Vonbones bring Halloween to Vancouver a wee bit early
At Brandiz on Saturday, October 23
Halloween was still a week and a bit away, but nonetheless there were some scary things on view last Saturday at the Downtown Eastside dive bar known as Brandiz.
Right at the top of the list was the guy stationed in the middle of the dance floor for the duration of glorywhore’s punk-as-fuck howitzer of a set. Dude looked like the kind of normaloid you’d expect to see sucking back Labatt Blue at a Tragically Hip tribute-band show, but that didn’t stop him from screaming along to every song like an enraged mental patient who’d palmed his meds.
Only moderately less disturbing was the six-foot-tall lizard that played accordion for the night’s drum-tight openers, the Jen Huangs. And let’s not forget the decaying zombie that lurched onto the dance floor, stripped down to its pasties and G-string, and then shook what its momma gave it. All right, on the terrifying front, that last one didn’t really rate—especially since, once the mask came off, said creature proved to be a featured player from the Misty Graves Gorelesque show, which provided the between-bands entertainment.
In fact, the sad reality was that, despite Brandiz’s location on what is quite possibly the sketchiest two-block stretch in Canada—and maybe North America—the recently made-over bar isn’t really all that scary in the grand scheme of things. Sure, the streets outside are overrun with what look like extras from Night of the Living Dead, but it’s a different story inside one of the newest additions to Vancouver’s live-music scene.
If you’re expecting the scungiest dive this side of Big Ed’s as depicted in Barfly, sorry, but you’re going to go home disappointed. Despite the odd undesirable—and yes, you know exactly who you are—Brandiz has a shitload of things going for it. The drinks are cheap, the room is big and clean, and the sound system is surprisingly good. As for the décor, let’s just say that someone has a major thing for framed pictures of dogs playing poker.
The Jen Huangs got the musical portion of the evening off to an undeniably odd but indisputably excellent start. Given that the group describes itself as “blues/rock/regional Mexican” on its MySpace page, one might have rightly arrived at Brandiz expecting to see four guys serving up platters of chapulines, tlayuda con falda, and cecina enchiladas while dressed like sombrero-sporting crosses between Stevie Ray Vaughan and ZZ Top. Instead, the loud and heavy-hitting quartet came on like the Laughing Hyenas ripping the Butthole Surfers a new one, with the set-for-annihilate work of guitarist Robert Mattson being the best thing about the thoroughly rocking set. Or, actually, make that the best thing besides the fact that accordionist Patrick Lewis is evidently a giant lizard, and that the band takes the stage in such attire as flowered dresses and baby-blue cowboy hats.
If glorywhore singer Maiwan showed up determined to give audiences a sneak preview of her Halloween costume, then here’s what she’s going as this Sunday: a heavily tattied, mini-dreaded tuff chick who could probably kick the ass of you and everyone you know. If the band has a colour, it’s basic black. As for its sound, think rocket-fuelled pre-Warped punk rolled in trash ’n’ flash glitter. Anchoring the whole fast-and-loud mess is Maiwan, who has a voice that’s a captivating, pulp-raw mix of Pretty on the Inside–era Courtney Love and Distillers-days Brody Dalle.
Besides that one normaloid guy who seemed to know all the words, the highlight of the set came right before the hardcore heatseeker “Don’t Fall in Love”. Maiwan introduced the song with “Anyone in love?” and then, before her seemingly biggest fan could stick up his hand, spat, “This is for you, suckers.” Watch for these guys. The songs aren’t always totally there yet, but they’ve got enough swagger that there’s plenty of upside.
And watch out for Vonbones should you happen to see them in the future, especially singer LilyVon Tease, who brings to mind a more enraged Beth Ditto. While the Victoria group is often billed as a horror-punk unit, that somehow seems only half-right. Vonbones definitely has the punk side of the equation down, with thrashy attacks like “Death Becomes Her” shot through with plenty of hot-metal fretwork courtesy of guitarist Mike Bones. The horror part evidently comes from Tease’s tendency to take a giant mouthful of beer and do a one-woman impersonation of Old Faithful, the contents of her mouth soaking those within a 10-foot radius.
Impressively, there were moments during Vonbones’s set where, if you closed your eyes, you were able to convince yourself that you weren’t in the hell known as the Downtown Eastside but instead in actual hell. That’s because, although she’s obviously all woman, Tease has a terrifying tendency to howl like a gummed-up Satan doing his best to evacuate an old-growth redwood. Scary? You fucking bet.