Butthole Surfers / Psychic Ills Commodore Ballroom, Vancouver, BC October 12

Butthole Surfers mean a lot of things to different people. If you followed the burgeoning college rock movement in the 1980s, they were the scene's village idiots, with antics and a stage show that were as important as the music they physically released. Or maybe you tuned in the '90s with the release of the John Paul Jones-produced Independent Worm Saloon and the minor radio hit "Who Was In My Room Last Night?" Or perhaps you remember what is regrettably their most familiar song, the 1996 zeitgeist-piece "Pepper." Since then, of course, they've lost their way rather spectacularly, but this tour held the promise of a return to form, as the "classic" Buttholes line-up stopped in at Vancouver's Commodore Ballroom.

Openers Psychic Ills, from Brooklyn, are always a good show, and tonight was no exception, as they delighted the more psych-inclined variant of Butthole Surfers fan while bewildering others. Last year's Mirror Eye isn't a bad album, striking out into more experimental territory is a logical step for a band that toyed with free-form improvisation on 2006's Dins. In any case, the droning came to a satisfying conclusion, and the Ills made way for a pioneering act of rock'n'roll weirdness.

If anything, Butthole Surfers are aware of their own trajectory: they conspicuously omitted "Pepper" but played several other tracks from Electric Larryland, as well as selections from the rest of their nearly 30-year career. Their undeniable strangeness owes more to the tradition of Captain Beefheart or Frank Zappa than to the self-conscious psychedelia channelled by bands like the Psychic Ills. However, it was when they strayed from those weirdo roots that the Buttholes got into trouble. And when they let them shine through, as when Paul Leary yelped, "There's a time to fuck and a time to crave/but the Shah sleeps in Lee Harvey's grave!" (easily the high point of the show), that's when they truly set themselves apart from their contemporary peers.