Panning For Drifters Gold at The Railway Club

White Poppy

Wow, Friday already. How did that happen so quickly? I must have lost sense of time while tripping to White Poppy’s self-titled debut LP, which dropped on Not Not Fun Records last week, and the few cold cellar demos on Pan’s Bandcamp. Or maybe I sped through the days, evading imaginary traffic cops, while jamming on The Courtneys’ own recent self-titled debut LP (this one courtesy of Vancouver’s Hockey Dad Records). Whatever happened, I came to and got lost all over again at White Poppy’s tour kick-off show at The Railway Club.

The ghosts of Godspeed You! Black Emperor lingered from two nights before, haunting downtown and aimlessly finding their way from The Vogue Theatre to The Railway Club, just as Daniel Rincon, aka Pan, took the stage. Even without the club’s train motif, complete with a model set that circled a track attached to the ceiling, Pan’s intuitive orchestrations ever so gently rustled like perfect abandoned railyard music. A large fan (an appliance, not a person) in one of the back corners of the stage motivated a long strand of string that hung from the neck of Pan’s guitar, and the pages of his open notebook would have fluttered away, had they not been paperweighted by his pedals.

After Pan’s first song – or movement, rather – a programmed hip hop beat interrupted my granular visions of dusty, windswept industrial scapes. I thought the beats came from the house speakers, signifying a shockingly early end to his set. I was so caught off guard, I even looked over my shoulder to see if the rest of the crowd had started dispersing. The desolate drones on Pan’s Bandcamp didn’t prepare me in the slightest for anything remotely upbeat. But his languishing ambience persisted; it just also had some reach, like dancing in a cave.

“I’m not a musician,” Rincon once said to me. I wasn’t entirely convinced, although I didn’t doubt his sincerity; he always seemed like a humble person. And sure, after having heard his “lazy” mood-singing and even his minimal, methodical guitar manipulations, one may have agreed with him. In that case, I counter-propose that because it seemed as though anyone could have done what he did, it only harked back to his DIY ethos: anyone can do it; that’s the point.

School’s back in session, but it’s technically still summer. But maybe because summer is ending in two weeks, I’m subconsciously craving something sweet, and that was why Watermelon were every kind of refreshing they weren’t the first time I encountered them, last month at the Chinatown Night Market. Indoors, their singed pop-rock was able to reflect off of the walls, the roof and the roomful of bodies, instead of beam out into the wide open nothing. If The Railway Club was my last slice of Watermelon for the season, my belly’s more than full enough to tide me over until next summer.

Now, in a booking move that confounded me, the band that should have closed White Poppy’s tour kick-off: White Poppy. Appearing as a duo live, with Ian Kinakin on bass, White Poppy made me realize that sometimes, I’m a bad listener. I don’t mean I have a short attention span or that I prefer the sound of my own voice; I mean I often can’t tell most ambient pieces apart. Every time I listen to them, it’s a different trip.

White Poppy, as much as I’d wanted to see them, especially because last time I did, they were shut down by cops at a house show, was one of the rare times I didn’t feel bad about closing my eyes during a performance. That was because seeing White Poppy wasn’t about reporting the particular happenings onstage but about reporting the feeling, the quivering internal experience. And believe me, it was a deeply affecting, enriching experience.

Although main White Poppy songwriter Crystal Dorval says she feels unnatural singing in the absence of vocal effects, she maintains the importance of particular lyrics. Adding another layer to this contradiction, more than once, she requested louder vocals. I suppose there is a difference between not being able to hear the lyrics and not being able to hear her voice period. While Dorval’s voice certainly got buried as she and Kinakin bent sound like the Jaws of Life on metal, in White Poppy’s more subdued moments, the sound crew was able to raise her vocals to her desired level. It was a struggle at times, but as I’ve said, attaining peace can be hard work.

Unfortunately, when you pan for gold, you’re bound to miss a few nuggets. That night, those nuggets were The Courtneys. Due to a last-minute band emergency, The Courtneys were unable to play. Stepping up as zero hour heroes were Brass, a pretty good punk band, I was told. But I went for The Courtneys. I was amped to hear “90210”, MY summer song of 2013; I don’t care what the CBC voters say. So I decided to call it a night. It was getting late anyway.

Was I a fool to have passed on what could have been the largest, most lucrative nugget of them all – Brass? Quite possibly. But if those who stuck around The Railway Club struck gold, I’ll have to hear about their fortunes in another headline. And plot my grand heist in the meantime…

Leslie Ken Chu

Leslie Ken Chu