spirit of their delivery very much informed acts like Rebel Valentine (who boasted the best dancing trumpet player) and Preston & Fletcher, with Shelley Preston and Scott Fletcher, I believe, in all three of those bands. Bob Petterson was at least in Rebel Valentine, but might have appeared in other bands, too...

Bob Petterson by Bob Hanham

Preston & Fletcher by Bob Hanham

Shelley Preston had wowed me the other week doing fun covers of 80's pop (Blondie, Pretenders, that sorta thing) when opening for the Frank Frink Five; she wowed me again last night. Preston &  Fletcher gave a spectacular reading of "Space Oddity," which, alas, is not the song of theirs I caught on video ("Changes," also good, but not scaling the peak of "Space Oddity"). Anyhow, both these bands and their tendency for big-band crowd-pleasers put Eddy D. in mind, even though he didn't perform and may not have even been there.

Preston & Fletcher by Bob Hanham

What else? I enjoyed seeing Mellow Friesen fronting a band made up (I gather) largely of vets from Roots Roundup, called Mel's Rock Pile, which I had to remind myself was not a Nick Lowe/ Dave Edmunds reference but an SCTV one. They did "Look Back in Anger" and "Station to Station" (with lyrics about "the return of the thin white duke") and a song I think David M. told me was called "Stay," which, he elaborated from his seat beside me, is exactly the same song as the dance mix of "John I'm Only Dancing," but with different lyrics. (I'll have to take his word for it; he's made similar observations about "Boys" and "Fantastic Voyage," I think it was). Mellow - whom I'd last seen fronting the Little Guitar Army in Maple Ridge - dressed in an elaborate red costume and mask; she was also doing Aladdin Sane-type face painting in the lobby, as she's apparently done for all of the Bowie Balls. She was one of the more visually striking performers of the evening (I briefly wondered if it was Shelley Preston again, but eventually figured it out).

 Mel's Rock Pile by Bob Hanham

The Eleven Twelves offered a funny bit of stage patter themselves, about how they'd randomly ended up choosing three songs off the same album - tracks five, six, and seven off Ziggy Stardust, if I've got this right - for a previous Bowie Ball, so followed up the other night with "eight nine and ten" ("Hang On to Yourself," "Ziggy Stardust," and "Suffragette City"), meaning we were hearing "eight nine and ten by the Eleven Twelves." Punky and energetic covers, though I didn't get much of a sense of what their own identity might be. Great set, though.

Dave Bowes by Bob Hanham

There were lots of other little between-set entertainments, from Dennis Mills and Tony Lee riffing off each other to a silent auction, introduced by event organizer Dave Bowes, for a set of David Bowie picture-disc 7 inch singles, which ended up going for a mere $130. I am assuming this is the 1982 collection known as "David Bowie Fashions;" the complete set starts on Discogs for about 65 pounds, it looks like, which, with shipping, is probably pretty much exactly that price. There was also a funny moment late in the night where Brian Minato of the SLIP~ons asked the audience if he looked, to them, like Tony Lee, chiding them a little...

Brian and Tony by Bob Hanham

I can assure Brian, lest he fear this is down to some racist laziness of the "they-all-look-the-same" variety, that I have been mistaken for a several overweight dark haired white guys in my time, including Ty Stranglehold, Geoff Barton, Alex Varty, and Chris Hansen from Aging Youth Gang, back when I had long hair (and my ESL students were taken to calling me "Hagrid," though none of them thought I was Robbie Coltrane). By the way, I assume from their names that Brian is of Japanese descent while Tony is Chinese. If you're confident in your ability to determine what Asian country someone's family hails from, you should try this test. (You should also know that if you're on the verge of giving up, I tried this with a class of Japanese students when I taught there, and one of my very worst students, in terms of English language skills - a soccer-playing teen named Kikuchi, who is probably nearing 40 by now - got every single one right, prompting oohs and ahhs from his peers. So it can be done!).

By the way, Tony: my wife was really taken with your (no doubt unintentional) belly-button peekaboo thing for your final costume, exclaiming "It's the cutest bellybutton I've seen other than a baby's!"

Daddy Issues by Bob Hanham

Other high points: I really loved how Betty Bathory and Daddy Issues (sadly lacking Murray Acton this time out) got political and pissed off with "I'm Afraid of Americans" which made their subsequent reading of "Five Years" into something apocalyptic and grim. (As you might expect, for the fifth annual Bowie Ball, "Five Years" got covered by more than one band, too - Preston and Fletcher had done it, earlier). No one else had attempted to use Bowie to reach out to something larger than the evening's entertainments, so that was interesting and relevant and resonant (I'm afraid of Americans too, especially now). Betty was compelling and fearsome and very much herself up there. She got me scratching my head by doing the Pixies' "Cactus," because I'd never realized Bowie had covered it, but it was "I'm Afraid of Americans" and "Five Years" that really packed the punch.

Daddy Issues by Bob Hanham

I'm under the impression Betty has (past?) associations with horror-themed burlesque, tho' I've only ever seen her as a singer; but the burlesque contingent was well-represented last night by Rebel Valentine, whose singer slipped out of her sequined green dress for "Oh! You Pretty Things" to something golden and shimmery for "Golden Years" to a slight black skirt and shirt over minimal Alladin Sane pasties for "Modern Love." Good thing Pill Squad wasn't around to see it! Again, I am unsure if Rebel is the band or the person but it was impressive and seemed appropriately chameleon-like - given that that is the reptile most frequently named in regard to Mr. Bowie - for her to have three different costumes for three different songs.

Rebel Valentine by Bob Hanham

There were other costumes, and best costume prizes, during the night, but I can't do them justice. By far the most fun point of the evening - at the very end, to a markedly thinned out crowd - was seeing the SLIP~ons do "Diamond Dogs." There was some weird energy in the run-up to their set that I didn't fully understand - there was a lot of fussing with cables and an incongruously tense-seeming Brock apologizing for needing lyrics on a stand for that song (and glasses to read'em!) but jeez, Brock, those are some very non-intuitive lyrics: we get it! Bowie, I gather, was using the Burroughs/ Gysin cut-up method when he wrote the words to that tune. Between the mysterious lyrics and the crotch-pumping thrust of the music, it's a fascinating, mysterious, and crazily compelling song - way up there in terms of Bowie's accomplishments, by me. I'd had a clue that they were going to be doing it, and by damn, it was every bit as magical as I'd hoped. They had done one of the best songs I saw at a past Keithmas, too, delivering a superb "Tumblin' Dice," which made the most of their ebullient, ramshackle rock swagger. I missed catching video of that tune, that night, so made sure to get all three of the songs they played yesterday, in case one stood out (they also did "The Jean Genie" and a final-song-of-the-night, the perfectly-chosen "All The Young Dudes," tho' I haven't posted them). They've got a new 7" out there, and a set of fearsome originals that makes perfect sense in the light of the songs they pick to cover. One of Vancouver's very best rock bands right now.

SLIP~ons by Bob Hanham

I mean, it's all more than one man can write about and hope to do justice to, but it was a fun night - a huge sonic meal for a good cause. Near the end of the evening, Dennis Mills got the crowd chanting "Mo! Mo! Mo!," referring to the Rickshaw as "the house that Mo built." He made a fun co-MC. Not sure why Tony kept identifying him as Les Goodman. I think it's Aaron Chapman who has pointed me this way for clarification but now I'm just confused if Dennis Mills and Les Goodman are the same person, or if Dennis Mills was putting on Les' persona.

I'm skimming my notes - which I spent the evening text-messaging to myself, in lieu of dancing, and see only one other observation worth mentioning, that late in the proceedings, there were women chuckling as they passed the lineup for the men's room, which for once was longer than the lineup they were encountering down the hall: "This never happens!" It must be down to greater alcohol consumption on the part of the males?

While waiting to pee, I bullshitted a bit in line with a guy in a SLIP~ons t-shirt. I had never seen a SLIP~ons t-shirt before.

I want one.

SLIP~ons by Bob Hanham
Thanks to Tim Chan, the SLIP~ons, Mo Tarmohamed, Dave Bowes, Norah Holtby and anyone else workin' behind the scenes to make this night what it was. And thanks to Bob Hanham for turning me loose on his photos (wayyyy bettern' mine!). Thanks to Aaron, Mo, Mutti von Freida and anyone else who provided points of clarification. And note the comment below: David M. is doing his Small Salute to David Bowie, AKA, "David's Bowie," at the Princeton on January 20th, maybe with some other Paul Leahy-themed additions. I've caught variants on this show multiple times and recommend it. Generally there's no cover, and often David gives away frameable posters of the shows he does to people who come to them. They're really fun, and like I say, "The Laughing Gnome" is wayyy better than the Bowie version!