Punk Rock Showdown

White Lung, Nü Sensae, Peace and The High Drops at Interurban Gallery, March 2.

photo by Michelle Ford

No, the Vancouver punk scene is not moving towards extinction. Yes, there  is that lack of venue dilemma, but when you come out and see homegrown punk bands rip up the stage, you know our city will be OK. Bands like Nü Sensae and White Lung do more than make music – they nourish the hunger of local punk fans, keeping Vancouver’s scene alive, and they do a darn good job of it.

These two local underground heavy hitters stormed Interurban Gallery and Art Space last Saturday for their tour kick-off party. Leather jacket-clad fans and audiences gathered to support and take part of the merry noise-making. Interurban, located on East Hastings seemed like a perfect spot for a punk show – located in a shady neighbourhood and just across Vancouver’s famous public crack den, Pigeon Park. Heading to Interurban added to the underground appeal of the show and a photo exhibition, featuring works by local photographers Ted Reckoning, Asia Fairbanks, Tiina Liimu, Aaron Davidson, Milton Stille and Sara Power, is another little extra something that made the night all the more entertaining.

Skaters-turned-musicians The High Drops started the night right but slow. Oozing with potential with their old-school punk vocal stylings, they seemed to have all the pieces in the right place to deliver a good show, but a certain discomfort on stage was evident. FYI – We don’t go to shows to stare at the guitarist’s backside, we want to feel the oomph and see the band trying their best to entertain the crowd.

Second act of the night, Peace did turn it up a notch. The thundering rolls of their drummer Geoff Dembicki was a reminder why we trotted to Interurban in the first place – awesome melodic noise. It’s no surprise that Peace is one of White Lung’s favourite local acts, and for good reason. That said, the night didn’t fully start until Nü Sensae got on stage.

Loud, brash and in your face, Nü Sensae did not disappoint. Playing songs from their two well-received albums TV, Death And The Devil and Sundowning, fans showed their appreciation with a lot of action in the mosh pit. Showing off his skills behind the kit, Daniel Pitout really took the show to the next level with his high-energy pounding. Guitarist Brody McKnight intensified the band’s noise factor with his menacing riffs, and vocalist/bassist Andrea Lukic’s thick bass lines really hit hard. It’s unfortunate that the sound system didn’t transmit Lukic’s raspy growls very well; her voice was drowned by the other layers of noise.

The anticipated set of front-liner White Lung got the eager crowd even more agitated. Mish Way commanded the stage with her bad girl-punk rock charm, but disaster followed this talented foursome when they were just starting to rock it with their songs from their highly-praised albums, It’s the Evil and the unapologetic, 2012 release, Sorry. Way’s vocals, just like Lukic’s, was lost somewhere in the sound of the fast drums and the ferocious guitar riffs, but the real trouble started when the bass drum’s skin got torn. The venue’s not-so-reliable tech guy was nowhere to be found. You could see the frustration in White Lung’s remarkable drummer Anne-Marie Vassilou. For a while, it seemed like the band might just end the show.

Nü Sensae’s Pitout and the tech guy who finally showed up stepped in and somehow solved the problem by crafting a makeshift bass drum. Taking out the floor tom and converting it to a bass drum actually kind of did the trick, but the sound was still limited. A person beside me started yelling, suggesting “Acoustic!”; I just gave him the “you-gotta-be-kidding-me” look. An acoustic punk show is blasphemy. Despite the chaos, White Lung proved to be quite the troopers. Vassilou also proved that she’s a force to be reckoned with, playing the drums with missing parts is not a walk in the park. The quartet continued on and tried as much as they could to keep the mosh pit going and the crowd happy, even when a drunken fan pulled out one of the bass strings from bassist Grady Mackintosh.

I get it. DIY venues add to the whole punk experience, but when technical problems hinder a great musical experience, it just sucks. Kudos to White Lung for making it happen. I have a new found respect for these punk rockers. In the end, it was a good show, which is a letdown, because it could easily have been great.