by Erica Leiren

In an alternate reality, the Enigmas “Flying Dutchman” is the theme song for the Pirates of the Caribbean movies parts one thru infinity and the boys have cashed out early to live in personal castles and drive their hovercraft down to the local pub whenever they feel like it. Luckily for us, that hasn’t happened yet.

In 2010 the Enigmas reunited for the first time in 17 years—a raucous gig that was immortalized on film and is now available on DVD. The occasion was for a friend of the band’s birthday and thanks to him and his film team, we now have the chance to experience an Enigmas concert, where the pent-up energy of band and audience make for a heady draught from the psychedelic stream.

If you didn’t see them in their mid-’80s heyday, now’s your chance to learn how to do the Windshield Wiper (a Vancouverite-original dance craze) and sing along to “Teenage Barnacle,” the Enigmas’ pun-tastic ode to beach life and our beloved Girl-in-a-wetsuit at Stanley Park. The Enigmas’ clever originals and well-curated selection of songs from an earlier era connect the dots at an ‘80s midpoint that forms the straight line for Vancouver’s West Coast garage sound—from the Collector’s “Lydia Purple” through to Abbotsford’s BMX (a.k.a. Kick in the Eye) and their brilliant 1995 album Starliner right on up to today’s Skinny Kids.

The freshly released Enigmas Live in Concert DVD is now available in videoactive splendour at your local independent record stores. Included are some of their very best songs: wonderful originals like “A Bit too Far,” “Strangely Wild,” and “Roll With the Punches,” as well as ripped covers of the Count Five’s “Psychotic Reaction,” the Sonics’ “Boss Hoss,” MC5’s “Kick Out the Jams,” 13th Floor Elevator’s “You’re Gonna Miss Me,” and the Balloon Farm’s “A Question of Temperature.”
This exciting concert film captures the gifts of four musicians so spectacularly endowed with talent, they make the rest of us feel both humble and thankful. Nailing down the beat with supreme confidence is the hardest hitting rhythm section West of the Mississippi: Randy Bowman on drums and Stephen Hamm on bass (Slow’s epic player here standing in for original Enigma’s bassist Brian Olinek.) Guitarist Mike Davies is a magnificent player who bestrides the stage colossus-like, launching flamethrower riffs into the audience, apparently effortlessly, and sounding like three guitar players, not one. Everyone in the band can do back-ups, which makes for fantastic harmonies. This is one musical team that has totally gelled in every way.

As for lead singer/saxophonist Paul McKenzie, he is one vivacious bon vivant, a fun-loving raconteur, and natural entertainer. His wonderful voice is like good scotch: smooth, deep, powerful, with an overtone of smoke. He’s an original, but if you must make comparisons, Paul McKenzie is Vancouver’s own answer to Iggy Pop, plus whip smart and with a witty, subversive sense of humour.

The Enigmas reigned as Vancouver’s prime movers of party action on the alternative/university/club scene through the mid ‘80s via their explosive live shows and two vinyl releases, both produced by the Scissors Bill Barker: 1983’s ENIGMAS on their own Mystery Records label, and 1985’s Strangely Wild on the Zulu Records Label. These 12’ 45 RPM EPs are hard to find now, but very worthwhile if you can get yourself a copy, as they contain excellent songs not on the set list of the filmed concert: “Pancho Villa,” “Roll with the Punches,” “Daymare,” “Greenstreet,” “Monsters in the Basement,” and “Rush Hour in Russia.” Of special note is the Strangely Wild EP’s incredible Dali-esque cover artwork by photographer Dave Jacklin, who chronicled several bands during this era and famously fronted the Spasms, a Cramps cover-band.
In the Enigmas, West Coast dreaminess merges with the harder influences of the Stooges and MC5 to produce a unique and powerful sound. As a band, the Enigmas are like one of their own favourite motorcycles or a beautifully tuned muscle car: revved up, pumping 450 HP, firing on all cylinders, and raring to go. Hop on and take a ride you won’t regret.
PQ: This exciting concert film captures the gifts of four musicians so spectacularly endowed with talent, they make the rest of us feel both humble and thankful.