The Dirtiest Clean

This past Friday finally found me at LanaLou’s Rock N’ Roll Eatery, a frequent host to some of the finest homegrown talent this city has to offer. Tucked just a block below the colloquially named Railtown at Powell and Gore, LanaLou’s has been on my radar for a long time, having hosted such shows as Kingfisher Bluez’ stacked nine-band Christmas party and a bill headlined by quirky comedian, actress and musician Charlyne Yi.

My orientation began with the blues duo Ornament & Crime. Based in Vancouver since they formed almost two-and-a-half years ago and with only the deceptively modest Les Cousins EP under their belts, O&C burned brightly while working out some kinks live. “We’re gonna play some new stuff ’cause you’re not going to know the difference anyway,” singer and guitarist Thomas Hudson announced early in their set, a veneer to the hard-hitting confidence they were about to display.

I’d made a conscious decision while watching O&C to not compare them to the White Stripes: the comparison is too obvious, especially with Tom and drummer Suzy King purportedly being a married couple. But I just couldn’t ignore O&C’s extremely brief cover of the White Stripes’ B-side “Though I Hear You Calling, I Will Not Answer” which naturally crept somewhere into “Dust in Your Hair” as an intro or interlude.

O&C’s most satisfying moments came when they stepped outside of their influences’ shadows. In those moments, they showed they still have tons of room to grow in their songwriting; their slower, more lyrical moments were a bit lacking, and some of their endings were awkwardly abrupt, leaving me wondering, “Was that it?” rather than lung-blowing cap-offs, but you could hear the seeds of good ideas and the bare structures of songs that could have been more. Regardless, O&C’s jamming was technically topnotch. Watch out for this band, coming to a stage near you this upcoming Record Store Day (April 20).

Next, the night’s second duo, bass and drum scuzz-rockers Hole In My Head, played with as much angst and abandon as singer and bassist Karmin Poirier’s lingering chest cold would allow. But they tore through their set leaving little room for applause, like they were defiantly reclaiming control of their performance from the oppressive grasp of her illness.

Poirier beckoned the audience to move closer, jesting, “It’s like you’re scared to move into the light”. Only two brave souls stepped forward including Suzy King. Poirier seemingly read my mind as just minutes before, I thought how HIMH would have felt so much more fitting in a danker setting with drearier lighting, where people might have been more comfortable thrashing. But LanaLou’s was far too cozy if not in terms of the décor then certainly the intimacy with which the twenty-or-so attendees seemed to have known each other. Hole in My Head is a band I can easily see being at home at the Astoria.

I once overheard at a party, “If your songs are longer than three minutes, you’re not trying hard enough.” If that’s true, Juvenile Hall are one of the hardest working bands in town. And all of that hard work capped off with the release of their debut album Magazine Collage, a personal late contender for favourite local release of 2012.

This Vancouver trio clearly takes cues from The Ramones and likely Shonen Knife. Not that any of those bands ever played it quiet, but Juvenile Hall played with so much extra rev than on their records that I kind of forgot about their soft spot for pop. Sadie O’s thick guitar tone alone was a highlight, pushed along by Krissy D’s go-for-guts drumming and kept on the rails however wobbly by Sidne’s bass-playing. And like a runaway train, I could hear them plowing over every bump along the way, like during some of Sadie’s soloing. I could see by the laughs and looks she and Sidne exchanged that they felt them too. But I liked that lack of polish. Most of all, I liked that Sadie didn’t get shocked to death when she knocked over her beer near her amp – twice.

No matter how many shows I go to, I’m still not used to crowds clearing before headliners. But just as the crowd seemed to have thinned for Maple Ridge’s Crystal Swells, back it came. Maybe everyone else knew something I didn’t: how much Crystal Swells kicked ass live.

Admittedly, I’d only skimmed Crystal Swells a handful of times in the past, and I only ever heard them as murky post-punk and somewhat unremarkable post-punk at that. But actually seeing them, even when they were down a member who was fracking in Alberta, made me realize they’re far more unique than I thought – a buzzsaw blend of garage rock and surf filtered through mostly effect-free psych. And they had way too much energy to ever make boring, super-serious post-punk. From the first song, you could see the strain on all of their faces, sweat rising and veins bulging. That energy culminated at the end of their set when guitarist and singer Nick Price climbed on everything he could gain a foothold on, knocking over his amp and accidentally unplugging himself in the frenzy. There was that blow-out Ornament & Crime were missing.

The most important lesson I learned from this night was that no matter how little you like a band (above hating or even disliking them), you should see them when you can; they may very well splatter your fucking brains or, put in a more PG way, end up delivering one of the best shows you’ve seen in a while. And while the live experience can detract from some bands whose main appeal is their lo-fidelity, bands like Ornament & Crime and Crystal Swells show that sometimes, it pays to clean up your act.

Leslie Ken Chu

Leslie Ken Chu