Located at the infamous intersection of Main and Hastings, the Rickshaw is not a place for the faint of heart. The venue was built in 1971 as an Asian movie theater, a flagship piece of the once-great Shaw Brothers cinema empire, but it closed down in the mid-80s as the wave of North American interest in kung-fu movies broke and rolled back. It sat empty for 20 years or so, until someone tore out half of the seats, spray-painted most of it black, and reopened it as a concert hall. It’s an unimaginably dirty venue, chock full of character, with great sight-lines and a decent soundsystem. As such, it bares all the hallmarks of a classic rock ‘n’ roll space.
Sic Alps and Thee Oh Sees made the perfect double bill to see at the Rickshaw Theatre. They’re both California bands with psychedelic and garage leanings, both touring in support of fantastic new albums (an eponymous Sic Alps album [sold at the show for only $5 on tape] and Thee Oh Sees’ Putrifiers II), and both have the ability to lull you into a haze and blow you away with a paisley grenade. Yet, their performances brought something a little different to the table this evening.
While scenes from the 1978 classic kung-fu revenge flick The 36th Chamber of Shaolin played on the dual screens that bookend either side of the dimly lit stage, Sic Alps was the first band to step out of the darkness. Their set wasn’t perfect, as co-founding lead guitarist Mike Donovan’s vocals weren’t particularly strong considering how high in the mix they were placed, and lady luck snapped the strap on his acoustic, forcing him to uncomfortably coddle his guitar for “Love Is Strange” (one of the oldest and goldest songs in their set). Commendably, they built up the energy and intensity as they moved along, incorporating more noise by the last few tracks and bringing the mosh pit up to a simmer with their apt cover of “The Seeker” by The Who. After his set, Donovan was surprised with a couple of candles in a cupcake, and the crowd, learning that they were celebrating his 41st birthday, joined in singing “Happy Birthday” to him.
Thee Oh Sees turned up the heat immediately upon gracing the stage. Beer cans started to fly by their first note, and the mosh pit spanned from one speaker stack to the other, a bustling activity that would retain its vigor for the set’s duration. With a smiling Mike Shoun on a minimal six-piece drum kit, perpetual head-bobbing machine Petey Dammit on guitar, and the underrated Brigid Dawson solidifying the group’s vocals while adding tambourine and Nord Electro keyboard, founding guitarist John Dwyer led his crew through a barrage of brisk, reverb- and delay-laden fuzz jams that were seemingly on the brink of unruliness yet fluidly disciplined. His vocals awash in effects, Dwyer moved from falsetto to absurd growl to carnival barker, ever supported and occasionally carried by Dawson, as he alternately gripped a clear acrylic Electrical Guitar Company DS and a green-and-black Burns Double Six 12-string guitar high on his chest, his dark, cut-off shorts adding a hint of Angus Young to his swagger.
The unforgiving concrete space reverberated the energy of the room as much as it reverberated their art-punk noise, largely benefiting both. By the end of their set, the B.O. of the Rickshaw crowd had reached a stench of Romney tax return proportions. Everyone in the place was either wiping sweat from their brow or reveling in their own filth. It’s freeing to see bands that can take you to that place of transcendence, where individual comfort becomes secondary to the experience of a happening.