At the Princeton Pub on Thursday, November 5
On paper—which is a fancy way of saying the band’s MySpace page—Little Guitar Army looks like a first-ballot shoo-in for the shtick-band hall of shame. Such are the dangers of assembling a 10-piece assault squad that features no less than six guitar players and a singer—Linda Stang—who dresses like a ’40s pinup gal who got lost on the way to a WWII–themed costume party. And while we’re on the subject of “lest we forget”, did we mention that the band’s name is meant to be taken literally? Yes, the axemen of Little Guitar Army do indeed play little guitars, each of them lovingly handmade by band founder Cal Thompson.
How little? The guitars are built on a scale that suggests they are meant to be played by either toddlers or a Hollywood supergroup made up of Verne Troyer, Joe C., Billy Barty, and that mini-dude who used to screech “Da plane, da plane” on Fantasy Island.
But you know what was funny last Thursday, not to mention completely unexpected? Little Guitar Army kicked an almost demented amount of ass on what was a miserable, rain-soaked weeknight in an out-of-the-way part of East Van.
As a venue for live music, the Princeton has a ways to go before it makes anyone forget about the Biltmore Cabaret. But even so, it’s cozy in a neon-beer-sign-lit kind of way. Not that finding a prime viewing spot was a challenge; including confused-looking pensioners and grizzled longshoremen, there were maybe 50 people in the joint. Too bad, Vancouver: you missed a spectacle.
Normally, six guitarists going at it at the same time means something more self-indulgently arty than the Glenn Branca Ensemble. Little Guitar Army’s mission was a simple one: to search and destroy, whether that meant unleashing an awesomely virulent strain of undiluted hardcore, bringing the heavy-metal thunder, or recreating the Seattle sound that almost made Tad famous. The band built a monolithic wall of noise that was like Sonic Youth ripped on an overproof cocktail of the Ramones, Motí¶rhead, and Mudhoney.
Adding to the insanity was that, right from the point when they first stomped on the accelerator, the members of Little Guitar Army weren’t going to be contained by the stage. It took all of about 10 seconds for the band’s members to claim the Princeton’s admittedly empty dance floor as their own. Over the next hour, shirts were discarded, G.I. Jane uniforms were ditched, and sweat flew to the point where sensible beer-drinkers switched from pints to bottles.
Leading the brilliance was, somewhat expectedly, Stang, who came on like a 99-percent-more-crazy version of the Andrews Sisters. Taking home the most-captivating-sight award was Sonny Dean, who might be the most awesome rock ’n’ roll sasquatch the Pacific Northwest has seen since Kim Thayil. Except that Thayil was never one to show up in nothing but high-tops and basketball shorts, this stripped-down ensemble accessorized by a truly impressive belly.
The highlights were too many to count, but great moments included (fittingly) the best synchronized guitar army display this side of the Scorpions circa ’83, enough behind-the-head pyrotechnics for the most demanding of Hendrix fans, and plenty of retro cheesecake. Oh, yeah, and don’t forget the fact that Little Guitar Army played little custom-made guitars. Based on the damage they did in this show, someone should give these guys a record deal. Or, at the very least, a feature slot in the next Guitar Hero.
Bad One opened, with the duo proudly (and drunkenly) announcing:“We’re basically a punk-rock jam band—we make up everything as we go.” Um, here’s a trade secret: that’s what the practice space is for, because what you’re doing in public doesn’t really work on-stage.