Helen Keller

Drumming Up a Storm

with Brundlefly, Helen Keller and Third Eye Tribe
Town Pump
Vancouver, B.C.
Friday, February 7, 1997

Review and photography by Rodney Gitzel

Cino and Starr It wasn't a traumatic transition: from Luscious Jackson and their trippy pop over at the Rage to Third Eye Tribe at the Pump, the first of four bands on an all-local bill. And, right off, I have to admit I'd be hard-pressed to tell apart drum and bass, jungle, dub, etc., etc., so I'm not the best person to talk about Third Eye Tribe, but if you are into music tribal and electronic, definitely check them out (look for their cassette, Wasabi).

Third Eye Tribe are actually less a band and more local tech-meister Jacob Cino plus whomever he can take along for the ride (including singer Kinnie Starr). Cino is fascinating to watch, a dreadlocked alchemist conjuring up music from his samplers and drum machines (and bass and didgeredoo) and leading his tribe through the white-boy hip-hop jungle. To paraphrase Cino, the show "kind of worked and kind of didn't." Maybe more of the former than the latter.

Helen Keller Up next, a stage manager's worst nightmare: Helen Keller had literally almost every square centimeter of the Pump's stage crammed with all manner of drums, percussion, keyboards and odd instruments, and still managed to put it all to good use. Anchoring the five-piece band were the band's two (quite good) drummers, who spent most of the set at their kits, mirroring and playing off each other to excellent effect. Unlike TET, there was little tribal about the drumming; it was based in rock, but was also oddly and rhythmically complex, featuring a lot of floor toms and kick, making for a... throbbing?... groove.

With the pervasive rhythm and all the keyboards and DJ equipment, you'd think you were in for a set of techno/noise. Nope! Reminiscent of the early 80's, a time before electronic music turned abrasive (for lack of a better word), they also reminded me a lot of Peter Gabriel's Passion CD: both mix electronic Helen Keller and organic, old world and new world, into something cool. And, for all the thunderous drumming, didgeredoos, wailing vocals and shower heads (!), there was still a strong sense of melody bubbling beneath the layers. This was almost the last place I'd have expected to hear a pretty piano line, but, there it was, and it worked.

The Pump was packed for the band's set, and the crowd was quite vocal about their support. It's not often the second band of four is dragged back out on stage for an encore. And it was obvious the crowd was there for just Helen Keller, as a whole bunch of people then promptly left (a big thank-you to them for their whole-hearted support of the local music scene), leaving Brundlefly with a largely empty floor. Perhaps those people simply couldn't handle the shift, because we were suddenly dropped squarely in the middle of alterna guitar rock land.

Brundlefly Led by Ian Somers (also of Limblifter), Brundlefly didn't fare very well. They did have some catchy riffs and tunes -- essential for survival in this land -- but their slower songs were agonizing, and they weren't convincing as a band. Each player had his own energy, to differing degrees, but as a unit? They could have all been in different rooms -- it wouldn't have made a difference. Perhaps they knew it wasn't working, tonight, because they cut their set short.

Veal, on the other hand, should have played all night. Again, a bit of a shift, this time to well-crafted songs played by a capable and entrancing trio. Vocalist/guitarist Luke Doucet could carry the band himself if he had to (he doesn't), with his Veal drummer wiry body and wailin' mop of curly blonde hair, hunching up into the mic or down over his guitar. Borrowing more from country and spaghetti-western soundtracks as much as from alternarock, the band's songs are brilliant, fun and without pretense.

This is one of those rare bands that is truly a pleasure to see -- and re-see. The smallish crowd that stuck it out certainly seemed happy to be there, especially the drunk heckler (doncha hate it when the hecklers like you?), and they were treated to most of the tunes from the band's upcoming CD. Happily, this included my favourite Veal song, the rollicking "Girlfriend," with the chorus "I'm so much happier now/'Cuz I live near a beer store/And I have a girlfriend." I left the Pump with the thought that there is probably no better band in town with which to end a long night of bands.

First published in Drop-D Magazine on March 6, 1997

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