Wednesday, March 13, 2013



Boy do I love this place. Every time I walk into The Know on NE Alberta I pass through a time warp. It's The Mabuhey in San Francisco circa 1977 minus the smoke and grungy bathroom, it's a punk rock club the size of my living room and I'm infinitely grateful for its existence. (And, it being a neighbor-appeasing policy that all music must be over by 11pm, no exceptions, it fits perfectly my, ahem, slightly more elderly status, especially on a weeknight) On this night I'm here to see Portland's rising synth-pop/post-punk band Vice Device play hosts of sorts to three bands from Vancouver BC, which, I think you'll agree, is very gracious of them.

First up is Hole In My Head, a duo churning out raw drum and bass punk straight from every garage there's ever been, songs bursting into being with an often pop-punk drive to them and lasting all of two minutes or so (if they're epics, that is). They could use more seasoning, which no doubt this tour of the US West Coast will provide. Bringing off a full sound with just those two instruments is a challenge, no doubt, but then again it's their shambolic nature that gives them their kick, and in that kick is their charm. Twenty minutes later, by set's end, their sound has merged into a more solid BANG! and the small audience disperses for the bar or the sidewalk outside with a collective, adrenaline-edged smile.

LIE (with an accent over the 'E,' hence pronounced "lee-A") brings more of a post-punk drone to the party, even reminiscent of PiL during some of the vocal-less moments. Two vocalists, both female, one wrapped in reverb, introducing a shoe-gazey element to their sound, the other more grounded in straightforward melodic punk. That echoey aspect, along with (Brittany's, as it turns out) vigorous vox, chock full of conviction and boasting a kind of glassine pitch, actually amounted to what I jotted down as 'screaming shoegaze,' which, besides being a somewhat cagey description of some corners of post-punk anyway, also sounded a helluva lot better than that phrase may suggest. In short, I loved 'em, hope to get some material via Bandcamp or wherever, stay tuned.

Not unusually for the sometimes incestuous punk/post-punk scene in any city anywhere, Brittany from LIE also pulls bass and singing duty in Koban. Sam's the guitarist and the laptop is everything else but don't be fooled, it's a band effort and utterly engaging. This is classic post-punk territory, prominent bass melody, soaring slicing guitar lines, sonorous vocals, all in all nothing less than heavenly to the ears of your humble DJ/scribe. Sonically there's not a little Soft Moon to them, which, if you've been paying even the least attention to SFUTF, you know is high praise coming from me. Melody after bass-heavy melody comes spooling off the tiny riser of a stage, accompanied by those soaring guitar runs and if I haven't said it enough, let me say it again: really rather ecstatic. Yes, there's a fair amount of Mac-enhanced beats and background, but A) welcome to the new world touring-band economy, and B), there's hardly a jot of difference. Certainly it would be more dynamic to have a full band aboard but if the choice is either seeing Koban as a more portable proposition or not seeing them at all because they can't afford to travel with all that gear, well, I'm guessing you know which side I come down on. For better or worse, we're immersed in a digital landscape now, but for me, when the sound is this good, this dynamic, I'll more than gladly take it. Joy is joy, after all, so far as I can tell.

The reason I chose tonight's show over the Arctic Flowers/White Lung show last night (and no I can't do both; see above) is because I love Vice Device and haven't seen them since first encountering them opening for Holograms at Mississippi Studios last summer. Set-up's the same, bass courtesy Devin Welch, two synths (Bobby Kaliber and Andrea K), one of which is augmented by Andrea's alto sax, and a couple of synth drums, all of which may or may not imply a Teutonic edge but indeed it's present, Kraftwerk as post-punk rebels, the motorik infused with the bestial. When Andrea brings that sax into the mix, we're in a whole other contortion of the form, a bit Lora Logic, a bit Lisa Simpson. Whatever, it's a element beyond. You don't expect it, and for that reason it rules.

Besides also being drummerless, Vice Device, to a large extent, are synth-driven - and indeed there's something of the mad sonic scientist to Bobby at times, lost in delirious contact with the ghost in the machine - but with Devin's bass that descriptor becomes something far more primal, the cerebral character of the synthesizers pulled down into the messier, physical realm where the feet and the hips do what comes rhythmically natural to them. Plus, it's not fair to say there's no drummer. Both Andrea and Bobby wield sticks on those synth drum pads with precise abandon and the effect is no less thunderous than if they had Martyn Atkins sitting behind a kit.

If I may say, Vice Device are much more powerful than that first time I saw them. Clearly the eight month interim has been spent with an eye and an ear to broadening and refining and just plain ramping up the dynamic totality of their sound. It's a triumphant appearance and I have a very strong feeling that 2013 is gong to be a springboard year for this still-young band. Portland, I'm tellin' ya, you're lucky to have bands of this, um, caliber playing intimate little venues like this. Don't miss out, it truly does share the feel of what it was like back in the heyday of the late 70s. Check it out, it matters.