Highlights from the West 4th Avenue Khatsahlano Street Party

The Ruffled Feathers, Sur Une Plage, Colin Cowan & the Elastic Stars, Louise Burns, the Abramson Singers, the Enigmas, Bible Beats, the Pointed Sticks, and more at the West 4th Avenue Khatsahlano Street Party, 07/11/15

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More than 150,000 people attended Khatsahlano this past Saturday. Not for nothing: Vancouver’s biggest free music and arts festival took over West 4th Avenue between Burrard and MacDonald, and it was where everyone was at, rain or shine (in this year’s case, some much welcomed rain). There were tons to experience at Khatsahlano from meatball eating contests to longboard jams. This was also the first year the festival hosted an Etsy Marketplace. But the music. Let’s get to the main attraction already. Vancouver is home to distinctive niche-like artistic communities, and there is no better way to bring them all together in one place than with this summer tradition. With six stages, there was a variety of acts to check out live. Here are Vancouver Weekly‘s highlights from the festival, as seen by Leslie Ken Chu and Irene Lo.

Leslie Ken Chu: Despite lacking most of the string and wind instruments that define the Ruffled Feathers as chamber pop, the quintet’s bouncy keyboard and single trumpet (on top of standard rock instrumentation) were enough to pep everyone up at 11:30 a.m. The band balanced songs from their Lost Cities EP and both full-lengths, Oracles and Bottom of the Blue. The Ruffled Feathers also premiered a track that will appear on their new album. Ranging from energetic (“Home”) to loungy with a hint of jazz (“Our Beautiful Hearts”), the Ruffled Feathers made for a fine choice to start the day.

Some acts were better suited to the gloomy weather. Electronic duo Sur Une Plage hit on icy cold wave that bordered on industrial lite. Although singer Colin McKill (of Hard Drugs and Lord Beginner) mostly stood with his hands in his pockets, his other half, Joshua Wells (of Black Mountain and Lightning Dust), indulged in some jerky body movements, demonstrating Sur Une Plage’s pronounced danceability.

Broadcasting live on CITR from the Vine Stage were Colin Cowan & the Elastic Stars. Early into their set, he beckoned for more delay: “Spoon-feed it to me, baby!” More delay certainly enhanced their languid, smoke-screened tunes that nodded at 60s folk. The sounds of songs like the dreamy “Beyond the Moon” would have swirled fittingly in a shaggy den along with patchouli incense. The band dipped into more surreal territory with the warped and weird rocker, “I’ll Masquerade It”, and “Psychedelic Lido Heaven” was a hypnotic ode to the East Van bar. After encouraging everyone to “grab a loved one and feel free to waltz,” Cowan bid adieu: “We’re the Elastic Stars. If you want to know more about us, see if you can recognize us on the street, and ask us!” The band faded away with their final song, “Owing, Knowing All”.

Irene Lo: Former Lillix member Louise Burns was one of the more stylish performers, dressed in bohemian chic cuts and accessories that would have fit right in at Coachella. Sunglasses finished off the look, and her band, the Victims, had pairs too. Her voice was butter and sugar melted together. Working with Sune Rose Wagner (of the Raveonettes) as well as Sandra Vu (of Dum Dum Girls) on her latest release, 2013’s The Midnight Mass, Burns situates herself amongst dusky singer-songwriters like Vu who have penchants for dark pop hooks. “Ruby” was sublime live.

Plazas is Savana Salloum, a Canadian producer and singer-songwriter from Kelowna. Her eerie vocals brought together the entire performance as she broke out her best Future Islands dance moves in black biker shorts. She barely looked up from her equipment, making her performance feel even more intimate – like being in the living room of a stranger sister when she throws a demo-listen.

LKC: The Abramson Singers played a full set of harmony-powered folk songs. Lead singer Leah Abramson took to the acoustic guitar, while Brasstronaut bassist Tariq Hussain played electric guitar, and Lucien Durey provided main backup vocals.

The trio gently drifted along on “Drowning Man”, waved their lyrical picket signs with the anti-chicken farm protester “Hallmark Poultry Ltd.” (aimed at a certain processing plant in East Van), and tapped into a more wayward sentiment with “Fool’s Gold”. The trio’s pleasantly placid set was made all the more bittersweet by the fact that it was their final show as the Abramson Singers; Leah announced that she and Durey were starting a new group called Lost Lagoon.

IL: Top 12 Peak Performance Project finalist JP Maurice stands out when he is at his most anthemic. Hearing his single, “Big Change”, with the trombone not holding anything back, and his brother (from another mother) coming on for a guest rap spot – well, the live display beat the radio recording, in this case. A performer in his own league, Maurice delivered a passionate set for the crowd.

LKC: While awaiting psychedelic garage-rockers the Enigmas, an eager crowd of veteran punks reminisced about falling off the stage at the iconic bygone venue, the Smilin’ Buddha. Human livewire Paul McKenzie led the Enigmas’ charge, breaking into political invectives before almost every song. He targeted the obvious, repeating rally cries to oust Stephen Harper, and the less obvious, such as government approved ground beef. “FUCK YOU!!!” McKenzie shouted as he raised a middle finger to the beef industry. After a handful of originals including “You’re Gonna Miss Me” and “Flying Dutchman”, he broke out his signature saxophone, with a cheap joke. “Sometimes, I put it in my bum,” he divulged. “You know what that’s called? Anal sax!” Then the band launched into the saucy “Windshield Wiper” and a couple of covers: the Sonics’ “Boss Hoss” and set closer “Kick Out the Jams”, the Enigmas’ second shout-out to the MC5 that night, whom McKenzie called “the most underrated and underappreciated band in THE UNIVERSE!!!” The Enigmas are a runaway freight train. With hot sax squealing in tandem with distorted guitar over chugging drums and ballistic bass, the Rain City punks proved that they can not only still hang with today’s young bucks but outperform many of them too.

Over at the Maple Stage, Parts Unknown host Chris-A-Riffic began reciting a list of adjectives. “Brilliant,” “versatile,” and “tall” were just some of the words he used not to describe himself but to introduce his drummer for the evening, the other half of Bible Beats, the multi-talented Jay Arner.

With a single junky sounding keyboard and Arner’s marching drum patterns, Bible Beats were off kilter, exactly the quality that makes Chris-A-Riffic so endearing.

A transcript of every entertaining thing Chris-A-Riffic said would run longer than this article. After a few songs – and much banter – he frantically asked, “How much more time do I have, honestly!?” It had only been 11 minutes. He continued exclaiming about (and repeatedly plugging), among other things, the festival’s $5 butter chicken.

Over 30-or-so minutes (his longest show “in quite some time,” he noted), Bible Beats bounded through “Christian Witch”. (“There comes a point in every man’s life when he just wants the love of a CHRISTIAN WITCH!!!”) He jumped into a full-on ode to the genre-hopping Adrian Teacher, toasting the former Apollo Ghost’s love of Fugazi(‘s principles), refusal to overcharge for shows, and never taking a cent from his own town. “Homeless” was another standout, its social housing critique shouted with manic despair to nothing but a steady drumbeat.

“You know, the Courtneys are playing right now up there, and the Pointed Sticks down there. Thank you!” Chris-A-Riffic informed (or reminded) the crowd while alternately pointing his arms east and west. (The Pointed Sticks actually followed the Courtneys at the Burrard Stage.) It’s no wonder why anyone would stick around for Chris-A-Riffic though: seeing him ramble excitedly, engage the audience, and then jump straight into equally impassioned song without winding himself, as spastic keyboard notes floated towards the sky and popped like multicoloured bubbles, was nothing short of exhilarating.

IL: Meanwhile, as Bible Beats delighted festival-goers, Dada Plan had taken over the Vine Stage. Since Dada Plan formed in 2013, the quintet has hit the sweet spot between narcoleptic jazz and intellectual absurdity. Live, the band was groovy. Haunting and mellow, but with a retro kick.

LKC: Those who decided to catch Bible Belts’ entire set sacrificed a couple of songs by historic Vancouver rockers the Pointed Sticks back at Burrard. But the local legends were far from done: “Perfect Youth”, “Waiting For the Real Thing”, “What Do You Want Me To Do”, “Lies”, “Part of the Noise”, and “Out of Luck” were just some of the classics that the power-pop-punks ran through. As long-time fans sang all the lyrics, and new audiences bopped along, it was clear just how enduring the Pointed Sticks songs have been. “We’ll see you again soon. We’re not going anywhere,” singer Nick Jones promised as the band wrapped. 150,000+ strong can only hope that the Khatsahlano Festival organizers feel the same way.