At the Rickshaw Theatre on Saturday, June 18
If there was a better place to be last Saturday night than the Rickshaw Theatre’s second birthday bash, a packed all-ages affair that mixed shaggy, older Bison b.c. fans with youthful, pretty Black Wizard ones, those in attendance didn’t hear about it. With a cheap-as-dirt admission of five bucks, ubiquitous party hats, and wristbands for those old enough to drink, the Rickshaw—an old Shaw Brothers movie theatre, the capacity of which was recently downsized from 700 to 500—demonstrated once again how essential a gap it fills in the venue-starved Vancouver scene.
Openers Black Wizard got things cooking with sexy, charismatic, two-guitar blues rock that channelled Sabbath by way of Soundgarden. New guitarist Ken Cook looks like Duane Allman crossed with Stephen McBean, amping up the band’s masculinity and making a striking contrast with former member Johnny de Courcy (last seen playing in New York Dolls–worthy drag at his farewell show at the Interurban Gallery). So steeped in rock tradition is this band that only the absence of Spandex kept it from seeming like 1973.
Haggatha, which offered a more stripped-down, slowed-down, and blues-free take on metal, set the bar higher, with challengingly monolithic song structures and two vocalists who screamed like they’d be spitting blood for days. While its songs have an ugly grandeur to them, the band is so formidably minimal that some kids were turned off (overheard from the audience: “Thank you for playing, now shut the fuck up!”).
Surprise guests Hightower from San Francisco leaped from bluesy riffage to punishing hardcore, often within the same song as Bespectacled Bison guitarist James Farwell peeked from behind the amps to do a bit of cheerleading and interpretive dancing.
After that Rickshaw proprietor David Duprey briefly addressed the audience. “I fuckin’ love you,” he boomed.”We’re not throwing rocks and breaking windows! We’re gonna get drunk and have fun! We’ve been here for two years and we want to do this for another 500 fuckin’ years, so thank you!”
Haggatha drummer Matt Wood—who has replaced Brad Mackinnon in Bison—then rejoined the stage for his first gig with the group. The differences between him and his predecessor were visible from the opener, “Primal Emptiness of Outer Space.” Mackinnon had a knack for making the unexpected sound natural, while Wood flourishes at making the obvious exciting, filling in every juncture with a beat, giving a bouncy, propulsive quality to Bison’s music.
Wood drummed with his whole body, sometimes standing at the kit to deliver a particularly brutal hit. Kids crowd-surfed and mouthed the lyrics to guitarist Dan And’s “Wendigo” (a more appropriate song to mosh to cannot be found, as the pit offers a perfect space to release the fearsome, primal energies of which it speaks). The punkish “Die of Devotion” morphed into a lengthy instrumental jam, with bassist Masa Anzai showing off the chops he learned as a jazz player; this mutated into the emotive “Melody, This Is For You”.
With a climactic encore of “Earthbound”, long absent from the band’s set, and no reference at all to how Vancouver had recently undergone its own Wendigo experience, Bison played heavy, dark music with great joy; the only casualty of the night was Anzai’s bass, which he smashed to shit onstage at the show’s climax. A hoarse masculine voice screamed up at them from the crowd near the end: “You guys are Vancouver metal.”
No arguments there.