At the Rickshaw Theatre on Friday, February 1
The last time I was at the Rickshaw Theatre, it was pure punk territory, all leather-clad and eyeliner-smeared. Last Friday, however, the punk’s mortal enemy, the neo-hippie, had taken over for the Midwinter Festival, featuring three of Vancouver’s kookiest psych-rock bands: AtomAtom, the Psychic Alliance, and Tyranahorse.
Setting the acid-laced tone, Atom Atom kicked off things with a surge of bluesy, ’70s-inspired rock ’n’ roll. The rootsy quintet played the tightest, most promising set of the night, as the crowd got into the groove with some of the weirdest dance moves to ever grace the Rickshaw’s sticky mosh pit.
The festival had a pagan-costume theme, which explained the guy wearing Easter Bunny ears and the girls wearing gold moon masks and pussy-willow crowns. Why paganism? No fucking clue, but it made all the wacky dancing that much creepier and more fun to watch.
Even with all those distractions, AtomAtom’s lead vocalist, Erika Valliere, sheathed in a sheer green cloak and a wreath of flowers, sang her heart out and stole the show. Her rich, whisky-laden pipes brought Alison Mosshart and Florence Welch to mind.
Next up, the Psychic Alliance proved to be one of the most obnoxiously ridiculous bands I’ve ever seen. The psychedelic new-wavers took the pagan theme to an extreme, employing some masked fairy cohorts to light candles and fire off glitter cannons on-stage, before ripping up handfuls of hay in some kind of baffling ritual.
Later, the fairies frolicked through the crowd and hugged attendees, handing out paper hearts with “I love you” scrawled on them. All of this, teamed with the band’s energetic, ’60s-garage-rock flourishes, sent the audience into a frenzy. One fanboy with a build like Frankenstein started literally twirling and skipping around in circles, enthralled by the fairies’ gossamer wings. It was downright surreal.
At that point, I began to fear for my life. The Psychic Alliance was clearly an insane religious cult, and had probably spiked everyone’s drinks with MDMA and cyanide. A screen projecting artsy visuals displayed an error message: “Your device has been disconnected.” That was exactly how I felt.
The balloon- and sparkler-toting crowd was into it. But the Psychic Alliance’s fondness for dated keyboards, irritating falsetto, corny doo-doo-doo-ing, and all things tacky, combined with the silly gimmicks, made it difficult to hear why. When its madcap frontman Shaun Lee declared, “This one’s for all the shitty bands,” you had to laugh.
The most absurd band name award goes to Tyranahorse, fronted by experimental artist prOphecy sun. With a kaleidoscopic blend of psych rock, pop, and alt-country, the eccentric quintet topped off the fest fittingly.
Occasionally rocking out on, ahem, a kazoo, sun shared vocal duties with guitarist Darren Fleet, but eclipsed her bandmate with her hypnotic charisma. She looked perfectly comfortable on-stage, as if performing was as natural to her as breathing, and her deep, dramatic voice resembled Siouxsie Sioux on pep pills.
Despite tiresome theremin noodling and an unnecessary super-hipster song about bike-lane bylaws, Tyranahorse entertained to the end. Chants for “One more song!” coaxed the band to close the night with trippy, cosmic noise, sun wailing like a heathen priestess as candles were lit in the crowd.
Although they’d been hoping for an animal sacrifice, the pagan gods were surely pleased.