Your home and my desired native land! S omething something something We stand on guard for thee! My journey to the great white north got off to an undesirable start. First off, I missed opening night of Rifflandia because I could not get off of work in time to catch DJ Shadow or Killer Mike. Sigh. I have missed Killer Mike twice in the span of thirty days and it’s driving me crazy. His newest album R.A.P Music is going to end up on a bunch of “Best Album of 2012″ lists and I wasn’t there to see any of it! Combine that with the fact that I’ve listened “Pre-Emptive Strike” and “Entroducing” more times than I’ve listened to advice from family members, my absence from DJ Shadow’s late night set grated on my nerves. Pout. Petulant tantrum. Yankee rage. Friday wasn’t any smoother. I had a shaky lodging situation that had me looking at the gorgeous festival handbook rather than being at the actual festival for quite sometime. Eventually all of that was resolved and I found myself getting into the heart of Rifflandia just as the Flaming Lips were finishing up. Whatever. I’m familiar enough with the band enough to have some sort of idea what happened before my arrival. Judging from the enthusiasm of the crowd, I am assuming they played very well. I even heard a giddy fan squeal, “They played ‘Vaseline!’” I wanted to yell, “That’s not the name of the song!” but I refrained from doing so.
The first band I caught happened to be performing in a church that has been transformed into an “adjectives can not due me justice” music conservatory/performance hall (Alix Goolden Hall). It was a pretty incredible thing to walk into. The band I witnessed wasn’t too bad either. In fact, I think they were pretty darn fantastic. Leisure Suit remind me of a pleasant cross between Sound Team
(I fucking love this band!), Clap Your Hands and Say Yeah with minimal amounts of The Sea and Cake. Basically numerous bands with connecting words in their title. They put on the type of performance I felt fortunate to be a part of. Even though everyone was seated I still felt alive. There were times where they produced sounds that made me feel like I was watching large icebergs melt at race car pace, captured by the slight hands of time-lapse cinematography. Other times I felt like I was in a dark lounge where nobody wanted to talk to me. Sometimes life is like that. It’s alright because the music is a good, silent accomplice in crimes not yet done. The last song Leisure Suit played was a brand new song they had never played publicly before. If they hadn’t announced that prior to beginning the number, nobody in the ocean blue lit room would have noticed. They ended the powerful closer to a standing ovation. I imagine the extra enthusiastic audience appreciation wasn’t solely taking place because nobody was standing before the set ended. Seattle, I sincerely think you’ll like this band. If you can click on their name, you can download their self-titled EP for free (or you can be a good human and make a generous donation).
On my way to see Victoria’s own, The Chantrelles in a bar on Broad St., I saw a woman pull over her car and get out crying/screaming. Apparently some skateboarders smashed out some of the windows of her SUV. I’m not sure what took place before pricey confrontation happened but skateboarding sure is different across the boarder.
Skateboarding is not a crime. I’ve never seen “Motown” music done “internationally” before, it gave me a weird feeling. The Chantrelles are a part of that “soul revival” thing that all the kids are into these days. Musically, they pack more a punch than their peers because they are an 8-piece band. I like their lead singers vocals, they are a bit rough but it gives them a distinction that is quite necessary. During their song “Goodnight Sweetheart,” (which was dedicated to all the lovers, meaning everyone except me) both lead and backing vocals were on full display. I thought the song sounded great. The last song I remember documenting (and probably the last song they performed) was another “throwback” gem, “Everybody Knows (It Ain’t No Secret).” If you were at Pickathon (or even know who the following band is) and you liked Lake Street Dive, I’d bet a couple packages of Ramen noodles that you’d like this band. I’m poor, Ramen is basically the gold standard in my cupboard. Don’t take this wager lightly.
After I left The Chantrelles and their sold-out audience, I went on a serious quest to find Indian Handcrafts and Fucked-Up. Unfortunately for me, the original venue the bands were supposed to play at was switched. This left me and my “new to Victoria” self out of luck. I wandered the streets looking for “Sopranos” (the venue, not the ill-fated HBO drama). I ended up talking to one of the skateboarders who got arrested. Apparently it was a “big misunderstanding” and he was handcuffed for no reason. Everyone is the good guy in their personal recollections. He also said something about a guy punching him in the face, stealing his passport and selling it back to him. It was probably that Birdhouse deck, bro. You know better than that. I finally found the hot, sweaty interiors of Sopranos and caught the last two or three songs by Indian Handcrafts. They were energetic, loud, basically all those adjectives that you want “punk” bands to embody. If Death From Above 1979 had no idea what dancing was and just listened to punk bands that wished they were Black Sabbath, that’s kind of what Indian Handcrafts sound like. I’d never seen Fucked Up before so I didn’t know what to expect. What I got was basically a more psychotic, less artsy version of Les Savy Fav. No complaints here. I’ve liked Les Savy Fav since I first got my driver’s license like 40 years ago. In fact, I might have still been on my learner’s permit but I’m so old the memories are foggy. Fucked Up played with an energy that kind of remind me of Avail way back when.
God, those Avail shows in the 1990s were something fucking incredible. I didn’t know any of their songs but it didn’t matter. I was really into it. Laughing every couple minutes at the antics of frontman Damian Abraham. When he wasn’t using the microphone cord as an instrument of bondage, he was talking about record stores, Sloan and Highlander. There were people sitting down and I had no idea how they were exercising such restraint. I was feeling pure joy, shouting along to “The Other Shoe” even though I only knew a few words. Fucked Up was incredible. Definitely one of the highlights of my Rifflandia experience.
Read more about Phil’s Rifflandia experience, Dan Mangan, Sloan, Bar Hopping, Saul Williams and more.
Gentle readers, I also made a funny observation in the process of enjoying this Canadian band. People from Missouri often say they live in the South and people that live in the South, think Missouri is in the Midwest. Clearly there needs to be some sort of geographic compromise. No wonder our country is in such turmoil currently, knowing how to read a map is an optional life skill. The next day I caught Dan Mangan is his natural habitat of “Canada.” Not much to report, he was his normal crowd pleasing self. Every time I see Mr. Mangan he has the audience eating from the palm of his hand. Even if he told the audience he was offering cookies laced with arsenic, I still think roughly 85% of the attending crowd would digest those fatal treats willingly. Oh, what god-like power you have there Dan. Maybe we need to photoshop your birth certificate and have you run for President of the United States in 2016?
I’m not going to lie, I didn’t even know Sloan was still a band until I saw their name on the Rifflandia poster. Once upon a time, Sloan wrote a song that I absolutely adored.
That song was definitely not “The Good in Everyone.” That song was “Money City Maniacs.” My teenage brain could not get enough of it. Every time I saw the video (it’s not like American radio would play this tune) on MuchMusic I would lose my shit. It was cool. It was retro before retro was “cool.” It even had handclaps before that decided to make a comeback from its Jackson 5 death-knell. So what did Sloan do for Rifflandia? Did they play “Money City Maniacs”?!? Of course not. Why would any band from the 1990s play a song that I want to hear? That’s just absurd. Sloan played their album Twice Removed in its entirety because it considered by many to be the best Canadian album of all-time. Seriously??? Whatever. I don’t think Twice Removed is as good as R.E.M’s Monster (I only bring up the latter because it reminds me of the former and vice versa). It was a good set but I was sad because I knew I wasn’t going to hear “my jam.” For an encore the band played chart-topping hit, “The Good in Everyone” off of their album One Chord to Another (sweet album). I just wish they played one…more…song.
During the walk from one end of the festival grounds to the other, between the sets of Sloan and Cake, I made two startling observations: 1) Why are there so many cops at Rifflandia? It weirded me out a little bit. I think I saw less cops at Sasquatch, which doesn’t make any sense because Sasquatch is approximately 3,429 times bigger/crazier than Rifflandia. 2) They still sell Crush soda in Canada and boy do they have many flavors to offer you. Like many of you, I have fond adolescent memories of the band Cake, their song “The Distance” and the album “Fashion Nugget.” However, after a listening to my local rock station play that song every 9 minutes, even a 13- year-old who’s infatuated with all things musical, will find the fruits of your labor disingenuous. By the time “Sheep go to Heaven” dropped, I was in full “I hate this band!” mode. Flash forward many awkward phases later and Cake had my undivided attention at the foot of the Rifflandia Main Stage. Kids love Cake, both figuratively and literally. The older variety were exuberantly crowd-surfing, the younger version were dancing on chairs to the amusement of their parents. They were stomping their feet and clapping their hands.
Some of them had better rhythm than their parents. Cake began their set by lighting up the crowd with “Sheep go to Heaven.” The mutual love-fest didn’t stop until the final note was played. These Californian frat rock veterans crowd pleasers filled their set with a plethora of songs off their new album “Showroom of Compassion.” As someone that is usually turned off by this band, I can say with the utmost confidence that these new compositions are enjoyable. If you are a fan of any of the older material, reward this band with whatever currency that you have.
Later on in the evening. After the main festival grounds had ceased with human activity, I wander the streets of downtown Victoria in search of an extra-terrestrial turned sonic juggernaut, Mat the Alien. Electronic music is “Klingon” and I’m a Star Wars fan. I have no idea what you label what. I saw Skrillex a few weeks prior at Bumbershoot and I was impressed by his bombast. How could you not be? Skrillex equips himself with nuclear fireworks and a light show that looks like Fantasia in the year 3201. The “shock and awe” approach is so America 2003. Mat the Alien was better than Skrillex, much much better. Why does one get so much acclaim while the other toils in relative obscurity? I am speaking in terms of American prominence.
Dare I say the only popularity that matters? My favorite thing about experiencing electronic music at a music festival is seeing the joy it brings other people. There is nothing better. Where else can you see one guy in a legitimate pair of overalls, another fellow with an orange glow in the dark feather boa dancing next to a girl with Anime makeup on camouflage leggings, doing the dance routine from Bell Biv Devoe’s “Poison”? I’ll buy a watch just so I can count the seconds you’ll keep me waiting on your response. Mat the Alien, would you please come orbit across the joining border of our nations? Introduce my fellow earthling citizens with the perfect soundtrack to paint myself like a neon zebra and do hopscotch in the dark.
I left my fellow creatures of the night and went back to Alix hall to watch The Jezabels. First off, teenage girls love this band. I just want to put that observation out into the universe. How can I describe this band? Hmmm. At first glance, they are a likable Metric. Then you have to throw into consideration the fact that guitarist Samuel Lockwood probably enjoys listening to U2′s Edge more than your average pedal board orgy enthusiast. All his riffs sounds like he is soaring on the back of an eagle. Did I mention they have a piano player that touches the right notes at the right time? You know what I mean.
But you probably don’t because it’s not what you think. This probably sounds like a modern rock radio disaster I am reluctant to expose, doesn’t it? Maybe it does. However, for some reason, the pleasure sensors in my brain react to this band and their songs. Some of which sound like this. “Just let me be easy to love.” Who hasn’t had that thought cross their mind? Regardless of origin, circumstance or number of footsteps placed upon this terrestrial plane? The “foreign mystique” of Alix Hall added to the Jezabels performance ten fold. It made their tunes seem less formulaic and familiar (because they certainly can be, see their album Prisoner) and much more dramatic and urgent. The young audience was captivated. Singing along to all of Haley Mary’s words, mimicking her Olivia Newton John calisthenics. I want to tell these young people to never forget this night. Never forget what it’s like to have your enjoyment of live music be the only thing that mattered. Because there will come a day, much sooner than you think, when this enjoyment will only take place after a series of possibly rational decisions. It’s the adult brain, working it’s magic. Instead of giving these necessary words of advice to the young people, I got a drink of water and snuck out the back door.
I wandered the streets of downtown Victoria, just looking for a seat at a bar. You think that would be easy but the opportunity never really presented itself. I scoured the Earth for a square foot of elevated space, in a building constructed by men long ago. I found nothing. Not even the bro-travaganza that was the Cactus Club Cafe had enough territory for me to stake claim to. The nothing I found led me to the front of the line outside of the Metro Cinema. It was there that people had been waiting for over an hour
in a fucking queue! with hopes of being admitted to the small theater. Saul Williams was performing inside. I tried to play the “media” card but to no avail. A couple that had VIP passes tried to sweet talk their way inside. A few minutes later they were complaining about being cold. I waited outside for twenty minutes. The only person admitted during that time was a performer I couldn’t name. Eventually one of the festival workers decided breaking fire code would immortalize him in the eyes of strangers. He grabbed the great steer by the horns and allowed us passage into a dark room, with a single man on the stage. Saul Williams awaited our entry. Audience members clapped when the stragglers searched frantically for a place to sit. I sat on-stage behind Mr. Williams and I was struck by lightning. I realized that this was probably the first, if not the only time in my life, where I was in a predominantly white room that was hanging onto every word of a black poet. Just typing that sentence makes me laugh. It makes no sense on so many levels. The performance was equal parts balladry and discussion. More was said than words can convey and I couldn’t “write” it all down. I didn’t want people to think I was texting while on-stage. Luckily I am black so I blended in with the curtains quite nicely. I did later note that Williams said that, “True art comes from vulnerability.” Agreed. He also said it was time to decode the myriad of messages that keep us in our place, regardless of who those messengers might be. Fucking Comcast, I can’t wait until you become Erols or something This was all in the context of him explaining the meaning behind his poem “Coded Language.” (Which oddly enough is about him deciphering a book that his friend lent him and how rappers become what their lyrics profess.) My favorite part of this unexpected experience of veneration was when Saul Williams performed “Black Stacy.” The rhythm of that song is something fierce, almost as piercing as the story behind its cadence.
After enduring keystone moments that took place in an area that was running up my cellphone bill, all good things had to come to an end. What better way to say farewell to Canada than a moderately obnoxious band by the name of Mother Mother? A Canadian band you might actually want to check out is Hey Ocean. I’m being serious Seattle, you might like them. This was one of those bands that made me question the rock and roll merits of Canada. I just bit my lip and tried to think about the NHL lockout being resolved. Mother Mother are a band that sounds like The Zach Attack (Yes, the I am actually talking about the band from Saved by the Bell) and That Dog (At its most absolutely painful moments — such occasions might not actually exist). They are kind of all the rage in Western Canada. They are from Vancouver and with home-cooking comes its advantages. You get children walking around wearing your t-shirts. That’s pretty cool. I shouldn’t be Mr. Gloom-n-Doom. Mother Mother were not un-amusing, they did perform “Gouge Away” for all the old timers in the audience. They had a good energy about them, complete with all the right rock and roll moves. It’s just after Saul Williams, Mat the Alien, Fucked Up and others, I had nothing left to receive. Even if there was still something to give.
I hope to see you next year, Rifflandia.