By Steve Newton
As a freelance music writer in Vancouver since 1982, I’ve seen a lotta concerts.
Most of the arena shows I reviewed took place at the Pacific Coliseum, until the Vancouver Canucks found a new home downtown in 1995 at GM Place, which was renamed Rogers Arena in 2010.
But I wasn’t just rockin’ out at hockey rinks for 40 years. I witnessed a lot of great gigs at local nightclubs, such as the fabled Commodore Ballroom on Granville.
The Commodore is still in business, but a lot of the other live-music joints I used to frequent–from the well-known Town Pump in Gastown to the lesser-known Lunatic Fringe on East Broadway–have closed down.
Here’s ten of my reviews from ten of my old, now-shuttered concert haunts in the city of Vancouver. (I inserted some YouTube videos to give a rough idea of what the gigs sounded like.)
Drive-By Truckers at the IMPERIAL, February 2, 2018
Touring behind their latest album, American Band, they played some of the finest tracks from that disc, including the school-shooting-inspired “Guns of Umpqua”, the politically minded “Ramon Casiano”, and the lyrically brilliant and just plain perfect “Filthy and Fried”.
Other gems that got the crowd going were “Marry Me”, “Uncle Frank”, “Made Up English Oceans”, and a cover of the Ramones’ “The KKK Took My Baby Away”, but my favourite song of the night was “Righteous Path”, off the amazing Brighter Than Creation’s Dark album of 2008. Fvck me is that a killer tune!
Singer-songwriter-guitarists Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley were in fine form, but when it came to wild guitar licks, the hero of the night was Jay Gonzalez, whose tasty-as-hell lead playing nearly stole the show. He didn’t waste one note as far as I could tell. And his organ playing wasn’t bad either.
Dave Alvin and Phil Alvin at the ELECTRIC OWL, June 30, 2015
“I was teaching math when I first heard the Sex Pistols,” Phil Alvin told me back in 1983, “and then I said, ‘Allright, good. I can play again.’ So I quit teaching.”
Thank god Alvin caught wind of Johnny Rotten and his band of miscreants, if that’s what it took to get him out of the classroom and up on the stage.
He was up there with his younger brother Dave at the Electric Owl in Vancouver last night, and holy shit–that turned out to be one of the most exhilirating and inspired roots-rock gigs I’ve seen in over 30 years of getting paid to report on such things.
The Alvin brothers are back, baby!
Of course, we all knew they were back in a big way last year when they released Common Ground: Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin Play & Sing the Songs of Big Bill Broonzy. The album got nominated for a Grammy, but more importantly it showed that Dave and Phil, 59 and 62 respectively, are still a potent force in the world of blues and roots-rock.
Or American Music, as they like to call it.
The show focused mainly on tracks from Common Ground–including famous Broonzy tunes like “Key to the Highway” and lesser-known boogie gems such as “Truckin’ Little Woman”–but also touched on Dave Alvin‘s solo career, with the cinematic “Johnny Ace is Dead” off his 2011 Eleven Eleven disc.
And it wouldn’t be an Alvin brothers gig without the odd breathtaking tune by the band that made them famous, so the Blasters’ “Marie Marie” and “Border Radio” made an appearance.
As I did for the Savoy Brown show a couple months ago, I staked out a place near the corner of the stage, the better to catch the full effect of Dave’s Strat and Fender amp.
Shit, I coulda reached over and took a swig of his Bud Light if I wanted to.
Most of the show I just stood there transfixed by the flawless shit-kicker guitar blasting out at me. Alvin had half a dozen foot pedals at his disposal, but I don’t remember him stepping on one. He went for the pure sound of Fender on Fender, bluesy as fvck, and twangy when he wanted some of that.
He was particularly sa-mokin’ on “Out of Control”, a masterful tale of seedy shenanigans in L.A. that highlighted his 2004 Ashgrove album.
It wasn’t just the Dave and Phil show, though. Their band, the Guilty Ones, was right up there in the same league as the Alvins.
At times guitarist Chris Miller would lay down some searing slide or step on the wah-wah in a way that would catch Dave’s attention and make him grin widely or holler in support. The rhythm section of drummer Linda Pankratz and bassist Brad Forham was unbeatable as well.
I was so blown away by the entire two-hour gig that when it was over I went scrounging on the empty stage and found a beer-mangled setlist that–thanks to the efforts of ace promoter “Rockin” Ronnie Simmons–I got signed by both Alvins.
Now that’s what I call suitable for framing!
Wishbone Ash at VENUE, March 19, 2013
Wishbone Ash cofounder Andy Powell brought his current version of the ’70s prog-rock band to Venue last night, and Vancouver’s 45-and-over crowd was gleefully transported back to the heyday of flared jeans, eight-tracks, lemon gin–and a deathless double-album called Argus.
The lineup of singer-guitarist Powell, guitarist Muddy Manninen, bassist Bob Skeat, and drummer Joseph Crabtree performed that classic 1972 LP in its entirety, the twin-guitar harmonies of tracks like “Sometime World”, “The King Will Come”, and “Warrior” bringing nostalgia-induced smiles all ’round.
Powell wielded a Flying V guitar, the model he’s been known for since day one, while Manninen put his faith in a Les Paul Goldtop. The local sales rep for Gibson Guitars would have been mighty proud.
As well as Argus, the quartet delivered tunes from its latest album, 2011’s Elegant Stealth, and ended the night with a killer encore performance of “Phoenix”, the 10 1/2-minute closing track off its self-titled 1970 debut.
Sonny Landreth at the YALE HOTEL, February 19, 2009
A sell-out crowd of slide-guitar freaks converged on the Yale Hotel last night (February 19) to take in one of the world’s most amazing bottleneck players.
Louisiana’s Sonny Landreth kept the audience entranced with a set that focused on material from his star-studded new CD From the Reach—which boasts guest appearances by Eric Clapton, Mark Knopfler, Robben Ford, Eric Johnson, Vince Gill, Dr. John, and Jimmy Buffett—but he also offered samples of the Cajun and zydeco stylings of older tunes like “Back to Bayou Teche”, a rollicking number from 1991’s Outward Bound album.
With the primo rhythm-section of longtime drummer Michael Burch and bassist David Ranson along for the ride, Landreth used his ever-present glass slide and some boggling right-hand fingerpicking action to deliver his rootsy sound of the South.
At one point the resident of Lafayette, Louisiana thanked any Vancouverites who may have helped out his hurricane-stricken neighbours in New Orleans; the new song “Blue Tarp Blues” pays tribute to those dealing with the after-effects of Katrina.
After the show, the unassuming 58-year-old hung out near the Yale’s entranceway and signed autographs for a long line of fans that stretched past the pool tables and all the way to the bar. Bolstered by three pints of Pale Ale, I asked the godlike picker if I might have the honour of taking home the slide he’d used that night, but he didn’t have it on him, so the sassy request was denied.
Looks like the dangerous neck of that busted Corona bottle’s gonna have to do.
Link Wray at the STARFISH ROOM, July 4, 1997
When I heard that legendary instro-rock guitarist Link Wray was performing a few tunes and signing autographs at the Virgin Megastore last Friday afternoon (July 4), I snuck off from work early and headed down to Robson Street clutching my trusty Plexiglas-body Raven guitar and one of those silver felt pens with the permanent ink.
I already knew where I wanted the original king of feedback to sign my axe—smack-dab on the first humbucking pickup—but once the autograph session started I had to wait about 45 minutes while front-row enthusiasts such as Gerald Rattlehead from CiTR Radio’s Powerchord show and Nanaimo blues-rocker David Gogo got their own goodies inscribed and posed for photos with the incredibly accommodating 68-year-old.
Far from being your typically cranky senior citizen, Wray—sporting a black Hendrix T-shirt, hip shades, and a long ponytail—greeted every autograph hound with rapt enthusiasm, politely introducing each one to his wife, Olive, seated nearby. He didn’t seem the least bit perturbed that the majority of signature-seekers were offering up vintage Wray LPs rather than just-bought copies of his current CD, Shadowman.
Royalties appeared to be the last thing on his mind as he eagerly made prized collectibles out of his early vinyl pressings.
Link Wray knows where his enduring musical legacy is centred, of course, and when he stepped up to the mike at the Starfish Room seven hours later he summed it up in one word: “Rumble!” He kicked off his set with that signature stroll-type instrumental from 1958, showering the sold-out room with feedback-drenched power chords. And for the next 90 minutes the “godfather of metal” delivered high-voltage guitar-rock in its purest form.
Accompanied by the formidable rhythm section from opening act Dieselhed, Wray prowled the stage like an aged alley cat, coaxing raunchy wails from his “Screamin’ Red” Yamaha guitar and the metal-bodied Harley- Davidson Strat his wife picked out for him in Houston a few weeks ago.
Speaking of Olive, she remained near hubby’s side throughout the show, making repeated forays to centre stage to whip Wray’s ponytail around for no apparent reason. After about the fourth hair-fondling episode her presence became a tad distracting, but it didn’t affect Wray’s incendiary re-creations of ’60s rave-ups such as “Raw-Hide”, “Ace of Spades”, and “Run Chicken Run”. He actually seemed to play better when she was yanking his hairy chain, so maybe the stimulation of his scalp provides an energy boost or some weird thing.
All I know is that, by the time Wray had encored with the night’s second run-through of “Rumble”, “Jack the Ripper”, and the Batman theme, I’d experienced my wildest instro-rock show since fellow ponytailed old-timer Dick Dale previewed the sound of Pulp Fiction at the Commodore four years back.
The Tragically Hip at the RAILWAY CLUB, July 12, 1995
Canadian guitar-rock heroes the Tragically Hip took all of Vancouver by surprise on July 12 when they announced a last-minute concert that night at the wee Railway Club (capacity 176).
When word went out over local rock station 99.3 the Fox that 75 wristbands for the show were on sale at the club for a measly 10 bucks each, drivers on the Georgia Viaduct were reportedly pulling U-turns to get back within sprinting distance of the Dunsmuir venue.
Those lucky enough to get a wristband—or weasel their way in as members of the press—were treated to an opening set by Ontario’s Rheostatics that featured a freewheeling version of Joe Jackson’s “I’m the Man”.
Then a cowboy-hatted Gordon Downie and his casually dressed bandmates shouldered their way through the beer-guzzling patrons and, to crazed howls of approval, started into “Nautical Disaster”.
They followed that recent hit with “Blow at High Dough”, “Twist My Arm”, “Grace, Too”, and the new compositions “Springtime in Vienna” and “Gift Shop”.
The six-song set was messy and full of mistakes, but there were no reports of irate fans demanding refunds—especially since the wristbands included admission to the Hip’s headlining show at UBC the next night.
Rick Derringer at the LUNATIC FRINGE, October 8, 1993
The first time I saw Rick Derringer play live was back in ’73 or something, when me and a bunch of high-school pals from Chilliwack loaded into a van and drove to the Pacific Coliseum to see the Edgar Winter Group and opening act UFO. This was at the peak of Winter’s popularity, back when “Free Ride” and the instrumental “Frankenstein” were monster hits.
Needless to say, the show was a killer, and I can still picture myself crammed up at the front of the stage, fist pounding air, while the diminutive blond Derringer lived up to his guitar-hero status.
Derringer’s gained a few wrinkles and more than a few pounds since those lean, mean glory days, but as soon as he launched into “Still Alive & Well” at the Lunatic Fringe last Friday (October 8) it was obvious that his fingers were still in fine shape.
He was joined by a group that included former Molly Hatchet bassist David Weygandt, drummer David Presley (related to you-know-who and third cousin to Andy Griffith), and Derringer’s wife Dyan on backing vocals, tambourine, and motivation.
Clad in hot-pants and high boots, the slim Mrs. Derringer danced up a storm throughout and made sure hubby’s flying fingers weren’t the only attraction of the night.
“What the hell is this bass noise goin’ on?” Derringer asked when the sound of downstairs band Love Junction started booming through the floor. “How are we supposed to play some pretty music with this shit goin’ on?”
But he managed to overcome the low-end rumble during an extended instrumental called “Rhapsody in Red”, during which Weygandt proved himself to be a virtuoso soloist along the lines of Stu Hamm by incorporating neat little bits of “Yesterday” and the Pink Panther theme into his neck-tapping display.
Near the end of his set, Derringer travelled way back to 1965 for the sing-along fave “Hang on Sloopy”, a hit by his first band, the McCoys. His signature tune, “Rock and Roll Hoochie Koo”, was next, followed by a few teaser riffs from “Free Ride” and a new tune dedicated to Jimi Hendrix.
Pearl Jam at the TOWN PUMP, September 26, 1991
I’d been warned by someone who caught Pearl Jam’s sound check at the Town Pump last Thursday afternoon (September 26) that the Seattle band was extremely loud. My second clue, upon entering the busy club around midnight, was the abundance of black leather and tattoos among the beer-guzzling patrons. These weren’t your typical new-age followers.
And the blonde lady with the sign of the Antichrist tattooed on her temple wasn’t there to see Peter, Paul & Mary.
My hearing-safety concerns were justified when the band hit the stage and launched into “Once”, the raunchy opening track from its debut album, Ten. Drummer Dave Krusen’s cymbal smashes were shrill enough to kill small rodents, and I kept my distance, leaning against a wall at the far end of the bar. Then one of the show’s promoters came up and remarked that a body can’t really review a concert from that far away.
So instead of telling him where he could review it from, I risked a closer look.
By this time the technicians had worked out most of the painfully loud bugs, and the band sounded fine from my new vantage point, which also afforded an excellent view of singer Eddie Vedder’s spontaneous antics.
During one of Ten’s best tunes, “Alive”, he hoisted himself up on the ledge that runs behind the stage and dangled precariously from the light fixtures over Krusen’s drum kit before leaping safely down.
I was thankful he’s a good jumper, or he might have had to write a tune called “Alive…With a Cymbal Stand Up My Butt”.
Vedder—who made the bright move of trading in his U2 t-shirt for a Pigface one part-way through the set—led Pearl Jam through a thrilling set of alternative-flavoured hard-rock tunes that ended with a severe version of the Beatles’ “I’ve Got a Feeling”.
From the sound of things, this act—which features two former members of the ill-fated Mother Love Bone—has what it takes to follow fellow Seattlers Alice in Chains right up the charts…and maybe even whip right past ’em!
The Replacements at the 86 STREET MUSIC HALL, June 28, 1991
I felt a tad nerdish, not having seen the legendary Replacements up until last Friday (June 28). I’d heard that these four guys from Minneapolis were capable of heart-stopping performances, tempering thrashy sonic onslaughts with a Beatlesque pop sensibility that couldn’t lose.
So I may be a certified jerk for not having checked this band out before, but lemme tell ya—I’ll be first in line if they hit town again.
About as unpretentious as you can get, with a wardrobe that cries Value Village and hair-dos that haven’t been tampered with in years, the Replacements delivered the kind of raw, raunchy bar-room noise that beer was created for.
I might not have been familiar with too many of the tunes blasted forth, but you could count the ones I didn’t care for on my left pinky.
“No, this is more important than KISS,” claimed lead singer Paul Westerberg, then he revised that remark with a typically self-effacing “Not really, but….” “Drum solo!” barked the sarcastic fellow, before drummer Chris Mars launched into a solo that must have gone on for at least four seconds.
Ya gotta like that.
The packed-in 86 Street crowd was well-behaved throughout the entire show, although the club was serving brew in plastic cups just in case. A few of those went sailing harmlessly onto the stage, and a massive white bra was tossed around up front during a particularly stimulating version of T-Rex’s steamy “Raw Ramp”.
The two-hour barrage of boogie ended with a couple of wicked encores, and this scribbler left the building secure in the knowledge that the heart of rock ’n’ roll was still pumping in bands like the Replacements (and not Huey Lewis & the News).
The only thing I couldn’t figure out was how bassist Tommy Stinson managed to get a thumb transplant from the Six Million Dollar Man.
NRBQ at CLUB SODA, June 6, 1985
“Are you having a good time?” asked Terry Adams. And the capacity crowd at Club Soda–who obviously were–answered with a resounding ‘Yes!”.
“Yes what?!” countered bassist Joey Spampinato.
And that’s the way it was last Thursday–with the New Rhythm & Blues Quartet (NRBQ) making fun of everything: their audience, themselves, and mostly their music.
As well as their own seriously rocking tunes like “Green Light” and “Me and the Boys”, they did a rambling “Michael Row the Boat Ashore” (during which Adams played piano behind his back) and a goofy ditty titled “You and I and George”, which drummer Tom Ardolino sang (twice) while wearing a satin magician’s cape and what looked like a lampshade on his head.
Whether pointing out the odd heckler (“There’s the world’s first brain-donor over there”), commenting on the city’s street scene (“We’ve seen some of the most beautiful women in the world in Vancouver…and they all cost 100 bucks”), or issuing a “death certificate” to a bug-eyed Cabbage Patch Doll (which they proceeded to tar and feather), NRBQ were one funny bunch of guys.
But the band’s real forte was in straightforward, dance-your-buns-off rock ‘n’ roll, and when bearded mountain-man Al Anderson let loose on his well-worn Tele there was enough full-blown boogie to make ZZ Top cry jealous tears.
To read more than 300 of my other Vancouver concert reviews go here.