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Olio Festival 2009 highlights

Anvil band Vancouver concert photo

Anvil at Venue, Vancouver, as part of the 2009 Olio Festival. Ken Paquette photo

Review and photos – Olio Festival, Vancouver, 2009

– by Lauren Eldridge

The Rickshaw Theatre‘s location has been described as “Chinatown” and “just outside of Gastown.” But the truth is, the Rickshaw is smack dab on Hastings and Main, Vancouver’s legendary crack corner. You know, the one that makes locals uncomfortable, not to mention the visitors.

But, as a new live music destination, it was a suitable addition to the roster of venues for a new festival. While the comedy stylings of various Vancouver sketch troupes were showcased further down Main, the Rickshaw helped ring in the second night of the Olio Festival with Anvil: The Story of Anvil.

While the film’s structure is inspired by This is Spinal Tap, the mockumentary that started it all, director Sacha Gervasi has described Anvil‘s confusingly unrealistic beginning as a Trojan-horse attempt to enter people’s hearts. It certainly fooled me; I guffawed with the rest of the sparse audience during the opening sequence, but slowly began to realize that these are real people going through real problems. The documentary is funny, inappropriate, and a surprisingly touching tribute that comes from the love of a true Anvil fan.

“The Woods”, a venue I’d never heard of before, was our next destination. After 25 minutes of searching, I finally notice a door with a large “7” in paint. Underneath, a handwritten cardboard sign: “Use side door ”. This is the beginning of sketch-ville. At the top of a flight of stairs we receive polite Sharpie dots on our wrists, then walk down a carpeted hallway into what looks like a frathouse common room. There are couches, a foosball table, and a bar. The bathroom door has a hole kicked into it, and the doorknob is about to fall off, but luckily my finely honed journalistic instincts had kicked in earlier, and I’d used the bathroom at the Rickshaw “just in case.” The Woods’ stage is on the floor, and to get to the “patio” you climb up a ladder and through a window. There are odors all around, but once Jesse Matheson takes the stage it no longer matters.

Jesse Matheson and His Midnight Snacks sing acoustic songs about sex, food, and sexy food. These sensual songs are influenced and educated by Jesse’s love of women’s bodies. The songs are dirty and irreverent, and always a good time, and as dishy as Jesse himself. Refreshingly original and funny, Saskatchewan singer delivers romantic songs in a set that could almost be mistaken for a comedy act.

Jesse Matheson photo Olio Festival

Jesse Matheson and the Midnight Snacks Aug 14 2009 at the Olio Festival, Vancouver. Melanie Shim photo

He dedicated “New Booty” to a friend of his who is getting married next year. She told him that she’d need to make some changes in her life, and this song is his reply: “No, you don’t.” His best known tune, “The French Song”, employs every French word he knows in order to impress a girl. This grows increasingly funny as whole phrases devolve to mere words, such as “bibliothèque” and “accent aigu”. “She Does It In Graveyards” is a celebration of individual “kinky kinks,” while “I Want To Make You Moan” finds its setting in produce shopping.

What makes Jesse’s performance so unique (apart from the candid lyrics) is his interaction with the audience. He shares little stories (such as finding a “flavour grenade” when produce shopping, which turned out to be a rather fancy plum), encourages dancing when appropriate, and creates an informal live and unplugged show that feels as though he’s come to your own living room to play just for you. For his dance number, “Dancing All Alone”, he invited his friend Cameron Dilworth to the stage to act out the story of dancing all alone (“No one can see the moves I am making/the hearts and ankles I am breaking”).

The dance moves that Jesse concocted included the Lazy Hammock, Dance Club Sandwich, the Jackhammer, the I’ve-got-a-teeny-tiny-bladder dance, the Backpacker, the Bushwacker, the Open Blouser, the I’m–a-16-year-old-named-Doogie-Howser dance, the Bullet Train, the Crying Game, Ferocious, and Supercalifragilisticexpialitrocious. At one point, Cameron and an outgoing fan broke it down on the floor, trying to complete each dance move as Jesse reels them off. Another favourite Matheson number of mine closed the set; “Good Times” is a sarcastic song reminiscing on the finer points of a relationship: “Oh baby, do you remember that time when you said my facial hair looked like pubic hair, and you started calling me pube-face? Good times.” Don’t let this sarcasm fool you; Jesse loves women.

Six blocks away, over at the ANZA Club, Edmonton’s the Whitsundays offered scintillating, ethereal harmonies atop charming, old-fashioned keyboard rock. Front-man Paul Arnusch (lead vocals, keys) led the other four band members through some jam-session tunes involving weird and wonderful incorporations of beer bottles – Smokey Johnson slid one along his guitar strings, while Aaron Parker takes a break from his 12-string electric guitar to play the triangle with his (and vice versa), and even blow air over the top of a bottle into the microphone. I particularly enjoyed the track “Fallen Over”.

Choir Practice was both confusing and disappointing. One friend has waited three years to see the Vancouver group, and had told me about its 14-piece ensemble and focus on harmonious vocals. No wonder we were all confused when just four people mounted the stage, all with instruments. Lead singer Coco Culbertson informed us that this is the first time they’ve all played together.

However, if they have different band members, different songs, and a different sound, why are they still calling themselves Choir Practice? It may be more accurate to refer you to a MySpace page “Coco, Choir Practice, and Politics”, which actually contains a couple of the songs that they played for us this evening. They reminded me of Winnipeg’s Paper Moon, but without the too-girly voice and high-octave vocals. This “band” needs to get its act together before fans give up.

All in all, the evening was a success. Since the Olio Festival is still rather new to the public, it was easy and pleasant to get in and out of every venue without having to wait in line or be turned away. Compared to my disappointing experience with JunoFest back in March, Olio was both a breeze and a blast. I look forward to the improvements and growth we should see next year.

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