The description included the words “cover band” (a phrase I haven’t enjoyed since college) and works written in response to songs, which just sort of confused me. Still, the event promised works by some of the stand out acts from last night (including featured poet Ian Keteku and slam winner Jillian Christmas) and a live performance of the Beastie Boys’ 1986 album License to Ill. And so, dear reader, for your sake, I gathered my pens, fished my notebook out from under the bed, pulled on some galoshes and trekked eight whole blocks to Café Deux Soleils.
A long-time home to Vancouver’s slam community, the café was quickly filling with poets, musicians and casual observers. The entire room buzzed with the sort of artistic camaraderie that makes friends of strangers and participants of spectators. I had the good fortune to be seated next to a creative writing major at UBC who said she had never attended any sort of poetry slam. She said she didn’t know what to expect. I confessed that I didn’t either. We giggled nervously and sipped our drinks, which is the writer’s equivalent of buckling one’s seat belt.
My bias against cover bands was quickly revealed to be prejudicial in the extreme. Never having seen the Beastie Boys live, I can’t speak to the verisimilitude, but the band certainly captured the raucous spirit of the music. Spillious the Ridiculous One played the part of Mike D, rocking vocals, guitar and trumpet like a champ. Johnny MacRae channeled Ad Rock on the mic, donning a backwards, red ball cap while roaming off stage and through the packed house. Seated at the electric drum kit and master of samples was Lee Cannon-Brown, while shayne avec i grec pulled double duty as bassist and third vocalist.
Musicians and poets alike were immersed in the mood of the night, some even appearing in what may have been costume (but also may have been not-costume—it’s hard to tell on Commercial Drive sometimes). The first half featured a song and then a work created in response to the track, with the order switched for the second half (poem, then song).
License to Ill was performed in order and in its entirety, which reminded me how fucking great the Beastie Boys are. Also, it was pretty impressive from a musical standpoint, especially because the band kept the energy going for the whole show. No small feat, particularly when you’re trying to emulate a group that’s so unique and well loved.
The singular format of the performance made for intriguing performances on the part of the poets, and, truth be told, some pieces worked better than others. Most were pretty heavily hip-hop infused, which is both understandable and perfectly all right. My personal favorites, however, broke from the hip-hop feel and engaged the themes of the tracks in unexpected ways.
Keteku’s piece, written for “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!),” took the riotous exuberance of the song and transformed it into a hilariously staid courtroom drama, complete with dance moves, masks and guest witnesses.
Another highlight was Toronto poet Alessandra Naccarato’s response to “Girls.” The feminist piece “Boys” was, perhaps, a predictable route to take, but was so well executed and utterly hysterical that one couldn’t help but fall in love with the work.
Works by Vancouver’s new Slam Master RC Weslowski and visiting poet Prufrock Shadowrunner also awed the crowd, though I cannot for the life of me understand why Shadowrunner was accompanied onstage by a stuffed shark and heavily bejeweled doll. Poets!, am I right?
By the midpoint of the show (a rowdy rendition of “No Sleep Till Brooklyn”), the audience had gotten in on the act. It was 10 p.m. and, I kid you not dear reader, people were dancing on the tables. My table, in fact. And though I was not dancing, the creative writing student, the one with no previous knowledge and no expectations, was one of the dancers (I, dear reader, had left my dancing shoes at home, opting instead forenamed galoshes).
Quoth the student: “Slam poetry is my new favorite thing ever!”
And yes, apprehensions and mysterious dolls and the occasional flat instrument or damaged mic aside, the evening was enjoyably madcap, madly enjoyable and an unexpectedly great component of this year’s V.I.P.F.