Anchoress takes no prisoners in Vancouver

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      At Funky Winker Bean’s on Saturday, January 7

      Someone has to finally come out and say it: as executive decisions go, what the hell were they thinking? If you’ve been to Funky Winker Bean’s, you know someone put a mammoth amount of effort into cleaning the place up, transforming it from a pants-shittingly scary Downtown Eastside dive bar into a charmingly grungy rock ’n’ roll venue.

      A major part of the renos was the construction of an actual stage (as opposed to four sheets of plywood plopped onto plastic Dairyland milk crates). Because that stage is about four feet high, getting a good look at whoever is on it from the dance floor should be easy, assuming, of course, you aren’t Billy Barty standing behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

      So what’s the problem? Well, someone decided to ring the perimeter of the structure with a two-foot-high barricade, this perhaps designed to discourage crusties from stage-diving, drunken performers from toppling backward into the mosh pit, and anyone in the audience (with the exception of, um, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) from seeing the performers from the waist down.

      As a result, there’s something of a physical disconnect between audience and musician at Funky Winker Bean’s, which is too bad, because the room is an otherwise great addition to the city’s live-music scene. On a cold and drizzly Saturday night, four local underground acts did their best to make you forget the stage’s considerable shortcoming. If best-in-show headliners Anchoress and third-billed the Jen Huangs didn’t get your blood pumping, you’ve already broken your New Year’s resolution to get more excited about life.

      There was nothing wrong with openers the Repossessors that a semi-competent bass player (or some serious bottom end on the guitar) won’t fix. The garage-grimed two-piece had singer-axeman C. J. Brabant screaming like he meant it, and drummer Kyle Valade kicking an admirable amount of ass behind the kit. When the band isn’t cribbing from Black Flag’s “Rise Above”, its unvarnished brand of thrashy punk suggests a more-than-passing affection for the dum-dum sound that made the Motor City famous. Where the Repossessors have some work to do is in figuring out how to fill the stage as a two-piece. As it was, if Brabant learned anything during his guitar solo in the otherwise impressive “Livin in the City”, it’s that sometimes less leaves you wanting more.

      Speaking of leaving you wanting more, the Jen Huangs are arguably the best undiscovered treasure in the city. You want fiercely original? That would be a four-piece that can throw standup bass, Tex-Mex trumpet, and old-school accordion breakdowns into the mix, and somehow make it all sound devastatingly cool, rather than like an Emily Carr art-school project gone wrong. Highlights of a thoroughly smoking set included the snakefinger guitar pyrotechnics of Robert Mattson, the above-and-beyond heroics of timekeeper Ed Wagner, and standup bassist Matt Salvesen’s frilly wedding-singer shirt. And let’s not forget multi-instrumentalist Patrick Lewis, who made a good case that there’s nothing difficult about playing trumpet and squeezebox at the same time.

      Musically, the Jen Huangs draw from all sections of the record store, mixing up mariachi-flared folk, skronk-splattered art rock, voodoo-doll rockabilly, and psychedelic Texas country. In other words, if they were from Brooklyn they would be your new favourite band. Appropriately, it was during the Jen Huangs eclectic set that things took a decidedly surreal turn. The 60-something pensioner who’d been sitting alone at a table for two hours, drinking draft beer through a straw, grabbed her walker and shuffled out the door. An impeccably dressed doppelgänger for Manuel from Fawlty Towers made the rounds of the club, elegantly carrying a metal tray containing three-quarters of a pizza. And a grizzled, white-haired ringer for the Skipper from Gilligan’s Island appeared out of nowhere like Moby Dick, his sweatshirt a mess of dirt and grease stains.

      Funnily, the Skipper was arguably sexier than two-thirds of drum-tight thrash squad Likely Rads. (You’ll have to guess which member of the trio is the presentable one.) Let’s just say that bearded-and-dreaded guitarist Burger seems aiming for a look best described as Tom Savini playing Rob Zombie. Bespectacled bassist Jay Raymond, meanwhile, left you wondering if his day job is teaching chemistry in the backroom of a comic-book shop. No matter, as Likely Rads proved unassailably adept at the kind of speed-freaked thrash that made D.R.I. and the Descendents two of the most revered acts in hardcore. Not coincidentally, covers of songs by both legends made it into the band’s never-less-than-punishing set. As a bonus, the stage barriers made it impossible to see Raymond’s ass.

      Like the Jen Huangs, Anchoress is a great band that, for some reason, continues to fly completely under the radar in Vancouver. The hardcore quartet’s debut, Set Sail, was one of the standout records, punk or otherwise, of 2011, its take-no-prisoners approach making you wonder when the Warped Tour Main Stage booker is going to come calling.

      Anchoress wasted no time pulling the pin on the hand grenade; by the time the group ripped into “Murder in the Sky Over Burnaby” a couple of songs in, singer Rob Hoover, bassist Ricky Castanedo, and guitarist Keenan Federico had already served notice they wouldn’t be spending the night standing in one place. They also made it clear they wouldn’t be contained by the Funky Winker Bean’s stage setup. When Federico wasn’t straddling the barrier, Hoover was splayed right over it, the mike extended into a crowd that was happy to help out on scorchers like “Curtain Call”. Impossibly, given the separation between performers and audience, “She-Devil” somehow turned into a mass sing-along, Anchoress and its fans operating as one impressive punk-fucking-rock machine.

      Some barriers, evidently, are made to be broken.

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      A. MacInnis

      Jan 10, 2012 at 11:33pm

      Way to show me how to do it! (Laughing out loud, man). BTW, Manuel's double is named Charlie, he usually sells calzones, and he's ALWAYS there, or at least he's been there every time I've gone.

      Has anyone actually eaten his stuff? I've been tempted, but...

      M. Salvesen

      Jan 13, 2012 at 9:19am

      I live in Pitt Meadows and, ironically enough, go to school at Emily Carr for evening classes during the week. I saw Charlie on the 160 bus on my way home to Coquitlam last night. He was easily recognizable even with the few times I've been to Funky's so I decided to introduce myself and take the opportunity to show him that he'd been mentioned in The Straight of which, due to my band's wonderful review in this very article, I had 6 copies in my portfolio.

      I believe it made his night because about 20 minutes later on the same bus he pulled a large slab of pizza out of a container in his backpack and offered me half. That is, he less offered and more so insisted that I take half. Being a moderate food adventurist I eventually obliged.

      Glad I did. Never again will I dismissively say "no thank you" to his pizza at Funky's. Highly recommended.

      I live for these moments. Thanks again Mike.