Nothing disappointing about Olio Festival's first night acts
In truth, there was something mildly disappointing about Night 1 (August 13) of Olio Festival, which saw seven Gastown-area venues host a small army of local bands, artists, and standup comics. Funky Winkerbeans can take the sole blame for that.
What was the problem? Well, let’s just say that, from the street, the East Hastings venue has always had a decided air of danger. Like the Grand Union across the street, it looks like the kind of down-and-out watering hole where, if you look at someone the wrong way, you’re going to end up fighting. Or slipping in a puddle of someone’s vomit. Or buying bulk cheese and stereo equipment from some sketchy skid carrying a gym bag.
Imagine, then, finally getting the balls to step inside only to discover, after years of building things up in your head, that Funky Winkerbeans doesn’t look like the kind of place that would scare the shit out of Charles Bukowski. Hell, the joint was cleaner than the old Brickyard ever was, right down to the lingering scent of ammonia in the air. As far as décor went, the mounted moose’s head was cool, the ship’s-bow mermaids mounted on the walls utterly brilliant. The best thing, though, was the full-size hanging rowboat containing an ancient contraption that appeared to have been designed by no less than Baron Munchausen.
The most disappointing thing, though, was that there were no half-in-the-bag pensioners looking like they’d just stumbled in off the set of Barfly. Instead, you got an assortment of hipsters, geeks, normaloids, and old-fashioned punk-rock fans, all of them claiming Winkerbeans for their own for the night.
The SSRIs were nothing short of a revelation, the band offering up a brutal amalgamation of spazzed-out hardcore, microchip-blasted no wave, and thinking-man’s metal. It was brilliant, heavier-than-heavy stuff, designed to blow the minds of those who dream of seeing the Melvins, Fantí´mas, and the Locust on the same bill. Extra props, by the way, go to the band’s drummer, who obviously slammed back a four-pack of Red Bull right before he took his place behind the kit.
The big selling point of Olio, which runs until Saturday, is the idea that, once you’ve purchased a festival pass, you don’t have to remain in one venue for the entire night. The Olio brain trust also deserve credit for organizing each evening in a different neighbourhood (tonight’s venues are in the Main Street area, with Saturday’s concentrated in the downtown core.)
The wonderful thing this night about the Lamplighter was that, thanks to a major renovation a while back, it no longer smells like the outflow pipe at the Annacis Island sewage disposal plant. On-stage, Steve Nelson deserved points for trying, but he discovered that a bar packed with Chatty Cathys is no place for a singer-songwriter in the Damien Rice mould to bare his sensitive soul.
As for the Modern at 7 Alexander Street, where two dudes worked the decks to an empty room, man, that place is, um, shiny—kind of like an updated Korova Milk Bar.
Back at Funky Winkerbeans, Fake Shark-Real Zombie! spent good chunks of its set attempting to dismantle the club’s lighting rig, which consisted of a string of LED Christmas lights draped over a makeshift PA. After a false start to the slop-punker “Puke Rock” things finally started to click when the four-piece put the Chuck Taylors to songs by fellow Vancouverites Junior Major and Adjective. Things ended with a spazzed-out snippet of Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze”, which crashed to an abrupt halt right when singer Kevin Maher hollered “Scuze me while I fuck your face”. Or something like that.
Over at the Bourbon, revelation number two of the night was provided by the Heard. Seriously, watch for these guys, who basically went off like a pipe bomb. Take three revved-up MCs, add a dude playing what appeared to be a Guitar Hero toy axe, and round things out with a drummer who looked like a ’60s-boho version of Tom Waits, and you’ve got a freak show. But the Heard also had the songs, with all of the Bourbon’s party people screaming along to every jam.
Piper Davis had her work cut out for her. After the Heard left the well-liquored Bourbon crowd screaming for more, a DJ squad detonated the dance floor, mixing and meshing Bonecrusher with a selection of tracks that suggested Saturday night in Trenchtown.
Give Davis credit, then, for stepping up and delivering. Flanked by a bassist and backup singer, and powered by a drummer and a couple of Mac laptops, the Vancouver up-and-comer took all of one song to win the crowd back. Sonically, Davis draws on everything from Santigold-brand dance-funk to NYC art-pop to indie-tinted trip-hop. What really stands out, though, is that she’s got the kind of insane, effortless charisma that separates the Karen Os of the world from the vast legions of also-rans.
In other words, there was nothing disappointing about Olio as midnight approached and the party was in full swing. Which should be all the reason you need to head out tonight. May we suggest you kick off your evening with pre-show drinks? And screw the latest Main Street hot spot. If you want to show your friends that you’ve got balls, why not phone down and book a table at Funky Winkerbeans.