Sparkmarker’s Still Got It

I got to the Rickshaw last Friday just as Narrows began their set; the five-piece band was the main reason I was out that night. I’ve listened to many hundreds of albums this year, and Painted (2012) is definitely in my top ten percent. Sure, I’ve been on quite the post-metal/post-subgenres kick for the last little bit, and Narrows falls right into that, but I’m confident that their latest would finish in the top echelons of my favourites list regardless of whatever particular genre I was craving at the time.

Vocalist Dave Verellen (ex-Botch) did an admirable job of attempting to whip up the thin and somewhat listless early crowd that had gathered to give the openers a chance, but largely to no avail. From pacing on stage to hopping down into the crowd to perching himself on a makeshift speaker, Verellen bellowed his throaty rage all over the place. A few hardcores were in attendance, some reportedly from Seattle, so there was at least some kind of fan payoff for the band, but it did feel as if they got a bit short-changed.

“Tight” certainly wasn’t the word I’d used to describe the set, as guitarist Ryan Frederiksen (ex-These Arms Are Snakes) simply appeared to forget how to play his guitar a few times and struggled to match fellow guitarist Jodie Cox’s axemanship. Sam Stothers’ lively drumming was top-notch, which made for a nice contrast to Rob Moran’s loose and unconventional bass-playing. The sludgy, beefy “Under the Guillotine”, one of the standout tracks on Painted, was certainly a set highlight. Give it a whirl.

Next up was Carpenter, who performed their melodic emo/punk-rock to an audience that had doubled within the hour. The band, with their echoing, dual vocal approach and heartfelt lyrics, gave off as much emotion as the night’s opener, but in a decidedly more positive, upbeat manner. This kind of stuff really isn’t my bag and never has been, but I’d be lying if I were to fault them for anything. They had some loyal pockets of followers singing their tunes and the good time they were having on stage was palpable.

By the time the main attraction made it on stage, the Rickshaw was practically full. Back together for the first time in 15 years, Sparkmarker’s members were very appreciative of everyone that had turned out for the show, thanking the crowd for having had babies over the years – “God bless you for populating the world with amazing kids and being amazing parents,” – since none of the band members have sired any whippersnappers to date.

I did zero audio research before the show so this performance was my introduction to the Sparkmarker sound; after only a few tunes, I considered myself a fan. With a sound firmly rooted in the ‘90s and reminiscent of Rollins-era Black Flag, Helmet, a dash of Faith No More and even some early Clutch, Sparkmarker’s sound has aged very well and doesn’t come off as dated. It was interesting seeing avid fans, fifteen years later, finally seeing a beloved band they hadn’t witnessed play live since half their lives ago. The “thank yous” and “I love yous” were flying around the room in abundance, as was the festive sound of noisemakers which vocalist Ryan Scott had tossed into the audience. Check out Nicole Stefanopoulos’ footage of “Sleeping With The T.V. On” to get a taste.

If this does end up being Sparkmarker’s only gig, it really will be a shame, since they proved without a doubt that they still have the mojo that made them a Vancouver institution so many years ago. Why not hold off on the babies a little while longer, gentlemen, and treat us to a few more gigs and, who knows… maybe an album?