The Ballantynes bring Vancouver to its feet at the Victory Square Block Party
Being that the Victory Square Block Party is put on partly by the organizers of Music Waste (along with Megaphone magazine), there’s an inevitable crossover between the two events. Many of the acts that played this year’s Labour Day Weekend party in the Downtown Eastside had also rung in the summer back in June at Music Waste. It was refreshing, then, to get some outsider input this Sunday via the pounding percussive rhythms of Blue Whistling Horse.
The drum troupe usually numbers around 15, but only band member Ian Bee stood on-stage to open the festivities at Victory Square. He performed two pieces on his hand drum, welcoming the incoming crowd on behalf of the Coast Salish, but admitted that he had seen better days: one of the group’s drummers had passed away earlier this weekend. Despite the loss, Bee stoically hammered out his beats, and sang with a haunting clarity.
Love Cuts’ set, on the other hand, seemed a little unrehearsed. The Cub-style cuddlecore revivalists managed to charm anyone still trickling into the East Van grounds, though. Drummer Cheryl Carpenter nonchalantly whomped her drums on the somewhat punky jangler “Call in the Dogs,” which also found endearingly awkward bassist-vocalist Tracey Vath balancing like a heron each time she opened her mouth to sing.
Weed claimed the best-band tag pretty early on, despite a delayed start time. The group even kind of frittered about after an introduction by Sunday Service wise guys Taz VanRassel and Ryan Beil, but eventually jumped head first into a frenzied collection of ‘90s alt-pop. Will Anderson’s shift from measured mumbles to a neck-vein-popping, post-puberty wail on “Ben’s Tour,” off Weed’s recently fuzzy Gun Control EP, brought an added intensity to a set that already had the band—including the ball of hair, plaid, and black knee socks that is bassist Hugo Noriega—bounding around the concrete stage.
For a bunch of apparently stoned-out hip-hop heads, Too High Crew’s set was particularly punctual—it’s midafternoon set started, naturally, at 4:20. Rolling 11 deep, the jokey rap ensemble provided an ample amount of pot puns and potty talk. If you had a toddler attached to your hip during the bass-rumbling, interstellar orgy story “Alien Azz Pharm”, you probably peaced out of the park pretty quick.
“This one’s about smoking weed,” ringleader Ryan “RyRy” Wagner quipped at one point before adding a sarcastic “Surprise!” Pussy Pete, meanwhile, bragged about lining up a row of women to go “balls deep” into on “All the Ladies in the Front.” All he actually got, however, was a grey-haired dude in athletic flip-flops giving him a thumbs-up.
For whatever reason, the paved pit in front of the stage didn’t attract as much attention as it had in years past. The most action Korean Gut got during its performance was a bike-trick demo from a guy who swooped by on his fixie for a couple spin moves before hightailing toward the cenotaph. As for the band, it bashed out surf instrumentals and scrappy pop-punk cuts, with leader Jarrett Evan Samson busting countless strings along the way. The gaps between songs let him talk about how terrible his nearly ball-revealing acid-wash cutoffs were. “They get shorter and shorter all the time,” he said ashamedly of his apparently still-in-progress home job.
Mode Moderne has a handle on the moody postpunk thing, but that doesn’t mean it moved the mellowed-out patrons relaxing on blankets on the slanted knoll just feet away. As if pleading with the crowd, baritone vocalist Phillip Intile mewled out his desire to dance on “Disco Ruff”, but the audience ended up taking it easy the whole set through.
It didn’t seem to get any better for country-informed rockers Indian Wars, who played through a harmonica-heavy set as if separated from the audience by the world’s largest invisible chicken-wire fence. While at one point, a rowdy whistle was heard somewhere midfield, most people sat politely as bassist-vocalist Brad Felotick drawled his way through the group’s 12-bar bangers. But then something weird happened. Just as the quintet chimed into closer “Already Home,” which featured some saucy six-string slide work by multitasking member Craig Pettman, one young couple broke out into a do-si-do. Sure enough, the miniature hoedown inspired a couple more kids to loosen up and shake it during Indian Wars' final few bars.
East Van Soul Club DJ Jonny Was capitalized on the surge of movement by spinning R&B classics like the Isley Brothers’ “Why When Love Is Gone,” which packed the area as if it were an outdoor version of the sweaty monthly he and Ballantynes vocalist Jarrod O’Dell run at the Biltmore.
With O’Dell’s band having only a couple of 7-inch singles to its name, it may have seemed a bit premature to book the developing outfit as headliners. That said, the act managed to do what the rest of the lineup hadn’t: it got a mass of people moving. Of the dozens crammed up front to catch the energetic septet, one miniature Nana Mouskouri look-alike in a devilish crimson dress threw her arms around her towering beau’s neck as they bopped to the band’s Northern Soul-inspired numbers.
On-stage, vocalists Jen Wilks and Vanessa Dandurand harmonized and beat their tambourines in unison to the coy crowd-pleaser “Stay,” which also had O’Dell interjecting with more rock-geared, from-the-throat cries.
Sadly, Durand brought the event full circle by dedicating the already powerfully bouncy number “The Railtown Abbey” to a recently deceased friend of the group’s. The extra emotion on the cut was clear to see, with O’Dell nearly knocking himself over as he threw himself across the stage to sing his lines, and mild-mannered four-stringer Max Sample snapping his spine to a fret-jumping bass line.
The unit lost a little ground with a faux-dance-craze piece based around a game of Simon Says, but still managed to keep the crowd on its feet until the end of the set. Considering you could have practically seen the ass-print marks across the lawn from nearly seven hours' worth of sitting down, it was about damn time.