Best international comedy export
With the number of podcasts inundating the market daily, it’s rare when one can separate itself from the field and gain listeners apart from friends and family. But Vancouver’s Stop Podcasting Yourself has done just that. Hosts and standup comics Graham Clark and Dave Shumka have a growing legion of bumpers, as they call them, around the world who tune in every week for the idle chitchat, pop-culture references, and laughter with comedic guests like Paul F. Tompkins and Jon Dore or fun musicians like Steve Bays and C. R. Avery. Stop Podcasting Yourself was recently added to the Maximum Fun stable of podcasts down south. Get to know it. You won’t be disappointed.
Best new comedy venue
The Improv Centre
1502 Duranleau Street
For the full experience, the Vancouver TheatreSports League’s new digs is the place to be. While their standup counterparts at Yuk Yuk’s continue to fiddle around finding a space, VTSL wasted no time in securing a permanent home. The Improv Centre in the Marine Building on Granville Island had its grand opening in May. With 176 comfortable seats, great acoustics, excellent sightlines, room for 64 people in the lobby around the bar, and a 20-seat outdoor patio with a view that’s to die for, you’ve got your whole evening planned. Oh, and the shows are pretty good too.
Best promise unkept
In April, shortly after closing shop in Vancouver, Yuk Yuk’s, Canada’s largest chain of comedy clubs, trumpeted that it intended to open four new clubs in the Lower Mainland beginning in the summer of 2010. As of press time, a grand total of zero have opened. But at least the Comedy Mix now operates at the old Yuk Yuk’s venue in the basement of the Century Plaza Hotel. If and when Yuk Yuk’s opens even one of its promised venues here, it’ll be a welcome addition to the local scene.
Best guy to throw your ass to the curb
Swing your shirt over your head while dancing on a table and kicking over drinks with the gusto of the Lord of the Dance and you’re sure to get yourself tossed out of the bar. But pull off your best Nikki Sixx impression at the Lamplighter pub in Gastown and you’ll at least get bounced in a friendly manner. Iconically round doorman Richie Hendo has fast gained a reputation as Vancouver’s favourite bouncer. He won’t take your shit, but he’s fair. And if you do cross the line, he’ll toss you with a smile.
Best free lung-strengthening treatment
Hard Rock Miners sing-along
The Railway Club
579 Dunsmuir Street
It’s the first Monday night of the month. You’re a little tipsy (or want to be), and you’re in the mood for belting out an eclectic mix of new-wave hits and groovy oldies in shambolic folk-punk style. Yes, you could do this under your ex’s window, but that just brings all kinds of negative attention and maybe a night in jail, and you don’t need that. Your boss doesn’t need it either. Instead, go to the Railway Club, where people want to hear your full-throated bellowings (or, more rarely, delicate warblings) and where the Hard Rock Miners and dozens of cohorts will assist you, using selections from their extensive songbooks. Are you a Vancouverite or aren’t you?
Best old-school tribute
Assuming your name isn’t Nardwuar the Human Serviette, chances are good you don’t know much about Vancouver’s first-wave punk explosion, most of the principals of which are currently gumming their food in Lower Mainland rest homes. Big props then to director Susanne Tabata, whose 2010 documentary, Bloodied But Unbowed, shone a long-overdue light on the bands that built the foundation for Vancouver’s independent music scene. The deservedly legendary likes of D.O.A., the Subhumans, and Pointed Sticks get plenty of screen time, but where the film really gets it right is the way it spotlights long-forgotten support players like Rabid, the U-J3RK5, and Private School. You like surreal? Well, start with the fact that punk happened on the scale that it did in Vancouver, with the scene proving every bit as fertile as those in hot spots like L.A., New York, and London. And from there, marvel at the footage of the Subhumans Gerry Hannah and Brian Goble and D.O.A.’s Joe Keithley lounging in front of Lochdale Elementary, right before Bloodied But Unbowed rolls out an old photo of all three of them, looking impossibly fresh-faced in the same grade-school class. Here’s betting not even Nardwuar knew about that bit of trivia.
Best club worth reviving
The locally shot 2010 documentary No Fun City was one of the great eye openers of the year. Most reviewers gave filmmakers Melissa James and Kate Kroll props for shedding some light on why Vancouver is the most uptight, stick-up-its-ass town this side of Beaver, Utah. Buried in all the quite deserved bureaucrat-bashing, though, is a short segment on a venue that even people who were there back in the day probably don’t know is still there. Back in the day, when 99 out of 100 folks strutted around in flares, and wearing a Ramones T-shirt in the suburbs was like begging for an old-fashioned beating, Vancouver’s first-wave punk bands found themselves looking for a place to call their own. They found it in the Smilin’ Buddha Cabaret, a skid row dive bar at 109 East Hastings Street. D.O.A., Pointed Sticks, Modernettes, Subhumans, and Young Canadians are among the genuine local legends that cut their teeth at the club. Out-of-towners like Black Flag, Hí¼sker Dí¼, and the Dils made their earliest Vancouver appearances at the Buddha. Amazingly, as No Fun City pointed out, the Smilin’ Buddha Cabaret is still there, although you’d never know it, considering that its famous neon sign is currently in storage and the boarded-up building looks like it’s from Sarajevo circa 1994. But with live-music venues in Vancouver still in woefully short supply, wouldn’t it be brilliant if someone looked into reopening the Buddha? Here’s betting that city hall, being so accommodating, would be more than thrilled to help make it happen.
Best skid row rescue
254 East Hastings Street
The great thing about the Rickshaw Theatre is that no one saw it coming. For most of the past three decades, the area around Main and Hastings has been good for little more than scoring crack and then overdosing in a pile of garbage behind the Carnegie Centre. In 2009, though, the Rickshaw rose out of nowhere a block away from the intersection. Built in the ’70s as a chop-socky movie house and then shuttered in the ’80s, it’s now been refurbished as a much-needed 700-seat concert venue. The drinks are cheap, the vibe appropriately gritty, the sightlines great, and the talent on-stage often top-tier, with heavy-hitting headliners including everyone from sex-obsessed pervs Pink Mountaintops to industrial legends Skinny Puppy to metal madmen Dillinger Escape Plan. And best of all, if you arrive early it’s almost guaranteed that you’ll get to line up outside on the street. That experience will drive home the fact that sometimes what’s going on on the street is more horrifyingly entertaining than anything you’ll ever see on a stage.
Best place to pretend you’re in Times Square circa ’79
1660 East Broadway
Ever since Kier-La Janisse’s tragically short-lived Criminal Cinema experiment at the Fox Theatre eight years ago, Vancouver has been screaming for a decent after-midnight grindhouse movie experience. Thank God, then, for the Rio Theatre and its regular program of weekend cult-film screenings. Since starting in 2008, classic doubles like Cannibal Holocaust and I Spit on Your Grave have brought an impressively wretched assembly of insomniacs, gore hounds, and party kidz to the gritty 400-plus seater. Short of getting a blowjob from a homeless guy in the back row or scoring bad speed in the toilet, it’s the closest you’ll ever come to the glory days of New York’s trash-fixated “Deuce”.
Most enjoyable way to track down a vinyl copy of that elusive Pablo Cruise album from ’73
Record Store Day
Once a year on a Saturday in April, Main Street’s Neptoon Records celebrates the joy of being an independent record store with a day of bargains on select vinyl releases and free in-store gigs by local bands. For the 2010 event, Neptoon owner Rob Frith had the joint jumpin’ with performances by the Evaporators, the Jolts, the Beladeans, Vicious Cycles, D. B. Buxton, Petroleum By-Product, the Polished Rocks, Brain Bolt, and his son Ben’s garage-rock outfit, Thee Manipulators. Neptoon even stocks used turntables for those who need that extra nudge back into the era of flared jeans and 8-tracks.
Best “where did the time go?” musical moment
As the heartbreakingly sweet opening notes of “Peace of Mind” drifted over a sunset-tinted crowd at the Surrey Fusion Festival on July 18, it was hard to comprehend that this was the first time in 18 years that the Grapes of Wrath had performed live with their three founding members. Singers Kevin Kane and Tom Hooper, along with drummer Chris Hooper, chose a bad time to break up, coming off the success of 1991’s These Days. Based on the well-received comeback show, at least their timing and signature vocal harmonies have remained intact. Still, 18 years? That’s mind-blowing, especially if the Canadian folk-rock group’s original rise to fame bracketed your high-school years.
Best casual concert series
Music on Main is to Vancouver’s classical-concert scene as tapas are to dining: delicious, bite-sized fun that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Launched in 2006, the hourlong performances staged in casual (read, licensed) venues have garnered a devoted following among the Definitely Not the Opera crowd, and the fifth season of classical and contemporary music proves that the series is flourishing. In addition to the regular Month of Tuesdays series at Cory Weeds’ Cellar Jazz Club and its Main series at Heritage Hall, artistic director David Pay is launching a four-day Modulus Festival, from September 30 to October 3. The event features an eclectic mix of performers, from throat singer Tanya Tagaq to pianist David Jalbert, with music by composers ranging from Johann Sebastian Bach to Giorgio Magnanensi. There’s also an eight-concert series of Ludwig van Beethoven’s complete piano sonatas performed by Robert Silverman at the Cellar. That should sate any musical appetite.
Best reason to hang out in a lobby
Harried workers and shoppers can soothe their nerves with free piano music in the lobby of the HSBC Building (885 West Georgia Street) Tuesdays to Thursdays from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Anna Pansacola plays Broadway tunes and easy-listening standards, while Dmitri Gritsaenko does jazz, pop, and classical pieces.
Best luxurious interlude
Fairmont Pacific Rim lobby
1038 Canada Place
You may not be able to afford the rooms, but it’s free to cruise through the airy lobby of the new Fairmont Pacific Rim hotel. (At least they haven’t stopped us yet.) The space positively gleams with white marble, from the polished floors, walls, and staircase that lead to Oru restaurant to the brilliantly white Fazioli grand piano. We’re not sure what subtle, glorious scent they’re piping into the air, but breathe deeply, close your eyes, and you’re in a Swiss spa. Check out the pristine marble restrooms next to Giovane café—the handicapped stall in the women’s washroom is so large and lovely you just might consider moving in. We would if they’d let us.