Black Mountain and Friends Psych Out in Waldorf Parking Lot

photo by Ryan Walter Wagner

On Saturday, the Waldorf Hotel parking lot hosted Vancouver kings (and queen) of ’70s tinged psychedelic rock, Black Mountain, and friends, in a late summer party that left me wondering why they haven’t done more of these. The event featured one medium-sized stage, an outdoor beer garden, food trucks and, of course, the regular indoor bars along with a rock’n’roll movie marathon playing.

With the entrance located on the west parking lot on Hastings, the makeshift stage was set up on the right side of the parking lot next to the more than 60-year-old Hotel. Two or three food trucks were lined up nearby and then there was the “beer garden”. One Black Mountain member later appropriately described it as “beer jail”—likely due to its at times nearly hour-long lineups (one for a wristband, another for entry), chain-link fence complete with barbed wire, and tight quarters. Thankfully there weren’t any reportages of shankings or prison sex (that I heard of). The Waldorf couldn’t really be blamed though – they were just working with what they have, that being a medium-sized parking lot next to a used car dealership with a cage that appears to belong to the nearby gospel mission which leave their vans parked inside. The staff that I talked to were polite and friendly. The Biltmore Cabaret’s very own Saturday night DJ crew, Glory Days, spun a stellar mix of indie, garage, soul, funk and college rock tracks while we waited in between bands.

The not-so-easy-to-Google Vancouver band Basketball came on just as I was reaching the front of the silly line-up for the beverage cage. From what I could discern from my vantage point is that they are a quirky, four-piece dance party band with middle-Eastern fusion influences. From this video that I found, it looks like they probably work better in a dark, intimate club setting than in a half-full concrete jungle just before dusk. That said, they admittedly look like they put on a fun display.

Kelowna-turned-Vancouver band Ladyhawk (not to be confused with the New Zealand female electro-pop singer who is scheduled to play here at the Fortune Sound Club on September 20… that or the 1985 Matthew Broderick fantasy film—both have an “e” at the end of their names) have released two LPs- their 2006 self-titled and 2008’s Shots, along with an EP in between called Fight For Anarchy. Their long-awaited latest offering, No Can Do, is expected to drop October 9 on the Triple Crown Audio label. The band have put out a new single called You Read My Mind, which is a fun, fuzzed-and-jangled number that clocks in at just over two minutes. The first time I heard it, those catchy main chords really reminded me of The Wipers’ 1980 song Return of the Rat which was later covered by Nirvana on a tribute album.

Amongst treating the audience to renditions of popular staples like “S.T.H.D”, “My Old Jacknife”, and “Came in Brave”, Ladyhawk kept the mood light and playful, dancing around and making jokes; rhythm guitarist/lead vocalist/main songwriter Duffy Driediger even chuckled during a verse. Then they played their first single and personal favourite, The Dugout, which I had been patiently waiting all day to hear. Lead guitarist (and redhead) Darcy Hancock effortlessly milked his axe while drummer Ryan Peters kept time and sang backup vocals on several tracks. Dispersed amongst better-known songs, the band played about 3 or 4 which Duffy described as being “new-ish”. One of these was a short unnamed offering which bassist Sean Hawryluk called “a good one to pogo to” and another was dedicated to everyone’s “enemies”. At one point during the set the band teasingly reminded the crowd that it was a Saturday night—not a “Sunday night or Monday morning”. Were we acting anemic during their short 40-minute set? No way. It’ll be nice to see them in the fall at their own proper headlining show.

By the time Black Mountain came on shortly after 9:30, the temperature had cooled down to about 18 degrees and the parking lot had filled up nicely. After dealing with some minor feedback problems during the beginning of “Tyrants”, front man Stephen McBean (guitar and vocals) calmly led his four band-mates through a selection of songs off their LPs Black Mountain (2005), In The Future (2008), and Wilderness Heart (2010). Uninitiated readers really need to hear the band’s super-sexy retro-sounding psychedelic and spacy blend of rock’n’roll to fully appreciate this group. When I say “spacy”, I mean that in the best possible way. There are fuzzed-out, extended organ and drum jams, harmonious male-female vocals, and Black-Sabbath-makes-out-with-Zeppelin-esque guitar parts. There are also ambient and funky parts, big build-up sections and chugging near-metal distortion within a lot of songs. In April, the band released a mixture of nine new and old songs as a soundtrack to the post-apocalyptic surfing film Year Zero, but I’m not sure which unfamiliar tracks were on it. Co-vocalist (and maraca/tambourine player) Amber Webber’s voice completely soars. The woman has amazing pipes and also happens to be gorgeous. I was really hoping that they would play Night Walks as they chose to open with the first time I saw them while they were touring In the Future, but unfortunately not. They did however play the awesome Wucan, Hair Song, Evil Ways, and Old Fang—which cleverly asks “is it foolish to know exactly what you want before you’ve begun?”

The especially stoic Stephen McBean didn’t say much between songs but did mention that his parents were actually married at the Waldorf in 1964 and that Ma McBean has finally started liking his music. They then broke into Angels—which several ladies around me had been shouting for. The middle bridge part sounded quite epic. 2005’s Druganaut had a bunch of us bobbing to the funky bass-line to the best of our abilities within the packed crowd. A quick drop to D-tuning and out came Queens Will Play with its slow mounting climax. For their encore, the band played the crunchy Let Spirits Ride (which completely reminds me of Sabbath’s Symptom of the Universe!) followed by Year Zero’s sprawling “In Sequence”. Finally, Wilderness Heart’s latest single, Rollercoaster left most onlookers’ collective minds happily blown.

Oh yeah, Black Mountain also supposedly played an after-party DJ set inside the Hotel but the extra $10 cover charge may have scared many away.