#Safe Fest showcases plenty of surprises for the kids of Vancouver
At various venues on Friday, October 11
Local indie-poppers BESTiE have a noble mission. That mission is to tear bored, glue-sniffin’ kids away from their Tumblr dashboards, which are currently overflowing with autumn-leaf porn, and give them a space to play and see live music that they don’t need a fake ID for. Hence this weekend’s #Safe Fest, organized by the band and featuring more than 70 local acts, with all of proceeds going towards establishing a permanent, legal, all-ages venue in Vancouver.
Friday night’s diverse festival showcase, spread between the all-ages Prophouse, Simply Delicious, and Chapel Arts, featured more pleasant surprises than disappointments. This was especially the case for the first and most low-key venue of the night.
Acoustic singer-songwriter Alyssa Baker kicked off the festivities at the just-off-Commercial Prophouse Café, a coffee shop, record store, movie prop and curio explosion, and community space all in one. Amid a downright magical collection of vintage lamps, the petite songbird plucked her six-string with a baby pink capo attached, singing blush-inducing ditties about teenage concerns and crushes, a Cupid figurine hanging fittingly above. Baker’s Disney sweetness reached almost tooth-destroying levels too many times to count, but she did a good job of masking her bubbly nervous energy with a confident voice.
Gregarious country crooner Jimmy Baldwin might have felt lonely without his band by his side, but if he did, he didn’t show it, owning the intimate little room with his burly presence. Bringing Johnny Cash to mind with his deep, resonant voice, he wielded his acoustic like a gunslinger and made some interesting cover choices with Billy Joel’s “The Downeaster Alexa” and Jessie Ware’s “Wildest Moments”, transforming the latter into a rootsy foot-stomper.
Bringing the mood down a few too many notches, Selina Koop nonetheless charmed the tiny audience with her hushed vocals and plaintive piano nocturnes. Everyone grew silent as she splashed out dreamy, spiraling chords on the Prophouse’s antique wooden piano, the haunting ballad “Completely” being particularly arresting.
The second venue Simply Delicious, a cafeteria-style Asian Fusion restaurant, saw the best turn-out of the evening, filled to the gills with jean-jacketed hipsters, beer-chugging middle-agers, and artsy kids who didn’t look quite old enough to drink yet. On a low stage next to a neon sign reading, “VACCUUM” and a bear statue dressed as a Canucks goalie, Wild/Kind played the kind of melodic lo-fi indie rock that was really popular in the ‘90s, but is less-refreshing these days. The crowd seemed to get into the quartet’s power-chord-heavy jams as much as the band did, but the voice-cracking, shouted singing could have used a major tune-up.
Next up, instrumental math-rockers Polarhorse impressed with its experimental soundscapes. The four-piece sounded perfectly synergized, members playing off each other with ease while seeming to feel each note intensely. Violinist and guitarist Trevor Wong added to the set’s symphonic quality, drawing alien cries from his violin over shimmering effects-pedal noise, as the spinning disco ball above sent pinpoints of light whizzing around like comets. But just when you thought the band was taking itself too seriously, they’d crack an ecstatic smile or sample a sound byte from the British comedy show Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace. Much appreciated.
At the Chapel Arts, #Safe Fest was getting ready to wind down with its last three bands, the first being post-punk trio Lié. The stark black-and-white stage, flanked by chalky pillars and watched over by a mounted caribou skull, suited the eerie, goth-gloomed set perfectly. Wearing ratty combat boots held together with duct tape, singer-bassist Brittany Westgarth screamed and shredded with militant ferocity, sharing horror-movie harmonies with singer-guitarist Ashlee Luk.
The stony-faced Luk radiated a kind of nonchalant coolness a la Kim Gordon, breaking out of her solemnity when it was her turn at the mike, howling like she was exorcizing demons and spitting out quick-fire spidery riffs. It’s too bad that the Chapel had such a dismal turn-out—no more than 10 people at any one time—to witness Lié’s thunder-clapping sonic assault.
It’s a shame too that the night fizzled out, rather than going out with a bang. Noise-rock trio Failing provided a bang of distortion with their demonic, sludgy guitar jams, the drummer attacking his kit like a beast, and the set ending with a feedback whine that lasted what seemed like an eardrum-destroying eternity. But their too-serious set was sort of a bummer, the singer halting in the middle of one song to demand the stage lights be turned off. As a result, the band was a trio of flailing silhouettes, and they seemed too distant to reach.
Providing the fizzle-out portion of the night, garage-pop three-piece Juvenile Hall played hard and fast, but so dispassionately, that you had to laugh when singer-guitarist Sadie Maria crooned, “You’re so boooring.” Their beat-driven sound was catchy and scrappy in an endearing way, but only for about three tunes. After that, the songs all started to meld together into one nebulous blob of Ramones bubblegum-punk.
Unfortunately, BESTiE can’t transport back in time to my underage days and get me into all those cool “no minors” gigs, but that might be asking for too much. In spite of some minor disappointments (pun intended), #Safe Fest’s Friday night achieved exactly what it set out to achieve: bring a community of artists together to celebrate promising local music. And there’s much more to come, with the festival doing it all over again tonight.