As far as gigs go, 2015 was frustratingly average.
There were a few corkers last year, don’t get me wrong. The glorious Twilight Sad in Vancouver, and in Amsterdam. Always Lower Dens, and UMO (both in Vancouver, and UMO in Toronto, again.). The Vancouver debut of Django Django on a wet Thanksgiving Monday was pretty special, even though you missed it. There was, however, a most remarkable moment and my best gig of the year: Young Fathers. A band so stunningly great live, we all mouthed “holy f*ck” about two tracks in. And any year in which I get to see Hot Chip – this time in Toronto – is a year that does not suck.
But overall? Few and far between.
UK bands that I love – Foals, Public Service Broadcasting, Palma Violets, Yuck, The Charlatans among them – didn’t make it northwest in ‘15. The spring and autumn “rush” season were instead busy with meh tours and dull pop bands. The summer was typically arid. Okay, yes I’m picky but I’ve earned that right. My sofa was more enticing than most shows last year.
Still, the winter rebounded in a magical way. 2015 ended remarkably well, handing me a clutch of oddball, and utterly delightful, shows. Here are my thoughts.
Whomever had the big idea to pair legendary Scots acid house/alt-psych-rockers Primal Scream with legendary former goth/hard rockin’ 70’s borrowers The Cult, please stand up so I can pelt you with banana skins.
This weirdly gruesome tag-team tour hit Vancouver on November 15, and took place at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, one of the city’s larger posh-seaters, aka a pretty awkward place in which to rock. Also the worst place to see the fantastic and ferocious Primals beg for the attention of beer-swilling dudes during a poorly attended early slot, when they shoulda been playing for a smaller crowd of us who would have appreciated them.
Still. Mad love to Bobby Gillespie for going on with the show, because at the very least I, and one row in the Queen E, were happy to be able to get our rocks off for at least one half-hour.
Playing a hits-friendly set in front of a depressingly empty hall, the glitter king mugged and peacocked, flounced and stomped the boards, through a dozen songs. “Accelerator” and “Kill All Hippies” were bigger than the room deserved, “Swastika Eyes” speedy, the groovy “Movin’ on Up”, the sell-out “Rocks” were there, and should have been rewarded. And “Loaded”? We want to be free, to do what we wanna do! We wanna get loaded! Yeah, we wanted to, Primals. But we couldn’t, and we know you couldn’t, because it was a Sunday night in Vancouver, and in that moment, Vancouver didn’t love the Primals, they loved the Cult. Bummer.
Still, to be fair, I also used to love the Cult. So for all my griping over the ridiculous pairing with the Primals, I will hands up and say that back then I loved the Cult. I loved them when they were Southern Death Cult and gothy ’80s Cult and I even adapted my love to accept their foray into 1970s biker chic – through the Gretsch-y “Love Removal Machine” era, and beyond to the fromage of “Edie (Ciao Baby).” Tonight, they were all three, exactly as you’d expect.
But what I’d forgotten about the Cult since the last time I saw them – not guitarist Billy Duffy’s great sounds, or his perfect posing or the fact they’ve all lost their credible English accents to Los Angeles – was just how full of fart Ian Astbury is.
Half the time insulting the crowd, then sucking up to it, talking about old times with Bob Rock here in VanCity, our mountains, our First Nations, our Prime Minister Trudeau (“You guys like Trudeau? I like Trudeau. He has a tattoo and his mom was cool.”), or his three visits to rehab (“Seriously, I have anxiety fucking disorder, I’m a mess”), or the drunk women in the front row (“I like you, you don’t give a fuck.”), Astbury blathered on. And on. Still, there was a reason I loved the Cult before, and it’s due in part to that guy’s voice, at least when he sings.
Astbury’s voice was stellar. If you could get past a dullard patch of some songs that came after Sonic Temple, then you’d be gifted a pretty sweet five-pack of “Sweet Soul Sister”, “Fire Woman”, “She Sells Sanctuary” and an encore of “The Phoenix” and “Love Removal Machine.” For a moment, the rest of it didn’t matter and the best of it made me feel like I was 15 again. And it was good.
If you’d told me in 2014 that I’d see early ’90s shoegaze heroes RIDE not once, but twice in 2015, playing much of their genre-defining album Nowhere, well, I’d don a hat, take it off, and then eat it. But that’s what’s happened. A planned visit to London to see them from the back of a likely muddy field at Field Day festival ended up having to be cancelled, and instead by some small miracle I saw them that same week in Toronto. Magic, and as noted, utterly epic. To see them a second time, in Vancouver at the Commodore Ballroom on November 17, well….brilliant.
There they were, a vapour trail of fuzz and distortion in front of subdued but happy smiles from locals and folks who’d traveled from the next province over to bear witness. A dapper hatted Mark Gardener, mod Andy Bell, blokey Steve Queralt and a tub-thumping Loz Colbert stood in front of a respectful but subdued Van crowd. And when I say subdued, I’m guessing it was more like a cross between gobsmacked (the old) and inquisitive (the young).
There’s a sort of open-mouthed delight that comes with hearing that melodic wall of sound from a bunch of guys you’d never thought you’d see again. And having had the benefit of being at the tail end of RIDE’s pretty-much year-long tour, Vancouver got a sleek-sounding package. Even the distortion sounded controlled.
“Leave Them All Behind” into “Twisterella”, “Kaleidoscope” into “Dreams Burn Down”. “Vapour Trail” and then “Taste” in the encore…yep, all as mighty as you wanted. Well done, RIDE, thanks for coming back for us.
PUBLIC IMAGE LIMITED
Now, then. What do we have here. Punk icon Johnny Rotten? John Joseph Lydon? Mere feet in front of me? For the first time ever? Why yes!
It’s hard to explain the sort of curious excitement slash reticence I approached the Public Image Ltd show at the Vogue Theatre on November 22nd. Kind of like being at an Australian zoo and looking at weird things in cages that might kill you but you take their photos anyway and tell your friends you survived a brush with them.
I survived a PIL show. I loved a PIL show. Even when three fights broke out around me – because assholes – and one actually included me (a feral drunk woman thought I was tugging her hair), there’s nowt more punk rock than being in the centre of a scrap while Johnny Rotten hurls insults at the scrappers.
But nevermind. The music. PIL. Fantastic, weird. I miss the old days with Jah Wobble providing the thrum and sway that the punks needed to keep themselves from disappearing up their own arseholes. But the Wobble days are long gone and so we’re left with Lydon and Lu Edmonds and a coupla others and that’s just fine because….PIL were awesome.
What I saw and heard was strong. Surprisingly so. It was a dirty cabaret, with Lydon barking from a lecturn, stopping only to have people thrown out for picking the aforementioned fights, or to ask us to hurl our worst abuses at him in the after the encore, then saying: “Ahhh I’ve heard worse.” Then he laughed and genuinely thanked us. Seems granddad isn’t that scary after all.
New one “Double Trouble” kicked it all off, brilliantly, going somewhere fast into a slight revisioning of “This is Not a Love Song.” There were some oddly interesting parts in “Corporate”, “Bettie Page” and “Death Disco” – all shrieky and incongruent with Lydon more animated than I ever expected. But the best bits were easily “The Body”, his Leftfield collab of “Open Up” which segued into the new one “Shoom”, and the joyful, spitty versions of “Public Image” and “Rise.” I’ll tick PIL off as another true highlight show of 2015. Even with the fights. Or maybe because of them.
And now for something completely different. Like, veering from post-punk legendary PIL-land and into more “wunderkind Icelandic composer named Olafur Arnalds pairs up with Faroe Island knob-twiddler Janus Rasmussen to make mesmeric, ambient electronica” territory.
At the tail end of 2014, Kiasmos – Arnald’s side project away from his orchestral manoeuvres – released a small, self-titled debut filled with big, lush and expansive sounds. It was among my very favourite albums of that year and I depend on it to help me focus. It’s a warm, warm thing.
A month later, I was able to see them perform live in their hometown as part of Iceland Airwaves 2014, in a KEXP session in a small hostel. You can see them, and my big mug somewhere behind speaker stand in the front row, here. They hooked me.
So imagine the squee when Kiasmos was booked in to play the small east end club, the Biltmore Cabaret, on December 12. The Iceland Airwaves Vancouver crew of 2014 rallied, and off we went to see our faves.
It was the last night of the tour. And you could tell. Kiasmos were giddy. LitLoopedHeldWreckedSwayedThrownBurnt and Bent, all songs, all peaked and valleyed with a kind of joy and abandon. Janus jumped and pumped the crowd, Olafur cracked wise and grinned.
But the best thing of Kiasmos wasn’t just the music coming out of the speakers, it was what was going on between the men making it. As they were live looping, remixing and re-laying drumbeats in the moment, they were also smiling at each other, laughing and silently challenging each other to goof off and tweak. It was an absolute joy to watch and happens so rarely. Musicians usually engage each other OR engage us, but rarely do they do both. And to see that kind of actual artwork behind the decks, well, damn.
Kiasmos ended a fair-to-middling 2015 of shows with a year-leading set that filled us with exultation. If this is a sign of what’s to come in 2016, I’ll very much take it. \m/
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