Give Victory Square Block Party coordinator Dustin John Bromley, or at least his weather app, a round of applause, because the forecast of good weather he gave to the Straight came through tenfold on Sunday for the annual outdoor music bash. To put things in context, just a couple of nights earlier the Vancouver skies had cracked open via a gorgeous, if frightening, lightning storm that suggested Gozer's arrival was imminent.
It was a pleasure for many, then, to take advantage of the gorgeous, golden-rayed weather bestowed upon us this weekend. While that meant people were probably hitting up the beach one last time or sitting on the deck with a couple of beers and a grill full of food, Vancouverites weren't exactly filling up Victory Square, at least not at first. Only a smattering of souls were strewn across the Downtown Eastside spot to check out opening act Kristi Lane Sinclair.
For her part, the acoustic-guitar-toting artist thanked everyone for coming out early before busting out folksy, finger-picked melodies and especially breathy vocals about heartache, loneliness, and regret.
"This song is about being very super-duper sorry about something," she said cryptically of a downer called "Sorry", which went on to detail hair-pulling, ruined lives and contained the confession "I don't want your man."
While her song cycle stuck to the sadder side of things, nearby the mood was much different as a rogue tree-climber gracefully tumbled out of high-up branches, and performed a walking handstand toward the cenotaph.
Sinclair promised an upcoming full-band set at UBC would be louder than her solo set, but it was local trio Cascadia that first brought the noise to Victory Square. The group's manic and mean intro sent out shards of Sonic Youth–styled six-string chaos into the crowd, with the rest of their set offering a mix of post-hardcore groove and detuned '90s dream-pop, this anchored by drummer Sasha Langford down-soft singing. Though the audience had steadily started to balloon out toward Hamilton street, the explosive set didn't inspire much more than some polite clapping.
Rapper Young Braised performed the strangest set of the day, spending his first moments doing an extended calisthenics routine in complete silence. From there, he brought on cloudy, synth-strewn beats, monotone non-sequiturs rhyming "bird on a wire" with "turd on fire," and ad-libs dubbing himself the "college age Kanye".
Bringing the set to Andy Kaufman levels of performance art, he went on to deliver a deadpan cover of Oasis's "Wonderwall", and later won the crowd over with the wavy "Murakami", a love letter to Japanese culture with a goofy hook about a "punani tsunami".
Unfortunately, the experimental V. Vecker Ensemble was forced to cancel its appearance at Victory Square earlier in the week, which led to the addition of garage crew Dead Ghosts to the bill. Frontman Bryan Nicol noted the band was pretty hung over from a night of hard partying, but thankfully songs like "That Old Feeling" and "I Want You Back" thrive on a ramshackle spirit.
Nicol's knees nearly buckled as he sloppily shuffled across the stage to unfurl fuzz-fried solos, while Steve Ferreira's floor tom tipped over a few times on one particularly rowdy rave-up. The small cement pit up front finally began to fill up with dancers, while deeper in the crowd the most magical sight of the day took place as a litter of little kids hurtled across beach blankets and bodies on the hunt for a loose, light-brown hare.
Slow Learners kept the amps cranked for their first song, a new number called "Posturing", but soon had their set interrupted for a raffle draw. Unfrazzled by the scheduling snafu, which landed one concertgoer a bucket of Steam Whistle Brewing swag, the band smiled their way back into potent grunge-pop fist-pumpers like "Grocery Store" and "Your Friends".
With one DJ mercilessly blasting even punkier songs through the P.A. in between sets, Jay Arner's soft and subtle retro-pop was a welcome repose. But while timid new wave number "Midnight on South Granville" ushered things in nicely, the rest of the performance was not without its gaffes.
Bassist Julian Marrs flubbed more than a few notes on lite-disco jam “Broken Glass [In the Hall of Shattered Mirrors]” while walking out into the crowd, and Arner complained that the six-piece lineup left little room to move on stage. Making the best of things, he too wandered into the throng and coaxed a pants-sagger named Henry to mumble through a verse of "Bird of Prey". Interestingly, his incoherent interpretation yielded one of the biggest cheers of the day.
The Courtneys have been on a roll lately, with the indie-pop act's acclaimed self-titled debut LP selling out of its first pressing shortly after their record release party as part of Music Waste last June.
CiTR DJ Duncan McHugh introduced the trio by calling its "90210" his song of the season. Sadly for the Duncan's Donuts host, the act skipped over the song, but still delivered the goods with just-as-awesome four-on-the-floor janglers like "Manion".
While the Courtneys set capped with a dance-off, it was Victoria-bred rockers Slam Dunk's closing set that really brought the foot-shufflers out in full force. Leading the charge was a varsity jacket-adorned little boy with a bad case of happy feet, who fully felt the band's juiced-up "Can't Stand It", as well as the message behind the gruffly sung "Slowdance" ("My baby-baby wanna slow dance, I never wanna slow down").
That said, Arner's bassist Marrs, who was now in the audience, had to take a break after a piggybacking accident had him hitting the concrete hard, leading a few friends to help him to a nearby bench and take stock of the damage.
The energy was still high on-stage though, with bassist Caitlin Gallupe and bearded guitarists Jordan Minkoff and Duncan McConnell hopping and hollering in unison on dirty hoedown "Bleacher Lovin' ". Like Bromley had promised, the rain stayed away from this year's Victory Square Block Party, but damned if it didn't end off on a thunderous note.