Real Live Action

Half Chinese

w/ Chris-a-riffic, Lunch Lady, and Jeff Johnson

The Artbank; March 9, 2012

by Fraser Dobbs

Half Chinese | | photo by Audrey Alexandrescu
Half Chinese | | photo by Audrey Alexandrescu

I love the Artbank: Standing room for maybe a hundred people, and located right next to the railroad tracks on Powell Street, if the bands you’re there to see don’t play loud enough you’ll be feeling the vibrations of train cars rumble through every five minutes. Anyone that needed a break from the hot music space just stepped outside and let the rain soak into their t-shirts for a few minutes.

Jeff Johnson is a constantly-morphing musician, and it’s hard to draw parallels between any of his sets, except to say that he’s usually playing a guitar and goes under the moniker OK Vancouver OK. Backed by a bass, a tiny drum kit and a tiny keyboard, Johnson played a simple but thoroughly enjoyable pop set. Johnson is a beautiful lyricist, delivering emotionally charged songs with terrible weight and causality, like a bard describing his life in sparkling prose. Each tune was delivered with the same heartfelt earnestness that made OK Vancouver OK an installation in the city’s east side for years.

After a quick intermission, the crowd was heralded back to the stage by Lunch Lady’s singer, who was yelling nearly incomprehensibly about getting the party started. There was no such thing as musicianship in the band; the trio could barely play their instruments and their frontwoman routinely gave up trying to play her guitar in the middle of a song to focus on shouting Suicidal Tendencies-esque vocals–but that didn’t matter one iota. If Deerhoof’s Satomi Matsuzaki was a drunken punk-rocker, this would be her music.

For a band with obvious jitters, Lunch Lady quelled the butterflies in their stomachs with energy and abandon. The crowd went ballistic for the firecracker delivery of each super fast punk jumble because the group were having such obvious fun performing. Jumping on top of stage props and snarling at the crowd, Lunch Lady weren’t musical genius, but were damn good entertainment.

Chris-a-riffic had a surprisingly tough act to follow. He set up his signature keyboard (“he can’t crowd-surf like Nardwuar with that thing”, someone piped in beside me), and then blew our minds. Chris Alscher is a Vancouver icon for a reason, and playing the longest set I’ve ever seen him perform (at 20 minutes) was a maelstrom of emotional highs and lows. Alscher played a more kinetic performance than I’d seen from him before, often bursting into screaming and shouting from behind humble piano symphonies that made the crowd gasp, then move closer. His set left me feeling like I’d witnessed a fight between friends.

I didn’t know what to expect from Half Chinese: to me, they were that band I’d always meant to see but never had the right chance, so when they started playing exciting, mesmerizing avant-garde rock music I knew I’d been seriously missing out. There’s so much about Half Chinese that’s fascinating that it’s hard to discern just what makes them so enjoyable to listen to: whether it’s the double-drum-kit ratatat, jazzy musings or crescendoing, joyous instrumentation, or the humble, nearly-monotone poetic lyrics, it was impossible to absorb everything at once.

Built out of what seems like every corner of the East Van musical community, borrowing members from Slight Birching and SSRIs to name a few, Half Chinese were jaw-droppingly exciting to listen to. This isn’t the kind of music people usually associate with Vancouver, but it damn well ought to be. The crowd parted ways taking cover under freshly-minted Half Chinese LPs.