On West 4th Avenue on Saturday, July 21
No contest: the prize for the hardest-working band at the second edition of Khatsahlano! Music + Art Festival went to B-Monster. I mean that literally: there was no contest. This wasn't a battle of the bands. But if it had been, B-Monster would have taken home a prize for endurance, if nothing else. When I showed up at the Stephens Street stage at 1:42 p.m., the band was playing its first of six sets of the day. Well, in theory. In fact, the black-clad trio was still sound checking, half an hour after its scheduled start time. When it finally launched into its set a few minutes after that, it became obvious why the sound check had taken so long: the giant wall of speakers behind the band was actually a functional amplification system and not merely a prop.Talk about overkill. In contrast, B-Monster’s trashy blend of punk, surf, and distorto-boogie, on the other hand, is so back-to-basics that frontman John Lee plays a guitar that has one pickup and a single knob on it.
By 2:04 I had wandered away, through a stretch of West 4th Avenue where nothing actually seemed to be happening, to find the local music-scene veterans in Cinderpop already playing on the Balsam Street stage. I also spotted my first anthropomorphic animal, Leo the Lion. I had some trouble with the likes of him last year, due to some sunstroke-induced hallucinations, so I made a mental note to stay in the shade as much as possible, and to keep reminding myself that it’s only a dude in a costume.
As for Cinderpop, the band's tightly played and well-crafted indie-pop tunes made me wonder why they seem to have never quite caught the ears of anyone outside of Vancouver. One of those could-have-been-a-contender stories.
Meanwhile, Cousin Harley was turning the Vine Street stage into a reasonable facsimile of the Yale on a Thursday night. Or at least what I imagine the Yale sounded like on a Thursday night, never having set foot in the place on a Thursday or any other night. In any case, Paul Pigat is good at ripping through zippy guitar solos a la Brian Setzer. Like, really, really good.
"The giant hedgehog in front of Purdy's is just a costumed person. The giant hedgehog in front of Purdy's is just a costumed person. The giant hedgehog in front of Purdy's is just...”
At the Maple stage at 2:47, the raucous quartet Bummer High reminded me of a lot of things, all of them dating from the 1990s. For one thing, it reminded me of the thrill of getting a new seven-inch record in the mail as a member of the Sub Pop Singles Club, hearing some brash blend of stoner rock and garage punk, thinking "This is pretty good," and then taking the record off the turntable, slipping it back into the sleeve, and never listening to it again. Also, Bummer High’s name reminds me of the shittiest six years of my life. Yes, six. Want to make something of it?
When I stopped at Yew Street to watch Weed end its set at 3:10, I had another ’90s flashback. Those heavy guitars, the disaffected, drawling vocals…but then it was over before I could place it.
Back at Balsam, the Ballantynes were on the stage at 3:30, kicking out the Hammond-heavy garage soul like nobody's business. Like a version of the Commitments that you can actually listen to without cringing, and that writes its own killer songs, and—oh hell, nothing at all like the Commitments. The Ballantynes would make an awesome wedding-reception band, but only if it was the coolest fucking wedding ever.
"That thing with the ram’s head is just a guy in a costume. That thing with the ram's head is just a guy in a costume.That thing with the ram’s head is…”
Back at Maple at 3:57, Alexi Baris of the High Drops had me wondering what possessed him to strap his Telecaster on right under his chin. Does that help him feel closer to the music? Whatever the case, the band was seriously, trip-inducingly psychedelic. Whoa.
Speaking of Telecasters, Kathryn Calder has a really nice yellow one—I think Fender calls the colour Butterscotch. It struck me, as she sang “Day Long Past Its Prime” on the Burrard Street stage just after 4 p.m., that there was also something distinctly butterscotch-y about Calder’s voice. (I’m not even sure what that means, but it was in my notes, so it must have seemed significant at the time.)
At 4:20 I caught just enough of White Poppy at the Cypress Street stage. The duo takes some of the hallmarks of the Cocteau Twins (think soupy guitar and vocal effects, and drum-machine accompaniment) and throws in the not-entirely-welcome addition of out-of-tune singing and fuzz-obliterated bass. I left hoping that White Poppy steps up its game, because it dwells within a sonic sphere that I’m predisposed toward liking.
Nü Sensae, on the other hand, is an entirely different proposition. Its banshee-screech vocals and pummelling white-squall rawk should be alienating but instead, the band's weird intensity made me want to stick around for its entire set on the Maple Street stage. Which I did.
It was a long walk up 4th to where Mac Demarco and his band were playing at the Balsam stage. I have to admit that I didn’t quite get it. It came across as a stab at R&B by four guys who actually sounded like they might have a side gig as a Pavement tribute band. There was a lot of noodling between the songs and the sense that things could fall apart at any moment. By 5:22 I started to like it, but possibly for the wrong reasons.
It seems there has to be one band at Khatsahlano! every year in which all the members wear shorts onstage. Last year it was the Shilohs. This year it was Shearing Pinx. I know, I know: I'm weird. But I can't help it; I have a bias against short pants worn by anyone whose age is in the double digits, especially if they're paired with striped sport socks. That was the look singer-guitarist Nic Hughes was sporting, and I’ve already said too much about it. Fortunately, the trio's searing noise rock had enough moments of brilliance crashing through the chaos to make me overlook my own peculiar sartorial aversions.
And while we’re on the subject, I quite liked the shirt John Sponarski of Portage and Main was wearing when I caught a bit of the band’s Vine Street set at 6:27. It had a wolf on it. Badass. But I could have sworn that wolf was eyeing me, hungrily. The band's music, on the other hand, tends to be float by all soft and gentle and twangy, kind of like if Blue Rodeo passed around a giant spliff.
And maybe there was something potent in the air, because I could have sworn there was an iguana watching Ladyhawk play at Balsam 10 minutes later. Not someone dressed as an iguana, either, but a real live reptile. I found myself hoping that iguanas don't have sensitive ears, because Ladyhawk was not playing quietly. This is another one of those bands that oughta be huge. Ladyhawk's hurdle in that department is a tendency to disappear for months, even years, at a time. It's always a big deal when the local heroes re-emerge, though, and deservedly so. Solid songwriting paired with totally balls-out playing is a hard combo to beat.
A half-hour later on the same stage, Bend Sinister frontman Dan Moxon rocked the shit out of his Nord Electro 3 keyboard. He also happened to be sporting a T-shirt with wolves on it. I walked away thinking that Bend Sinister sounds like Supertramp reincarnated as a garage-rock band. I also walked away with a sudden desire to own a T-shirt with a wolf on it.