Even Limblifter has trouble topping the Odds’ power-pop at Foxfest ’96

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ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, JULY 25, 1996

The folks at CFOX radio have been jubilantly claiming that “the Fox rocks!” for quite some time now, but as any Vancouverite with cable hooked up to their tuner can tell you, it’s really the stations out of Seattle that can rock you like a hurricane.

Of course, it’s kinda tricky driving with cable hooked up to your car, so when Lower Mainland hard-rock fans are cruising, they often have their dials set at 99.3. It’s either that or up a couple of notches to 101 for the classic rock of CFMI. I tend to flick back and forth between them to see if either one has a DJ that’ll shut up and play music.

Usually, I end up sticking in a tape.

Although I’m not the kind of guy who’ll plaster my car with CFOX stickers or lay down $87 for a denim jacket with the station’s snaggletoothed mascot on the back, I must admit that the Fox is good at putting on a rock concert. At least it was last Friday (July 19), at the first of three band-filled days billed as Foxfest.

Somebody had the bright idea of hiring mostly local bands, both new and established, as opposed to following the route taken at the 1993 Foxfest out at Seabird Island, where American one-hit wonders Ugly Kid Joe and crusty Canucks April Wine backed up the soon-to-be-fading Def Leppard. The Fox’s claim of support for local music certainly seems like a valid one these days.

When we arrived at the Plaza of Nations at about 6:30 p.m., one of the most promising bands in town, Limblifter, was in full swing under the joint’s Plexiglas panels. Featuring two members of another impressive local act, Age of Electric—which would play Foxfest on Sunday—Limblifter is a guitar-bass-drums combo that seems to have an endless supply of engaging rock hooks and catchy pop melodies. I first heard the band’s debut single, “Screwed It Up”, while driving to work one day, and it’s stuck with me ever since. The feedback-laden tune was a highlight of Limblifter’s set; another one was singer-songwriter-guitarist Ryan Dahle’s bright-purple shirt, which matched his hair to a tee.

There’s something to be said for snappy dressers.

Sons of Freedom were next on deck, and while the show’s diligent roadies set up their gear, we took the time to roam around the site’s vendor booths, where everything from original colour lithographs to paint-on tattoos, dope bongs, and Snapple was being hawked—along with the worst $3 slice of pizza you’ve ever tasted.

Not nearly as hard to swallow was the return of the reunited Sons; it was great to see them back in action, cranking out trusty pulse-pounders like “You’re Not Good”. “We’re not dead yet,” announced lead vocalist Jim Newton (no relation) before Lee Aaron—the Metal Queen herself—joined the band for a song. It seems the Toronto rocker has hooked up with Vancouver’s favourite Sons to form a group called Too Precious, which has a CD slated for release this year.

Aaron was unrecognizable in her ’70s attire, sporting burgundy-coloured hair and a silver-lamé top, and the music she’s making is also a big switch. The lady sang her butt off, Bif Naked–style, on a genuine-sounding rave-up that was nothing like the cheesy crotch rock of her “Whatcha Do to My Body” phase. I gave the Too Precious sneak preview two pizza-soiled thumbs-up.

While the Sons of Freedom set wound down, a large lineup—though one that was only half as long as the gruelling beer-garden queue—developed at the Foxfest autograph tent. When I glanced to see who was drawing all the attention I expected to spy the day’s veteran headliners, 54-40, signing stuff, but it was the young Limblifter boys who were causing the commotion.

My faith in their imminent popularity was reinforced by the sight, but by the time the next band had spun out a couple of tunes, I realized that Limblifter still has a way to go before it can distil pure, 100-proof pop as potent as that of Steven Drake and Craig Northey of the Odds. The crowd had been in high spirits before, but halfway through the Odds show, a palpable good-time vibe engulfed the greenhouselike location, and it was difficult to spot a face that wasn’t wearing a kid-happy grin.

After the Odds had had their whimsical way with the by-now capacity crowd, 54-40 could have sauntered through their show-closing set, but they did the exact opposite. I’ve never been a full-fledged follower of the band—there’s a kind of droning aspect to Neil Osborne’s vocals that turns me off sometimes—but there’s no denying that they can KICK ASS! in true CFOX fashion.

The crowd went bonkers for raging renditions of older gems like “Nice to Luv You” and “One Day in Your Life”, and new tunes such as “Stick to Milly” and “Lies to Me”—from the Steven Drake–recorded Trusted by Millions—showed no signs of 54-40 slacking off from its hard-earned spot atop the heap of Canadian guitar-rock specialists. I would have proudly taken home one of those black Trusted by Millions Frisbees that were bouncing off peoples’ heads during “Cheer Up Peru”.

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