Text and Photography by Suzanne Goodwin
Vancouver, for its size, has a dearth of quality venues in which unknown talent can get to play, let alone headline a bill. The Phunky Toad is in a prime location from both a band and audience perspective, and the venue offers up all the requisite goodies: reasonably priced pints and a full bar, food, pool table, mirror ball, lots of seating, good sight-lines to the stage from almost all of the room, and even a full dance floor. There's also a video system so you can watch the band on one of numerous TV screens around the room. From an aesthetic point of view, the Phunky Toad looks just like most other pubs: cheesy dark wood paneling, colonial style tables and chairs, no "decore" to speak of. Wetzel and his crew don't seem to be trying to create a ready-made cool atmosphere; rather, they are letting the patrons take care of that aspect themselves, while they supply good alternative talent and activities.
The Phunky Toad is currently booking shows for Thursday through Saturday nights, possibly adding more nights and activities in the future (the pub itself is open the other nights of the week, just fer drinkin'). Besides live music, the Toad hopes to offer up "Punk Rock Bingo" (much in the same vein as "Speed Bingo" at Sneaky Dees, for all you Toronto-ites out there), and "Punk Rock Karaoke!" Now that might breath some life into tired ol' Gastown...the tourists wouldn't know what the heck hit them!
Opening night for the Phunky Toad was Friday, April 12, and by the time Scum Element -- a young local punk band -- hit the stage at around 10:30pm, the room was quite full, probably around 100 people and still filling. The mean age of the patrons looked to be early twenties, most wearing anything from full punk regalia to your average Levi's and plaid. The atmosphere was definitely more social in nature than most music clubs, and, by the time the band's set was over, the place was packed, my guess being around 200 people and the patrons were definitely into this gig. The moshing had begun!
From the point of view of going out to catch some new bands, the Phunky Toad is as good a place as any. The dance floor can pack in 50 or so people, and the sound is definitely loud, if not extremely full. The stage is elevated, but extraordinarily small: a band could jump up and down, but that's about it. A group any larger than four would find themselves playing partially from the floor for lack of space. The stage is however, reasonably well lit and there's a couple of strobelights to add some extra visual interest. In the sore point department, I'd have to say getting out the front door is a major pain in the butt. Not only is this area the only funnel in and out of the room, it happens to be right in front of the bar and is the narrowest space in the venue. Ug. Hopefully the Toad will address the serious people congestion problem that this layout creates.
Overall, the Toad is worth checking out, especially if you want to see some indie talent in a congenial atmosphere and don't want to have to pay $4.00 a pint (or more) to do it. Upcoming shows at the Phunky Toad will include bands Diesel Candy, Big Gulp, Besugo and the Loved One.
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