A Round of AHpplause For AHll InvAHlved

Okay, I’ll leave the “AH” puns to… Thee AHs. Clearly, as their Facebook page shows, they’re the experts.

Cake, barefooted dancing, cake-eating while dancing and math quizzes. This was just a slice of the fun you missed if you weren’t at the Biltmore this past Wednesday night. And what a party it was, in no small part celebrating half of the members of Movieland whose birthdays fell the night before.

Starting the celebration were Spesh Pep. With a totally confounding name (what the hell is “spesh pep”? How did they decide on it? Are Spesh Pep even a “they“?); an almost non-existent online presence; and a bizarre batch of songs on their Bandcamp, Spesh Pep were truly a mystery to me.

It’s damned difficult to sound original in 2013. But Spesh Pep – who turned out to be a trio – pulled together familiar elements in ways I’d never quite heard before. Guitar and bass jockeyed for position with a strange languor, chopped up by odd, stuttering time signatures (guitarist Chance and the bassist literally sparred with each other, helicoptering around stage and pushing and rocking back-to-back, butting each other with their shoulders like a pair of animals jousting for a mate). I hadn’t felt bass throb like that since today’s finest bands in psych graced the late, psych-friendly Waldorf Hotel. Spesh Pep’s vocals warbled as members swapped singing duties, often involving heavy call-and-response and trading “gabba-gabba-gabba NA-nas” and other such mellifluous gibberish.

None of this is even to mention the band’s sprightly spirit. “Hooray for the people on the dance floor! Woo!” guitarist Chance excitedly exclaimed at the opening of their set. While introducing one song, he informed the house: “This is called “Forget About Fred“. It’s about Scooby Doo.”

For a moment though, as Spesh Pep tuned, it seemed like Chance was about to bring down the entire room’s morale by mentioning the protests against Russia’s recent anti-gay bill. But the crowd’s boos against the bill only gave way to whooping cheers when Chance declared how lucky he felt that he was able to grow up “in a little bubble” where he could play guitar in a dress on stage, “and no one’s going to fight me about it.”

Spesh Pep’s final song captured the spirit of their performance more than any other point in their show. Chance dropped to the floor where he began shredding in a final breakdown. When I looked away for a brief second, someone from the front row (possibly AHS bassist Ridley Bishop) was already onstage blowing a squealing Zappa-esque sax line. At that point, I could no longer distinguish between the crowd’s cries of joy and the pureed noise that shot out like bolts from a shattered plasma ball.

I’m not totally sure what Spesh Pep’s self-christened “funk blast pop space weird” tag means, but they were funky and weird for sure. While Spesh Pep kind of freaked me out in all of their mysteriousness and weird Bandcamp sounds, seeing them live, I’ve learned that it’s all in good fun.

Next, Movieland brought a different flavour of pep to the night. Mixed and recorded by local pop-magnate and producer extraordinaire Jay Arner, Movieland are blessed to have a such a mentor, should they ever need one.

But Wednesday night was not one of those times. Movieland staples like 1-2-3-4 Get Fucked”, “Politics of Ecology”, “Bad Hands” (which they claimed was based on a misheard Pavement lyric) and “Craigslist” (“It’s about eBay, *giggle*”) delighted all. It was their second last song “He Cares More If You Forget About Me” though that sent the audience into more than a tizzy – it simply made them go nuts.

Not before posing a math problem regarding the band members’ ages and promising a free drink to anyone who could answer correctly (“It’s grade 11 math up in here!”), Movieland bowed out with a “super-secret cover,” Modest Mouse’s “Shit Luck”. (Although a close friend of the band, someone guessed correctly.)

Then came Pineapple. One look at their album cover, and you know there’s going to be absolutely nothing straight-faced about their show. The band may be lined up neutrally on the cover of last summer’s self-titled debut album, but behind them is a galactic scene that can only be compared to watching a quasar while on acid in a dust storm on Mars – if bears could inhabit the Red Planet.

But Pineapple are anything but neutral live. They are extremely partisan, in fact – advocates of shaking it ’til you break it with a platform against static. Appropriately opening with “Happy B-Day 2000X”, Pineapple’s taut, upbeat dance-rock got the crowd hoppin’ all over the Biltmore as everyone mowed on freshly sliced, kiwi-topped vegan birthday cake.

The party reached a fever pitch with Thee AHs who also included Movieland birthday girl Davina Shell back on guitar. Even with a new, more elaborately crafted second album Future Without Her, which Thee AHs self-released four months ago, the springy foursome’s new songs couldn’t come across as anything other than fun. Really, no surprise there.

Thee AHs and their tight-knit audience – full of friends, acquaintances and likely family – kept the house-party vibes going ’til closing time. Although Thee AHs’ new songs shift in ways atypical of poppy music, no one had trouble hanging onto their every lyric, rhythm or beat, a testament to the camaraderie and familiarity throughout the whole night.

Moreover to birthdays and a full line-up of fantastic bands, everyone came together to celebrate their patriotism as proud, flag-bearing citizens of Thee AHs Nation. Although I wasn’t personally acquainted with anyone at the show, I was glad I was at least able to dip my toes into the cultural melting pot that is Thee AHs Nation. I’ll definitely be back for a visit.

Leslie Ken Chu

Leslie Ken Chu