Sunday, November 27, 2022

Dayglo Abortions at the Biltmore vs. Invasives at Buddha's: Who Wears Patchouli to a Punk Show?

Part One: Dayglo Abortions (with Barbarians, the Golers, and the Gnar Gnars), Nov. 25 2022

Unbelievably, I has been almost ten years since I was last at the Biltmore Cabaret. One of two shows was going on, that night; I do not recall which show it was, but both happened in close enough proximity to each other that they shared a gig poster, so I can definitely say it was in 2013, and either Pere Ubu or Lee Ranaldo was playing. Both shows were memorable in different ways; my favourite memory of Ubu was my friend Judith Beeman, having read David Thomas telling me that he signs everything with an incomprehensible squiggle, demanding at the merch table that Thomas print his name in block letters in The Book of Hieroglyphs that she was buying, which he did, no doubt smirking - but she won, is the point! I am actually not sure of how much of that I saw and how much of it I heard about afterwards, but Beeman besting (and amusing) the sometimes rather daunting David Thomas was really fun to contemplate. At the merch table for Lee, meanwhile, I got to very briefly chat with Steve Shelley about his time in the Crucifucks, though all he really mentioned was that the Doc Dart depicted in the article in Vice ("The Troublemaker") was unrecognizable as the Doc Dart he knew (Dart will no longer even say the name of his old band, apparently, referring to them as the "Christmas folks"). That and dancin' to Lee's unexpected cover of Neil Young's "Revolution Blues" (and getting stuff signed) were all high points of that show...

But I've never been wild about the sight lines for the Biltmore, and for a long time they didn't seem to be having many shows, AND there was COVID and my own unrelated health issues, so it's been awhile since I've been there. In the interim, the sound at the Biltmore sure seems to have gone downhill, or at least it had on Friday, when I went to see the Dayglo Abortions. It just sounded too quiet for a punk gig, for one thing - maybe because of noise laws in the neighbourhood, or such, but it wasn't that loud even right up front; it also seemed oddly muffled from several spots in the room, the sound fuzzier and less distinct than I recall the sound at the Biltmore having been before. I was also somewhat restless, not really feeling in the mood for the Golers' proficient, deranged class-warfare thrash or the Gnar Gnars' cheerfully lowbrow silliness (they seem to have a song about fucking their cat, for instance, which includes reassurances - if I understood correctly - that their dicks are too tiny to actually damage the kitty). I have enjoyed both bands in other contexts but I wasn't even sure I was in the mood to see the Dayglos, truth be known... it's been a long week... if I hadn't paid for a ticket, I probably would have stayed home. 

But that's just me, not a comment on the show. Am I even a punk, these days? Was I ever? I feel compelled to observe, to know what's going on, to try to document it a little - and I really do enjoy listening to Hate Speech, which I hold as a great Dayglos album, but I sure didn't feel like I was participating very deeply or enthusiastically last night. Certainly OTHER people seemed to be enjoying themselves!

The crowd was game and fearless in the mosh pit, which I tried to stay well away from, and people were singing along and regaling the bands gamely between songs (someone shouted at Murray as he stooped to adjust his wires, "Pull up your pants!"). It was interesting, too, to overhear a girl standing next to me remark to her friends, as Marc's kit was being set up, "Is the drummer for the Dayglo Abortions blind? That's so cool!" (I may do something on him in the near future, in regard to his Isolated Earthlings side-project, which just dropped on bandcamp this weekend!). 

There were other weird notes, including someone falling over in the grips of a health issue right outside the doors, smashing into the sidewalk and not regaining consciousness by the time 911 was confirmed to be on the way. She'd walked right by me while one of the security guards was checking my bag; the guard had refused to let me bring in a half-finished 500 ml bottle of Coke, so I was downing it joylessly on the sidewalk to the side of the doors, impatient to get in, when she just toppled over, too suddenly for anyone to react in time to break her fall. I think I overheard someone muttering that it would be good to give her naloxone just in case ("it can't hurt"), which I gather was done, but I heard later (actually the next day - I'm editing this on Saturday night) that in fact she'd had an aneurism and did not make it. Which is startling and horrible and must be very hard to process - she was a young, healthy looking woman, cut down in her prime. I really didn't know what to do last night and feel less sure how to write about it now. The people she was with, her family and such must be devastated. But - though you feel like you should be able to do something in a situation like that, standing there on the sidewalk, I soon realized there was nothing I could have done. The ambulance was on its way and a medic and one of the security people were attending to her, with many other people standing close by, so eventually I just went inside, just as the Barbarians were winding down their kinda 70's-pub-rock set, which I didn't really do even slight justice to. Someone essentially dying right in front of you, even a total stranger, is kind of distracting and unsettling. I eventually just went on with the evening, and am presently going to go on with the writing about it, but - whatever exactly happened - my condolences to the people affected...? (Is there a way to write this that does not feel shockingly inadequate?).    

Anyhow, I got no decent photos of any of the opening bands, sorry to say - the room was pretty dark, for the first few bands at least, though from my photos of the Dayglos, it must have eventually improved...

There were other odd cues through the night, too. Two people I have never seen before and did not recognize at all got into introducing themselves with booming "I know you" declarations, though we never established how (I did not know them, or did not know I knew them, if I did). A girl up front for the Dayglos kind of drew my ire, too, first by whipping around her deadly-weapon dreadlocks, nearly taking out my eyes, then by taking a big drag on her vaper so she could be photographed by her friend while exhaling a giant cloud of white, which this recent cancer patient could not help but inhale, since I was standing right up front with her. There was a bit of this the next night at Buddha's, too, which I hope venues will do something about - this is shit that should not be normalized. People in the pit MIGHT in fact be cancer survivors, and the last thing you want to do when you're a cancer survivor - especially one whose cancer probably correlates to YOUR OWN past as a smoker, which I was for most of my 20's - is breathe other people's cancer-causing fumes. I mean, I can't even smoke POT anymore, and I used to really enjoy a few puffs on my pipe now and then. If I can't smoke the smoke that's gonna soothe ME, why the fuck would I wanna smoke the smoke that's gonna soothe YOU? 

But a few minutes later, she did something even more astonishingly inconsiderate: she climbed over the monitors to rip Murray's set list off the floor when they were about three songs in, so she could look at it herself; I do not presume she replaced it. Like, Murray was still USING that, girl! Time to give up on this human: clearly a lost cause. I just moved away.  

EDIT: Matt Fiorito tells me on FB that whatever setlist she snatched wasn't the Dayglos: "We didn't have one." 

This, however, was not the strangest thing that happened: yet another girl completely floored me by unsubtly coming onto me in a way that has only happened to me with such blatancy twice in my life, previously: she practically sat in my lap where I was quietly checking my phone in the corner, saying something like, "Well, aren't you special?!" The flirtatious intent was not hard to read but I am not practiced at responding to such things. Do I hold up my left hand and say, "Sorry, I'm married?" and thus perhaps invite the wrath of the scorned, clearing her to accuse me of presumptuousness? Do I say, "More special than you realize" in my post-cancer weird-ass voice? (That would have been amusing for me, but would have possibly encouraged her to bounce something back at me, like her move was in some way welcome and I was flirting back). Or do I respond not to her clear intent, but to her words, which seemed superficially to be criticizing me for sitting around checking my cellphone, when I should have been moshing to "Dogfarts?"

That last in fact seemed the option most likely to end the conversation quickly and painlessly, so I played dumb and went with it. "Don't know what you mean - I'm just sitting here minding my own business," emphasizing the latter words to indicate that that was what I wished to continue to do.  

She heard my voice, took a minute to process it, and I think actually responded to my "accent" by saying "You seem to hear pretty well," which I think was her puzzling over how someone who talked like me must surely be deaf (but in which case, how was I hearing her?). No idea what she thought, really. She acknowledged that she would leave me to my own devices, walking away with maybe a slight "hrumpf" to her flounce, to retain her dignity perhaps, which, unless I was just imagining it, prolly made me feel fond of her. Sorry if I shot you down in flames, stranger-girl! I don't get to practice my skills in this department very often! 

Anyhoo, even with mediocre sound, I was made very happy by hearing the Gnar Gnars' do a raunchified version of "Lola" (which got the full house singing along) and to hear the Dayglos do a terrific "Sacks of Meat," which was the new song of theirs that sounded best last night, I thought. I enjoyed Murray's little explanation of it, too, that the band tries to rip off Black Sabbath at least one time on every album, and that "Sacks of Meat" was it on the new one. But mostly the crowd seemed much more into it than I was, singing along with "Proud to Be Canadian" or "Stupid Songs" with great gusto. For me, between the girl collapsing, the dreadlocks nearly blinding me, the unexpected inhalation of tobacco vapor, the chubby girl hitting on me, and the physical shock of being close to a mosh pit again - in a room with no health protocols visible anywhere, no one wearing a mask, nothin' - I was keen to just head home. I missed out on any jam between the Dayglos and the Golers, which would have been fun to see, but... sometimes you gotta just face it that you aren't in the mood (and as you see above, there is another gig in March that I can redeem myself at if I so choose). 

The ultimate effect of the off night was that, on the transit ride home, I felt pretty trepidatious about Saturday at Buddha's, the newest incarnation of the Smilin' Buddha - which gig I just got in from, in fact, since, as I say, I am now tidying this up for my part two, below. There had already been some controversy on Facebook, with Murray and Billy Hopeless rejecting the idea of going back to the venue now that Malcolm, who was the main force behind the SBC Cabaret, is not involved, but my having second thoughts had everything to do with feeling "too old for punk rock," too tired, and not wanting to have to weave my way between tents and keep an eye out for needles on the ground. 

To speak briefly of their apparent boycott of the place, though:  it's nice that Murray and Billy are loyal to their friends, and I'm sure Malcolm DID put some heart and soul into the SBC, but this is no Cobalt situation: Malcolm lost the Buddha in 2019, and it's sat vacant for a very long time. I can't comment on the REASONS he lost the place - though the Straight article on the closure suggests he was running it under a food-primary license, and food-primary is something which the SBC definitely was NOT, so that might have been a factor. (There was also the girl who got dragged out front; that was not the venue's fault, but I gather drew scrutiny to the whole area; thanks to Jorge for correcting me on this point - I'd written she was dragged to death, but am happy to read she in fact survived!). The truth is, its historical import aside, I never had that much of an investment in the SBC Cabaret - did not enjoy the space much, which requires negotiating a very desperate neighbourhood and had a very awkward pit that had curving ramps on either side for skateboarding purposes, which ramps I wiped out on more than once, stepping the wrong way and sliding down. They made the room too narrow and I'm kinda glad they're gone (of course, I'm not a skater, but...). I did see a few memorable shows there, and was glad people like DOA, the Furies, Gerry Hannah. and the Pointed Sticks got to play the venue, which had history for them. And I liked that for a long time, Bev's photos of the crowd, taken there back in the glory days of Vancouver punk, were up on the walls (they no longer are). But I never knew Malcolm, and it's not like the current operators of the space had a hand in edging him out, which feels like pretty old news now. A friend observed tonight that "he had his shot." I dunno - it really just does not feel like my war...

Part Two: Invasives with Rong and Pet Blessings at Buddha's, Nov. 26

So come Saturday, off I go to meet a gig buddy, Adam, at International Village, with a plan to walk to the 100 block of East Hastings down West Pender, which is less intense than Hastings. It's not a bad survival tip if you're coming to Vancouver and going to a gig or restaurant in the DTES or Gastown: plan your route there to avoid the stroll down East Hastings, if you're at all jittery about being in the presence of extreme poverty, addiction, mental illness and misery. It's not that it's unsafe so much that it is so fucking SAD. Truth is, tonight, the rain and cold had cleared the streets a bit, people no doubt huddling in their tents around whatever warmth they could create (I still remember a news story from ten years ago of someone inside a makeshift tent trying to start a fire to stay warm, which accidentally spread to the tent and ended up burning them to death). There was, indeed, a needle with a bared sharp end right by the door, which we stepped around. But as soon as we got inside, I realized that I liked the space a LOT more than the old SBC. It has a much roomier feel, given that there is no longer a ramp along either wall; the indoor graffiti was colourful and pleasant; the light was great, and - I mean, the Biltmore should be ashamed, really - the SOUND WAS FANTASTIC, too. Loud enough, but also much clearer. And while as I say I was dismayed to see the odd indoor vaper, I liked the vibe of the crowd much better. Attempts to photograph the mosh pit did not pay off, but boy, they looked like they were sure enjoying themselves - not the Biltmore's awkward, somewhat forced-seeming, pushin' and shovin', but people just having FUN.

And what a stacked bill... I haven't ever really gotten into Pet Blessings, but their performance was enthusiastic as hell, with the singer sticking around for both other bands and rockin' out for the rest of the night, which was really nice to see (was the drummer in the Jolts, is that where I know him from?). Rong were even stronger, with songs that very quickly sank deep hooks. And Invasives were tight and furious (though sadly they had to cut their set short before "Living Your Life Like It's Somebody Else's," which is my favourite tune by them, if a highly atypical one, ending instead on an incredibly tight, fast song off the second Married to Music CD (I didn't get the title but I shot some vid - that song, plus also "Abstract World," "Free the Leeches," and one Rong song the name of which I did not get, but which Kristy later commented on Facebook was "Moving On.").    

It also turned out to be a very social gig for me. Unlike the Biltmore, where the only people who said hi were the promoter and Matt Fiorito (and Talesha! Sorry, I forgot to mention you in part one!). Adam - said gig buddy, not the Slack brother - and I chatted about our histories with punk - he's a 50-something ol' hardcore fan like me, but has a slightly different orientation, bandwise, having been back east during his formative years, listening to band that toured through Toronto. Then Dave Bowes sat with us and reminisced about that crazy Nomeansno gig in 2009 where the Anza Club got pissed he'd oversold the venue, told him they wouldn't put the show on, and he had to scramble in short order for another place, which ended up being a fuckin' East Indian banquet hall on Kingsway usually used for weddings, the Royale, such that we saw Nomeansno playing a room with a half-dozen-or-so enormous chandeliers and two huge statues of Shiva (as Dave tells it - I don't recall the statues, myself, but will take his word for it). I can still remember dancing to an epic "Self-Pity" that night, and first concocting my theory that the rhyme in "Rags and Bones," "in the belly of the beast/ I shall be released" was in fact describing a moshpit (Rob did not care much for this theory when I asked about it during a subsequent interview, as I recall). Also in Buddha's was at least one member of the old Nomeansno forum, who I think used to post as JTD (a couple of forum members have re-connected with me since that John Wright/ Invasives feature, which is nice - that was a fun ol' forum), plus Tanya, my old editor at the Skinny, was there dancin', and, most delightfully, Vancouver's queen of transgressive burlesque, Betty Bathory herself (we gave each other a couple of big hugs but I was shy to ask for a selfie with her, tho' that woulda been fun. Betty did NOT recognize me at that Bully's show where I went in drag, it turns out... until I took my wig off...!)

I don't know what else I can say about the gig, because mostly - certainly for Invasives, a little bit for Rong - I was just up in front dancing (though not moshing). Also had a lot of fun taking photographs and (shh, don't tell my wife) used the money that Invasives did NOT charge me (thanks, guys!) for a couple of their records to invest in a Rong record, instead, which I'm now really excited to hear. It doesn't drop digitally until February so right now vinyl is the only option; they do an artful, high-energy, slightly poppy punk that I actually was not 100% sold on based on what I'd checked out online, but which - as sometimes happens - blew me away in the live execution: "Aha, THIS is how I'm supposed to listen to this band!" Kristy-Lee told Adam at the merch table that she started playing guitar when she was 12, and he surprised me (he's a bit socially awkward) by following that up with "How old are you now?" But great musicianship, fun, hooky, but sophisticated songs, and a confident, charismatic stage show: you can't ask for more (unless, you know, you're a big GG Allin fan and want someone to smear feces on you, but no one did that, not even Betty, and I for one was not complaining).  

In fact, about the only weird note tonight was the smell of the venue. I'm used to punk spaces that smell like crap - sometimes, in the case of the old Cobalt, quite literally. Buddha's smelled, when we first came in, of NAIL POLISH (or perhaps nail polish remover?), which is one of the very few smells I like LESS than the smell of crap, I think (there has never yet been a shit I've whiffed that gave me a splitting headache, but nail polish - or nail polish remover - can do that). Then later, and even weirder, up at the stage, I noticed a smell that I think might have been PATCHOULI. Which makes no sense to me, but maybe some audience member was wearing it?

Who wears patchouli to a punk show? 

I honestly don't think I have anything else to say about the gig (Sorry, Murray? Sorry Billy? Sorry Malcolm?) but I had ten times the fun tonight that I had yesterday, stayed to the very end, and took a SHIT TON OF PHOTOS. And some videos too (see above, I linked'em somewhere. I shot some Biltmore vid as well but the sound was so shitty I just deleted it). Great space, great night, great music. I don't think I have ever yet heard a band do a land acknowledgement, but Byron did. I also made a mistake I've been struggling to repress and, when saying hello, identified him as Brock, because somehow, Byron Slack and Brock Pytel are names I am prone to getting confused - perhaps because they both begin with B? any event, I'm guessing I am not too old and tired for punk rock after all. Now here's some photos! 

Pet Blessings vocalist rocking out to Rong

Invasives setlist

Oh, yeah, the toilet situation at Buddha's is pretty dire, so maybe try to do your business before you get there. Unless I was missing something, there was one working can. It took awhile to get in and was pretty cramped (though the toilet worked, so there's that).  

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