By Kyle Harcott
Dark-magic sacrament, stoner-rock clobbering, and some seriously eyebrow-raising conversation with a Canook punk rock legend made for one hell of a night at the unfortunately named, but unerringly welcoming Funky Winkerbean’s. Ever since the Cobalt got shut down last September, Vancouver’s underground music scene has been searching for a permanent home, and it may have one soon, but in the meantime, Funky’s has been a more-than-adequate stopgap with a comfortable punk rock atmosphere.
Unfortunately, as openers Ahna went on early to a barely-populated room, my companions & I were preoccupied with Funky’s ¢heap-a$$ pints (seriously, makes the Biltmore’s $3.75 cans of PBR seem like downright highway robbery!) and hanging out with none other than Mr. Chi Pig – who was regaling us with stories of babysitting Dave Lombardo’s kids and hanging out with the Ramones, so unfortunately I didn’t hear Ahna so much as overhear them, but they’re another two-piece doing a minimalist howl kind of thing. When I did prick up my ears, though, I managed to catch hints of early, punkier Melvins in what they were doing – very sparse and tight-knit.
Mendozza were a fitting opener for Jucifer, their Van-Isle brand of battle-doom complementarily warming everyone up for the headliner. While their thunderous set drew mainly from latest album Cabra Noche, they did sneak in a raucous cover of Sabbath’s “Snowblind” early on in their set, just to get the crowd nice and limber and headbangy. But though Mendozza are known for chucking in the odd, faithful cover here and there, it is their originals (like the thrashy “Testament of Hate”) that really whip the crowd up and prove the three-piece’s mettle. Mendozza’s take on stoney, greasy sludge travels the same fork in the road as High on Fire, but it’s got a touch more Iommi-blues for good measure. Mendozza’s also a lot of fun to watch, you really get the sense that they’re quite enjoying themselves up there.
Jucifer live is Total Ritual: Thick smoke and hot underlight, howling fury and gnashing of teeth, sonic overkill pouring forth from Amber Valentine’s monolithic wall of cabinets. From the second she steps onto the pitch-dark stage to begin her rite of setup (part of the ritual in itself, as she performs the most intricate minutiae of constructing her elaborate pedal/light rig in complete darkness, while draped in a black cloak), to the moment the cloak is removed and the Flying V is strapped on and she begins beating hell out of it like it’s some faltering beast of burden; to Edgar Livengood’s pained, vicious thrashing of his vistalites, eyes lolling in his head, jaw clenched/teeth bared in grueling exorcism; ritual is the only way to properly sum up the band’s live oeuvre.
There is a dangerous, fraught magic to these proceedings; I felt as though I was watching alchemy erupt onstage; as if their combined hellacious bashing was some arcane formula for either birthing prima material, or bringing to life a just-out-of-sight golem: you could almost taste iron filings in the air, ozonous particles forming out of the ether. The brutal, vital force with which Jucifer chokes the life into their music is exhilarating and just almost slightly unnerving to watch, especially when you’re watching it for the first time as I was. Every note is played with desperation, as though these were the last notes they were ever going to play, as though they have to get all of the music out of themselves in order just to keep breathing. This is a fascinating thing to watch, especially within the confines of a grotty little pub like Funky’s, which looks as though it’s the kind of place to have bled desperation from its very walls. Yet despite its rough appearance/locale, it’s not a bad place to catch some jams, and a welcome temporary replacement for the sadly missed Cobalt (not that it could ever be ‘replaced’).
*Special thanks to Wendy Thirteen for her assistance with the guestlist.