Failing a Total Success

Music Waste, Vancouver’s favourite ultra-affordable music, art and comedy festival, which charges patrons a staggering $5 per show, formally kicked off at the Anza Club (amongst other venues) last Thursday night. With a stacked bill that featured Defektors, Slim Fathers, Failing and Nam Shub, Music Waste started this year off right.

Falling somewhere between post-rock, hydroplaning ‘90s alt-rock and shimmering ambient swirls over programmed samples were Nam Shub. Vancouver bands seem to break up or rearrange quicker than they form sometimes, but Nam Shub have logged four years together as a band. They play with such clearly practiced rigour that their chemistry from those ‘many’ years together shows. Every musical movement flowed in such celestial sync, the complexity of their rock seemed second nature to them. No amateur feat, that’s for sure.

Speaking of easy feats: “I wanted to know the exact dimensions of Hell. Does this sound simple? Fuck you,” Kim Gordon sang on Sonic Youth’s classic track “The Sprawl”. But Failing sure make it seem simple. Maybe the startling trio has a hunch. Hell, after seeing Failing, I feel I’m one show closer to knowing the answer.

If Nam Shub ripped a hole in the fabric of space and time with their cosmic floating rock, the bassless Failing were the two-necked, six-eyed, thirty-fingered beast that threatened to reach through and drag you into the pit of its demented, twisted universe.

With flat-footed, shaky-legged stomps that would impress Dwayne “The Rock“ Johnson, spiking his heels into the stage, Failing’s singer and ‘rhythm’ guitarist was the first performer I ever felt shake the venue floor. And he’s not a big guy at all either. With all of his chest-high guitar-playing and stamping about, it was amazing he was able to unleash anything tuneful. His guitaring swiped in broad strokes, like a bear paw over the head, while the band’s second guitarist’s note-picking clenched through the audience’s tympanic membranes like the talons of a bird of prey.

Following Failing, the night got dumped on its head in a huge way and never quite regained its stride. Unfortunately, bad sound can wreak irreparable damage on good songs, as Slim Fathers experienced firsthand. The band rollercoastered from their guitars having been too loud to having been turned down just right and from Courtney Ewan not having had enough volume in her mic to having gotten far too much volume. Not only did this result in her singing become ear-coveringly piercing (on top of the existing Failing-inflicted damage), but it also highlighted her weaknesses as a singer; if her volume was in line with the rest of the band’s, maybe they could have obscured the many instances when her voice bottomed out.

Slim Fathers’ unfortunate slot, following two totally engaging performances and preceding the headliners, the rousing Defektors, definitely worked towards Slim Fathers’ disadvantage. “You know it’s a bad sign when your boyfriend is texting in the front row,” Ewan joked. At least they were aware of how badly things were going – not that this line drew any attention – not even sympathy laughs. Halfway through Slim Fathers’ set was a good time to duck out for some fresh air and give my ears a break from unnecessary noise. At most, I could could still make out functional levels of Slim Fathers’ caterwauling, cuing a safe time to reenter the Anza Club.

Slim Fathers may be one of those bands that needs low fidelity to mask their shortcomings and imperfections – perhaps even to give them most of their appeal. If that’s the case, at least it means their debut album Old Fruit (Pizza/Pop Tapes, 2012) still sounds great.

Unlike most ‘piss-breaks’ (it’s a harsh term, I know, but I can’t argue that Slim Fathers’ set didn’t feel like the equivalent), most of the night’s attendees didn’t return. This was too bad because Defektors tore things up to close the night. Their rough, breakneck, blues punk brings to mind the battle charge of bands like Montreal’s (once again defunct?) Tricky Woo, Vancouver’s hot-blooded Jolts and Joy Division at their rawest as captured on Substance (Factory Records, 1988). Not much more to say than Defektors swing like a haymaker, and then it’s lights out.

As much as I like Defektors, and despite the fact that I went to this show mostly because of Nam Shub, I have to give the performance of the night to Failing. I’d never heard of them before, aside from a few plays on their Bandcamp page, but recordings don’t do them justice. You can’t capture in the studio their netherworldly blackhole magic that completely sucks the energy out of the night. Without any discredit to Nam Shub or Defektors, Music Waste’s kick-off at the Anza Club just wasn’t the same after Failing came and laid waste.

Leslie Ken Chu

Leslie Ken Chu