At West 4th Avenue on Saturday, July 12
The Khatsahlano festival appeared in view like a desert mirage as you approached West 4th Avenue in the scorching sunshine, the fairground reaching circus proportions with 50 local bands across eight stages spanning 10 city blocks. What crazy nuts would brave the meltdown-level heat to see as many bands as humanly possible, pig out at up to 40 food trucks, and prowl the goods of hundreds of vendors from noon till night? Well, the entire city of Vancouver—or at least that’s what it looked like.
The turnout for the fourth annual music and arts festival was massively impressive, not to mention refreshingly diverse. In one sweeping glance you could spot little tykes toting balloon-animal crowns, old gay couples sipping lemonade, and green-haired fashionistas stomping along in combat boots. A shout-out goes to the girl who cried out in passing, “So many good-looking people here. I can’t…”
Woolworm was one of the first acts of the day to grace the Maple Street stage. The group’s catchy bedroom-rock was well-suited to the summer haze, even with singer Giles Roy making gloomy quips like “This next song’s called life is a hideous nightmare, and not even death will free you from the pain of having existed.” Overall, the indie four-piece kept the mood light, sharing cotton candy on-stage and laughing at their drummer’s attempt at scandal with his declaring, “Fuck cops!”
Sunday Morning warmed up the Cypress stage with its eclectic, high-energy tunes. Formerly of Tankhog, frontman Bruce Wilson jerked around wildly while giving his best Iggy Pop howl: “Sick in the cityyy!” Being a Vancouver rock veteran, his right to gripe is well-earned. Spotted in Sunday Morning’s audience was local punk legend and former Black Flag singer Ron Reyes. Wearing a vest emblazoned with the phrase “Rock out with your snout,” he would later shred on-stage with his new gutter-punk band Piggy.
Electro-pop shoegazers Mesa Luna then got the crowd grooving while crooning darkly, “The dead and the living, I’m somewhere in between.” While a lovable barefoot kook in front row popped his booty out and shimmied, the talented two-piece filled the vast blue sky with its cinematic soundscapes. Contrasting with Justice McLellan’s emotional vocals, keyboardist Alex Cooper bounced on his feet as he crafted glimmering beats.
At the Burrard main stage, up-and-comers Young Liars had the festivalgoers shuffling their feet too. While singer Jordan Raine put his heart into the band’s high-gloss synth-pop, endearingly hugging his guitar like a teddy bear, keyboardist Wesley Nickel spun out summery trills and chiming echoes. Following Young Liars, electronic duo Humans kept crowd members on their feet, but their static, throbbing club beats seemed to appeal mostly to those who were already day-drunk.
Funk-inspired pop-rockers Cool, composed of two parts Apollo Ghosts and one part Shawn Mrazek Lives!, sparked even more of a dancing frenzy up at the Cypress stage. Noodling with lightning-quick fingers on his electric-blue six-string, Mrazek was all relaxed smiles and swanky moves, telling the crowd, “So many smiling faces, beautiful people, everyone dressed well—I love it.”
Bizarro bonus points went to Cool for playing a creepy BonziBuddy voice sample on keyboard that said, “Where do you think I get all my waxy vinyl records? At Zulu Records.” It successfully plugged the local record store while freaking out the norms.
Bringing a retro flavour to the Khatsahlano hot-pot’s Maple stage was Tough Age, whose guitar-heavy, ’60s-inspired jams incited simultaneous head-banging and sock-hopping. As a cool breeze picked up on the street, and the sun spread its bleached rays out through the trees, you could almost imagine you were sprawled on the beach, swigging PBR to the band’s thumping surf rock.
Later in the afternoon on the Cypress stage, postrock was getting its moment. Sounding like a more ambient Deftones, Holy Hum’s noise-textures featured cathartic guitar fireworks that had artist Andrew Lee almost stumbling off the stage. As Lee convulsed around his guitar, as if he himself was plugged into the amp, the audience stood several paces away from the stage, seemingly frightened by the passionate discord. But even more haunting was the sample that came next, of a man screaming, “No, no, no!” like an animal.
Over on the Burrard main stage, there was laughter instead of tears, as the Evaporators hammed it up and drew one of the biggest crowds of the day. And the only thing to be afraid of was Nardwuar the Human Serviette’s skin-tight Spandex suit, designed to look like the Canadian flag. Hopping around the stage like a toddler after six cans of Red Bull, our hometown hero was his usual gonzo self, giving out bits of music history while dedicating a song to Tommy Ramone, and then introducing Evaporators garage-punk staples with lines like “If you’re a punk, you need pizza. I got a disease, I’m ‘Addicted to Cheese’!”
On the ’80s-inspired synth-pop front we had both solo artist Jay Arner at the Maple stage and duo Lightning Dust back at the Burrard stage. Arner’s set was cool and breezy, including chrome-shiny tracks like “Midnight on South Granville”, an ode to wandering home after partying on Granville Street. Meanwhile, Lightning Dust recalled the Knife with heavy synth layers and Amber Webber’s bright, gently wavering voice.
Wherever I roamed on West 4th, the aroma of smoked meat seemed to follow. Here’s hoping the source was coming from the food trucks and not the sizzling of human flesh in the sun, which it was definitely hot enough for. As night began to fall, Nü Sensae began its grunge-punk onslaught on Khatsahlano, the setting sun creating a painful glare right in the eyes, matching the sharp bite of the band’s set. Wearing a Japanese art-print blouse, frontwoman Andrea Lukic growled and shrieked as if her entrails were being ripped out of her throat, her howl and guitarist Brody McKnight’s sludgy shreds sounding like a pure distillation of agony. Meanwhile, drummer Daniel Pitout was all wiry pink skin and flailing naked limbs, the timekeeper playing with the gritted teeth and feral emotion of someone with a lot to get off his chest. In other words, it was intense.
As the sky melted into that amber glow of sunset, the street party gathered at the main stage for psych-pop headliners the Poppy Family Experience. Spangled with classic hits like “Beyond the Clouds”, and several candid stories from singer Susan Jacks, the reunited ’60s veterans put on a festival-closing show that was equal parts touching, funny, and accomplished.
The three original Poppy Family members—Jacks, guitarist Craig McCaw, and percussionist Satwant Singh—were backed by members Lightning Dust, Destroyer’s Ted Bois, and the New Pornographers’ John Collins and Kurt Dahle. Despite a few vocal hiccups, Jacks and the band sounded stellar and looked ecstatic to be jamming together again. Seasoned fans in the audience looked just as ecstatic, putting on the most adorable display of old-timer dancing ever witnessed.
After wiping tears away, amazed by the cheers, the heavenly-voiced Jacks surprised the crowd by announcing that the set was going to end on an “evil” note. And as the Poppy Family banged out the rowdy “Evil Overshadows Joe”, it was hard to think of a better way to end this year’s Khatsahlano fest.