By Jason SchreursWhat Sparkmarker meant to the early-to-mid-'90s hardcore scene in Vancouver can't be properly put into words. They were the band that scene members at the time all looked up to, often emulated and were constantly inspired by. Seeing Sparkmarker back on stage was akin to a punk rock high-school reunion (singer Ryan Scott joked as such) — except this reunion at the Rickshaw Theatre featured gang sing-alongs, a cast of punk-scene success stories and an abundance of touching moments. Lumps were in throats most of the night.
Seattle's Narrows, featuring ex-members of Botch, These Arms Are Snakes and Some Girls, started the special night off with singer Dave Verellen immediately leaping into the crowd and donkey-kicking off the security rail. As Verellen offered the crowd bear hugs and tried his best to bust every vein in his head with his patented roar, the band locked into deep, pulsing grooves that made Joy Division sound like feel-good tunes as Narrows became angry, beautiful and really fucking loud.
Vancouver's Carpenter hit the middle slot with punk gusto, putting together a choice set of their melodic rock. On album, they've come across as John Cougar gone punk, but it was clear their live set was more akin to the Hot Water Musics and the Get Up Kids of the world. Singer/guitarist Daniel Sioui was in fine form, doing high kicks and headbanging like he was in a metalcore band, which worked just fine with the band's anthem-punk.
Then the emotion hit the room, thick with nostalgia and reverence. Sparkmarker guitarist Kim Kinakin stood alone strumming the opening, music-box chords of "Levi's Deklein," the lead track on the band's first album, 1994's Products and Accessories. As the rest of the members took the stage and the band lurched into their angular emo-rock, the crowd lost their minds a little. It had been 15 years, after all, and this was a Vancouver hardcore time machine right in front of their eyes.
Sounding just as good as they did back in the days when their music illuminated all-ages rec centres, cultural halls and house shows, Sparkmarker ran through most of their early material, every member spot on in their delivery and performance. And while Scott, a notoriously unpredictable performer known to crawl under stages and leap down flights of stairs mid-set, didn't do anything downright freaky, his marionette dance moves and raucous screams were enough to bring the crowd back to the days when you never really knew what he'd do next. And it was thrilling enough that he was able to channel the teen angst that seeps from tracks like "Kansas" and "Tamarack" (delivered back to back) and make them his own as a mature adult.
Halfway through their set, Scott left the stage and Sparkmarker began another portion of the evening that represented their second era, led by Kinakan, and joined by a second guitarist (on this night, it was Winnipeg hardcore vet Jahmeel Russell, formerly of Kittens, Malefaction, Projektor, etc.). Scott returned for two more songs at the end of the set, joking that he was "too old for this shit," and then nailing "Spores and Ferns," one of the band's choppiest, most intense songs. The astounded looks on the audience's faces were priceless.
As if the night wasn't emotional enough, Kinakin talked about departed guitarist Jordan Stuttard, who passed away from cystic fibrosis in 2005, explaining that the show was a benefit to raise money for the disease and then pointing to Stuttard's guitar, which was had been sitting mid-stage throughout the show. It was a classy move from guys who always wore their hearts on their sleeves and, on this night, shared those hearts with the audience unconditionally.