Published Jul 13, 2014Celebrating its fourth year, Khatsahlano planted eight stages across ten blocks of West 4th Avenue. Over 100,000 people descended on the area, to enjoy more than 50 bands and 100 local merchant booths, street performers, lawn sales, food carts, and all that family fun junk. It's like Car Free Day, but with more of a focus on the arts and less on social responsibility.
Bend Sinister brought the good vibes early. With bassist Matt Rhode in a 'coon skin hat, guitarist Joseph Blood in a vest, and long-haired organ/piano playing lead singer Dan Moxon in a headband, they looked the part of a Southern revivalist rock band, but there was more to their classic rock style. Their sound had clear influences from Queen, particularly on "We Know Better" from Small Fame, and Elton John, confirmed by a cover of "Benny and the Jets," but there was a whack of bluesy rock in there too, somewhere between the 13th Floor Elevators, the Who, and Thin Lizzy. They played with passion, delivering an infectiously charming, high energy set full of scissor kicks, pick raises, and other forms of playful showboating, and dedicated "Teacher" from their recent record Animals to the currently striking teachers of BC. It was hard not to love them.
Sharing synthesist Sean Bayntun with Synthcake, who appeared on the same stage before their set, Facts melted into their upbeat electro-rock style, like Hot Panda if they were on more of that loft party dance-punk tip like LCD Soundsystem or Talking Heads. They had a good presence, with Sean Bletcher's voice in that James Murphy/Jake Shears (Scissor Sisters) realm, and bassist Hugh MacDonald with more of a David Byrne-cum-Fred Schneider (the B-52s) delivery, while Bayntun laid down some wicked riffs on the keys. Still, one couldn't shake the feeling that something was holding them back a bit.
While most of the music for Humans' set was pre-programmed, Robbie Slade and Peter Ricq bring something to the table that can't be translated to ones and zeroes. Shielding their screens from glare as they attempted to read the info and make adjustments, it was obvious how much these guys like each other and what they do. Their set on boiling concrete managed to deliver the same joyous indie-electro-pop dance party vibe that have made them an institution on the fields of Bass Coast, their gear splayed across a zebra-print tablecloth, which was that festival's theme in 2013. With beach balls flying over the crowd, Slade's voice was magic, soulfully soaring in tracks like "Possession," looped in "Clothespins," and pitch-shifted in "At the Beach," while quiet genius Ricq focused on ushering in smooth transitions and big bass.
One of the biggest surprises of the festival was Holy Hum, the new project from Andrew Lee (also of In Medias Res and Siskiyou). They delivered explosive emotional release with shades of shamanic existentialism in their droney experimental prog rock, richly layered care of a live drummer and three dudes on keys, synths, etc. (think Godspeed You! Radiohead Timber Timbre). Lee was clearly the messiah of this outfit, showcasing how powerfully emotive voice and smouldering guitar work. You believe this man when he testifies.
With Nardwuar hanging out and signing autographs near the stage after a no doubt riotous set from his Evaporators, Lightning Dust fought the elements to deliver their set of shimmering wood-paneled synth-pop. Staring the 7 p.m. sun square in the face, the distinctive lead vocals of Amber Webber stayed strong, maintaining her wavering, delicate voice, like a wounded dove that wasn't going to quit. They're like a John Hughes, John Waters, John Carpenter soundtrack come to life, warmly nostalgic with a kinky, gothic underbelly.
Webber would return to the stage later on for the headlining Poppy Family Experience, along with bandmate Josh Wells, John Collins and Kurt Dahle of the New Pornographers, and Ted Bois of Destroyer. The "experience" tag was necessary, since the elusive Terry Jacks was not involved, but they did have three original members of the legendary West coast outfit that first graced the Billboard charts in the late '60s and early '70s, and the locals who filled in the blanks themselves count among the finest visionaries the Vancouver music scene has ever produced. As a result, this was a far more authentic and exciting experience than Creedence Clearwater Revisited or the Doors of the 21st century could ever provide.
Unfortunately, the sound didn't carry much past halfway through the crowd, so much of Susan Jacks' banter was unintelligible amidst the crowd's ceaseless chatter, but when she sang, it was all there. You wouldn't have guessed that she survived a kidney transplant four years previous. The voice of the silver-haired goddess retained a youthful exuberance somewhere between Stevie Nicks and Buffy Sainte-Marie at the forefront of their folk-rock power pop sound. One can only hope some new recordings will result from this project.