Nominal Strut

photo by Noah Adams

One thing you can always count on The Astoria for is so-cheap-they’re-essentially-free shows. They’re often good too. Nominal Records’ showcase, which featured five of the Vancouver label’s best talents for just as many dollars (for those who showed up before 11), was no exception.

First to strut their stuff were a Love Cuts in finer form than the one that barely survived Astorino’s during Music Waste. When the K Records-loving trio did slip up at the Astoria, they just laughed it off. That’s the carefree nature of Love Cuts’ poppy, DIY-minded music and personalities that makes them so endearing. And let’s not forget Tracy Vath hopping up and down like a bunny, especially during “Solitaire”. She can really get down on bass too, swinging it like a pendulum at pelvis level. Love Cuts are imperfect pop, rough around the edges with no intentions to buff up, but their more-hearts-than-skills sincerity is all part of their appeal.

Love Cuts were certainly the odd band out of the night, as Nominal Records’ showcase was top-heavy with pulverizing mayhem thereafter. Any warm vibrations Love Cuts brought were crushed underfoot by the chugging quartet Womankind. Strident stances, scream-heavy and technically sound with devastating riffs that fall on listeners heads like construction beams, Womankind were the complete antithesis of Love Cuts.

Although Womankind appeared in pared-down form (a quartet instead of a sextet that usually boasts two guitars, two vocalists and two bassists), their guitars still swooped with Swans-style resonance over a battlefield march of drums. Loud and heavy is easy, but what Womankind do is a whole lot more: I could tell because nothing was obscured as a mass garble.

Despite the namesake, when it comes to Vapid’s stageshow, they are nothing short of fastidious. But I would probably be pissed too if I was dogged by as many technical problems as they were. “Good thing that wasn’t our best song. We don’t waste our best song on the first,” singer Katie Doyle said with a wink under a veneer of apathy. But the problems continued to the point where Vapid seemed to have spent more time directing traffic with the sound booth and shushing their own band members.

Amongst inner band bickering and nagging sound problems, which the band failed to save face over with dry, self-aware jabs at themselves (“You still can’t hear the vocals? That’s punk rock!”), Vapid came off as exactly that. Their drummer, meanwhile, stayed out of the fray and was the best part to watch with his gorilla-style pounding.

While Vapid made the best of a bad situation, the whole display was a shame, as their snappy dance-punk hooks make for pretty decent rock tunes. Every band has its off nights, whether or not the audience notices, and seeing Vapid for the first time, I’ll give them the benefit of a doubt. After all, as their guitarist Ben Phillips said, they weren’t even using all of their own gear. (“This is why people do sound checks. Just sayin’.”) And even if it’s a bit affected for my taste, Doyle definitely has flare that works for some people.

Leave it to Defektors to reign in Vapid’s malfunctioning splatter. Unlike Vapid, Defektors’ destructiveness had purpose; their fury was the point. Phillips, also Defektors’ guitarist and one of its vocalists, was able to harness any frustrations he had with his previous band’s set into an extra fiery performance. Although the crowd thinned after Vapid (due more likely to the late hour than Vapid who have a decent but dedicated following), Defektors managed to reignite the lost energy.

Phillips is by no means flashy, from his total lack of moves and totally nondescript appearance. What stands out is that he’s either very lucky in where his fingers happen to land on the strings, or he knows his instrument so well that he can calculate precise motions to sound like mistakes. His corroded rust-tones also add to the possible illusion.

Phillips splits vocal duties with bassist Jeremy Haywood, but possessing a choked quality to his deep voice, which adds a deep-seated desperation, I prefer Haywood at the mic. “I’m never gonna see you again,” Ben sang at one point. But I’ll see Defektors any chance I get.

If there was ever a time for me to see B-Lines, this was it. The B-Lines as I knew them were to be no more, as Nominal Records’ showcase marked bassist Adam Fothergill’s final show with the band.

When your life revolves around music – whether you play it, write about it, read about it or anything else – it’s easy to become difficult to impress. I’ve become a tougher sell over the years, but B-Lines reaffirmed everything I ever loved about music in general, specifically seeing live music. Just try to pin back the grin on my face as I watched the “everyday Joe” Ryan Dyck who took my money, stamped my wrist and chatted briefly with me at the door proceed to leave his body, and let a manic, possessed surrogate take over the stage. Ryan spun; he writhed; he squirmed; he kicked; he fell to the floor and pounded the stage so hard, you could hear the full *thud* over the band’s high-speed thrash. I’d never witnessed such an instant, dramatic metamorphosis. His tall, lanky, tapeworm-like frame whipped and twirled with the mic cord so that I couldn’t tell where one ended and the other began.

With a glassy look in his eyes that stared hollowly into nothing in particular, Dyck yelped anxiety-ridden lyrics about social disconnect (“Social Retard”, “Houseplants”) and impending world destruction (“World War Four”). “I just wanna feel normal again,” the chorus went on “Normal Again”. Unless Dyck and company conform to the mould and abandon everything that makes them so electrifying and unique, he may never feel normal again. Certainly, after having seen B-Lines, I will never feel normal again. But I can live with that.

A word of warning: If you‘re seeing B-Lines, be prepared to be rained on as Ryan Dyck aimlessly launches wads of spit into the air. Although, I hear you’ll be lucky if that’s all that happens to you.

Leslie Ken Chu

Leslie Ken Chu