Beez and Nick of The Smugglers

Minty Fresh Taste, Long Lasting Refreshment

Mint/Lookout Records Music West Showcase
with The Smugglers, Pansy Division, The Groovy Ghoulies, Duotang and Maow
The Gastown Music Hall
Vancouver, BC
May 3, 1996

Review by Suzanne Goodwin
Photography by Paul Clarke

I couldn't believe my eyes when I opened the doors to Gastown Music Hall at 9:04pm: there was a seriously HUGE lineup to get in. Uh oh, I figured there was no way I was going to get in and I'd be in all kinds of trouble. Fortunately, the screechs and yowls emitting from openers Maow were enough to chase away a few tomcats, and I made it in to catch the latter half of Maow's, er, set.

Maow All I had heard of Maow prior to this were bad reviews, so you could say that my mind had already been poisoned and I was predisposed to expecting the worst. Well sorry, but my ears hadn't heard enough bands yet today to deceive me. Indulge me here: just imagine stroking a cat's fur backwards (a pretentious, unfriendly feline) and that cat howling at you in disgust. Add to that sound some guitar strumming and overwhelmingly heavy and simple druming (dum da da dum dum, dum da da dum dum, and again, and again, and again, and...). Mix in lyrics like "meow meow meow meow -- OOOOOWWWWW!!!! -- meow meow meow meow -- OOOOOWWWW!!!" and a trio of females in cutsie nurse outfits, and you've got Maow. Or should I say me-ooooowwww! My ears! To try and be fair, Maow does have a cult following, and if you like 'em, then you'll probably love 'em. You all probably hate me for slagging them, but I just don't care.

Well, it's a good thing hope springs eternal because I was looking forward to seeing every other band on the bill. The next act up, Duotang were a unique and pleasant surprise. The Winnipeg duo was introduced by none other than Vancouver's very own Nardwuar the Human Serviette. Looking rather rumpled, Nardwuar reminded us of all the great talents that had emerged Duotang from Winnipeg in years past, but his verbosity got to be a shade lengthy and Mint Records' Grant Lawrence had to gently nudge Nardwuar from the stage in order to leave Duotang enough time to play their set. But hey! It's a party, and all that surreptitious stuff just makes the evening more memorable. So on with the show!

Resplendent in natty suits and thin ties, the boys from Duotang had everyone up and hopping in no time. Just two guys, Sean on drums and Rod on bass. Or maybe it wasn't as bass; Rod may have invented a new instrument: I was totally amazed at the range of sounds he could pull from the strings of his bass, and he rounded this all out with intense and impassioned vocals. I was especially impressed with Duotang's cover of the Pixies' "Hey." Newly signed to Mint Records, Duotang are somewhat heavier and more serious than your average Mint-sters, but very danceable all the same. Go out and buy yourself a taste, they've got a 7", The Message, out on Mint.

The Groovy Ghoulies Now it was time for a little groovin', with Sacramento, California's The Groovy Ghoulies. This band has been together for something like 12 years, and they still look like they're only in their early 20's. Maybe they like the rock'n'roll lifestyle so much, it's having anti-aging effects! They've been described as punk, as garage, as rock. But oh, I gotta back up: they had the coolest props: a giant Frankenstein head with flashing green eyes, a HUGE octopus-spider thingy, strange little heads with bloody arms hanging from all over the place and amps painted up with Saturday morning cartoon spaceman type characters. Oh yeah, and they even smuggled treats (oops, I mean that they brought us gifts, yeah, yeah, that's it...) across the border for us Canucks: little space ships with candy in 'em, squiggly rubber toads 'n other fun stuff. Neat-o, man. The Ghoulies kept up the cartoon motif with "The Beast With Five Hands" (very singable, very danceable), "Ghoulies Are Go!" and "50,000 Spaceships (Watching Over Me)," among other cool ditties.

Kepi of the Groovy Ghoulies Their energy was endless, and they sure seem to like playing. Guitar player Roach's smile never left her face; drummer Wendy was not to go unnoticed, either, as she, too, encouraged the party attendees to get up and dance (Not that there was much room left on the floor!); and Kepi, the sweet-voiced bass player with the painted-on black face mask and black finger nails, can really flail and wail. This band is not all schtick, though, and they play with an unfeigned sincerity that will surely have them winning over new fans this side of the 49th. The Groovy Ghoulies' latest recorded effort, World Contact Day, should be available in Canada on Mint around the end of May. Just look for a CD with a spaceman on the cover.

So everyone was all revved up Ghoulies style, what could be next? Oh yes, total weirdness, Pansy Division style! You know, these three guys just look so nice and so sweet. They walk onstage, in a rather quiet and unassuming manner, then BWANG! It's screamin' guitar time. So much for sweet, with songs like "Dick of Death," "Femme in a Black Leather Jacket" and "Bunnies" (just think about what rabbits do best). While Pansy Division's music is fast and loud, their lyrics are light-hearted, and often quite funny. Some people might say the band is a novelty, and just a joke. Sure, the Pansies are fun, but what their performance really showed -- especially to the straight folks -- was that gay guys can rock out with the best of 'em, have fun singing about subjects that they care about and, hopefully, evaporate that Liberace stuff.

drummer from Pansy Division The Pansies do sing primarily about sex, sex, sex, and some might say they're just perpetuating stereotypes by doing so, but hey, tell me who doesn't sing about sex? Who can laugh at themselves as much as these guys? The real pleasure in seeing and hearing the Pansies live was just getting down to tunes that everyone there could relate to. What more could you ask for? Hard-driving music, with a pretty incredible assortment of rhythms from a rather attractive drummer, screamin' guitars, hot, sweaty bodies pogo-ing up a storm and dancing on the tables at the back of the crowd, and -- phew! -- lots of songs about... you guessed it! It's a good thing bass player Chris Freeman ran through the crowd and sprayed us all with that liquid string stuff to bring us back to our senses; otherwise, I don't know what would have happened...and all this before the Smugglers hit the stage.

Hitting the stage is exactly what Vancouver's own Smugglers really did. Looking like consummate Mint-sters, they were (also) resplendent in natty suits and thin ties, but they had a different schtick: they all wore monster-sized black rubber boots with a Smugglers logo created out of duct tape (the universal repair material) up the sides. That, and they all look like accountants. It was kind of the Pansy Division thing, all sweetness and quiet until they plugged the guitars in. Yikes! Garage punk ahoy! These dudes are rockin'! They played so hard and so fast that I really couldn't understand a word frontman Grant Lawrence (yes, the same Grant Lawrence from Mint Records) was, uh, wailing. It didn't matter though, because the whole house was in a total uproar, dancin', singin', drinkin' and -- again -- table dancin'. Zowie, this is some kinda party!

Dave and Grant of the Smugglers The Smugglers' brand of tuneage almost gravitates into that surf-rock stuff, but they keep that rock/punk edge to everything. This five-piece, while barely fitting on the stage, plays incredibly tight, complete with all the big "rawk" poses -- just for fun -- like Grant many-a-time jumping up onto the PA and then back down over the mike stands into the middle of the stage. Or, how about those ZZ-Top guitar poses? These guys were stylin', and if there's one thing they can do well, it's "sizzle." Their latest CD, not so strangely enough, is entitled Selling the Sizzle. If you get the chance, and if you're looking for a good time, don't check the bathroom stall walls, check out the Smugglers. They'll be selling their "sizzle," along with labelmates Duotang and The Mister T Experience, in small towns around Western Canada starting mid-May.

If there's one thing that can be said about the bands at the Mint/Lookout showcase, it's that they've all got something that makes them stand apart in some way. Whether it's cute costumes, cool props, wild lyrics or natty suits, these bands are all indeed unique. The record labels and bands ('cept maybe that first one) accomplished at least one thing this evening: they've shown that their collective creativity and style will be turning heads and opening ears in 1996 and beyond.

First published in Drop-D Magazine on May 12, 1996

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