Fans of The Dreadnoughts in the city of Vancouver are fanatic to the maximum extent of the word. Likely, they are beyond that boundary by a few blocks, but it’s a starting point.
On the weekend before Halloween, the band was slated to headline a show of epic proportions at Fortune Sound Club that would include their folk-punk-polka-seashanties, as well as some psychobilly, ska and more punk, with openers Creepshow (from London, ON), The Fundamentals, and Hellbound Hepcats (both of which are from Montreal, QC) as well as local delight, Cornshed. Fun fact? The mandolin player for Cornshed and The Dreadnoughts is one and the same, the Dread Pirate Druzil (Drew Sexsmith).
With a line-up change by adding Cornshed, The Dreadnoughts went on 45 minutes early and I heard music blaring from the bottom of the steps on Pender St. I asked the bouncer if anyone was on and he replied that The Dreadnoughts had just started. I bid adieux to my friend Evan who was having a cigarette and ran up the stairs as fast as my feet could scurry me, and once I made it into the heat pit, aka mosh pit, I shuffled through the many souls to a spot where I had a decent view. By this point in the evening, I was 3 or 4 ciders deep and with the mention of cider in a song, as many Dreadnoughts songs do, I pulled out another from my bag. As I later explained to Drew in the Ivanhoe when I pulled out yet another one, it’s an illegal cider, in the sense that I’m supposed to by buying them from the bar. The way they charge the citizens of BC tax on booze, be it liquor store or bar, it basically is robbery, so I don’t feel bad! He laughed and told me the bartenders at a place like the Ivanhoe wouldn’t care anyways, so I was okay.
Back to the pit at Fortune, I was just about to start melting. After 4 songs or so, my Halloween costume (Harley Quinn) was getting way too hot for the number of people and with my change of location in the crowd, the density had thickened and I desperately needed some air. Being a multi-layered costume, I got down to my skivvies just in time to notice that I wasn’t the only one sweating. Aside from the humans in the building, the space itself had begun to sweat. The first time I noticed a pipe drip from above our heads, I assumed it was a leaking pipe. But as I moved throughout the audience, I found more and more sweating pipes until I realized it wasn’t coming from the ends of the pipes where they are connected to each other and might leak. It was anywhere where there were a lot of people underneath. I guess with the combination of the low ceilings, the insane heat and humidity in the air with all those people dancing, and the odd placement for some of those pipes made for a sweat tank.
Sweat doesn’t even seem a grand enough word. Not to say I don’t get sweaty at shows… Anyone who goes into a mosh pit is going to come out sweaty and almost definitely, some of that sweat belongs to a stranger. This pit, however, had my entire head of hair (which admittedly isn’t that much) soaked 100% through within 10 or 15 minutes. I would headbang and I have no doubt I was splashing sweat in people’s faces. It was filthy and disgusting and smelly and I feel sorry for anyone who had to sit near me on the bus home at 3 am.
The band played many classics, such as the ever-loved “Poutine Poutine,” “Elizabeth,” “Antarctica,” “Amsterdam,” “West Country” and “Ivanhoe,” the song named after the bar a bunch of fans and the band went to after the show, which is just down the street on Main. The highlights for me were “Turbo Island,” and “Cider Road” as well as the a capella of “Roll The Woodpile Down.” The recorded version doesn’t have drums, while live, Marco (the Stupid Swedish Bastard) jumps into the audience with his floor tom and a drumstick and crowd surfs while keeping the beat. Every show, it’s a sight to see. Then again, I’m a sucker for a sea shanty like no other.
Although I’ve always enjoyed the very local essence of a string of their songs, especially from “Victory Square,” they rarely seem to play the slower songs live. Live, it’s all about partying, drinking and having a time to remember and they never disappoint. As with almost every show of theirs I’ve seen, they had an a capella of “Cyder” which could never be recorded on a full-length album because it’s a sing along. The only lyric is “cider;” over and over you sing “cider.” But you can tell the fans from the newcomers because the melody is quite specific in certain parts. But the dedicated fans and the band are so loud, everyone sounds right most of the time anyways, so it’s always good fun for everyone. They also did a bear-bong with the new singer of Creepshow, which is a beer bong, but made with a teddy bear.
You know a band is astounding live when it takes this long to get to the fact that they were dressed up for Halloween. As I mentioned, I was a bit late making it to the stage, so I couldn’t tell you what Seamus O’Flannahan (Kyle Taylor) was wearing, but he was on his way to disrobing by the time I got there. It looked like a yellow jumpsuit of sorts, so I’m guessing a blue-collar worker of some sort, maybe even an inmate. Seamus, however, is usually a lot more concerned about his fiddle and moving around on stage as fast and passionately as he can, while hitting all the notes he needs to. He took a break with a bottle of wine at one point in the show, but then continued by spitting it all over the front row. The rest of the time, he was bouncing around, back and forth. From lying on the stage to jumping in the audience, he was everywhere.
Mandolin player Dread Pirate Druzil (Drew), was dressed as a demon of sorts, with horns coming out of his dreads on his forehead. I couldn’t tell you how his horns were secured, but they weren’t budging by any means while he was headbanging, with his dreadlocks flying in every direction for the majority of the show. He had black painted around his eyes, while his face was just white, safe for his facial hair, as well as the black from his eyes branching out in lines in a pattern on the white. It looked like he acquired a bit of a scrape above his right eye, so underneath the makeup, you’d catch a glimpse of a band-aid bandage. Wearing a band tee-shirt (Mad Sin), ripped jeans and what may or may not have been black chaps, he was sure to let the audience in on some mandolin playing during the set.
Uncle Touchy (or the Fang, depending on the day, also known as Nick Smyth), the singer, was dressed like a lady. I’m not quite sure if he was supposed to be a specific lady, but he wore a pale orange and white dress that looked like it belonged in “Little House on the Prairie,” paired with hipster-esque glasses with no frames that may very well have been 3D movie glasses with no lenses. He also wore a baseball cap with black bandana print, so you might see my confusion with his costume… Lady, gangster or hipster? The dress, however, looked fantastic on him. He’s got calves like you wouldn’t believe! Although the way he was dressed may have distracted slightly from his performance, nothing truly could. He came at every song with passion and engaged the audience at every turn. He even took off crowd surfing quite a few times, although I tried not to pay too close attention in case something unruly happened to his skirt. Although, I’m sure he had planned his costume so that it was “malfunction”-proof, I figured it didn’t hurt to be safe.
Bassist Squid Vicious (or Andrew Hay) looked straight up like a Jedi. Maybe it was the way he was rocking those notes, but I’m sure his outfit contributed. The upper portion was a short white robe thing you tend to see with many martial arts. The lower part of his outfit was loose-fitting dark (brown?) pants and honestly, he looked like a Jedi in the dark. At one point in the show, he located a toy axe and instead of plucking his bass, he used the axe. It was only for a few seconds, but the look on his face was unforgettable, as if he was about to massacre something, before a smile spread across his face and he tossed aside the toy to continue playing.
The Stupid Swedish Bastard (Marco Bieri) was dressed in yet another unrecognizable outfit. It was, however, fantastic! His makeup looked similar to Druzil, except black in the shape of a mask on his forehead, cheek bones, and nose, with white around his eyes and black lines going into the white. His face didn’t last nearly as well after the show, as the sweat seemed to beat the makeup almost entirely by the end of the show. He started off with cardboard around his waist, dangling around him, but I couldn’t tell you if he was a robot or an alien or what have you. His sailor cap further confused me, clashing with his long maroonish gloves and snake wrapped around his neck. His crowd surfing ventures saw him return lacking the cardboard, but I think he appreciated the lack of material. By the last few songs, it seemed as if everyone has started taking off their clothes because it was honestly difficult to breathe.
It was a night I won’t soon forget, even with all the alcohol I consumed. I showed each of the guys in the band that night a tattoo I had gotten in honor of them and after bumping into Kyle and Andrew in the stairway, I headed to the Ivanhoe with some friends, a few made that night and a few that I always saw at shows.
As luck would have it, Hurricane Sandy grounded quite a few planes that weekend and that caused Nick to stay in Vancouver long enough for the band to have a last minute show at Fucky Winkerbean’s on Monday the 29th. With no time for openers, they decided who better than the powerhouse Cornshed. For the same reason I didn’t review any of the other bands for the Saturday show(this review is already way too long!), I won’t go into too much detail, but they put on quite a performance. Druzil made it to the venue a bit late for undisclosed reasons, but I welcomed him with a cookie before he took the stage to rock.
When the Dreadnoughts took the stage, the place exploded. The band devoured the tiny stage in the back of the bar and the fans were right there to drink in every moment. Playing similar songs to the evening before, I honestly lost track of what was played and what wasn’t due to my commitment to the moment. The only thing that distracted me was my camera malfunctioning, but I quickly gave up on taking pictures and focused on moshing.
With far fewer people than the audience at Fortune Sound Club, you could tell that their home, in a sense, was Funky’s and definitely on Hastings St. From the owners to the bar and everyone else who showed up, it was a weird little family. But with the lack of people, the energy was not lost, not even close. Especially not on me. The Saturday show has kicked me in the behind pretty harshly, but that wasn’t going to stop me from enjoying this second show to the fullest. I’d take 10-15 second breaks by leaning against a wall or a pole when my head was giving me the spins, but aside from that, I was all go. Moshing, dancing, singing, screaming, I even pretended to polka! I even lost some of my dread extensions from head banging so much, although the pain in the morning was more proof than words could ever be to describe what I did that night.
Falling over was the name of the game for the latter half of the show (likely because my muscles weren’t as willing as my brain was), so my knees were destroyed, along with my elbows. Bruises littered my body from my legs, up my body, my chest (my sternum was the worst, complete with a cut), and all down my arms. My back was so stiff that I spent the day lifting things on the floor with my toes as all costs, so as not to bend over. In my entire life, however, I’ve never lost my voice from a show the way I did that Tuesday morning. Even my whispers were cracking and no one could hear the words I was saying.
I can only imagine how many people woke up with similar pain on the eve of Halloween, considering most people who went to the second show were people as passionate about The Dreadnoughts as I am. These days, since most of the members live elsewhere, you never know when or if you’ll get another Dreadnoughts show. Personally, I’m moving to the other side of the country pretty soon, so I couldn’t even be sure that I will ever see them again, but this pre-Halloween was honestly the perfect was to commemorate the years that The Dreadnoughts have given me.
They were the first local band that blew me away, full stop. They reminded me of how much I love Vancouver, no matter how far I roamed from home. I’ve shown people in at least 4 countries YouTube videos of them and every time, it sparks a conversation filled with great memories. It seems that even though their touring schedule is sparse and even one-off shows in Vancouver are rare these days, they will live on in the hearts of every fan who ever bought an album or a disc, a tee shirt, or even just enjoyed a cider while watching them in a bar once. They impacted my life in many ways and they will always be my soundtrack when I’m homesick, but I take solace in the fact that my favourite places on this planet are a) places they have toured and will again if they ever tour and b) places they include in their lyrical content. Until I run into those fine five gentlemen again… be it after I move to la belle province (and eat loads and loads of poutine, while chanting “poutine, poutine!” in my mind every time), or while I’m visiting my wonderful home of Vancouver, I intend to see them play as many more times life will allow. 9 times just isn’t enough!