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Live Report: Out For A Riff Fest

Weedeater. Photo credit: Abi En
Weedeater. Photo credit: Abi En

What started six years ago as a small backyard BBQ with a few local bands, then morphed into a bigger BBQ called Burger Fest with several bands, arrived this summer re-branded as the Out For a Riff Fest. Name changes aside, the event kept the same spirit as every year since its inception: a huge summer party for the Vancouver metal scene, complete with a dunk tank, burgers, and beers aplenty… all soundtracked by some of the city’s best metal bands. This year, bringing the momentum from previous year’s Burger Fests, a few touring bands were also added to the bill, chief among them North Carolina shitkickers Weedeater, as well as Seattle’s He Whose Ox is Gored.

As has been the case the last few years, Out For a Riff Fest took place at the East Van institution of the Waldorf Hotel, a long standing boutique hotel with a tiki motif. With most of the bands playing on an outdoor stage in the parking lot, it made for a slightly hilarious location for a metal fest being bordered by a large chain grocery store, bus stop, and union hall where passers-by were forced to stop with incredulous bewilderment at the barrage of noise coming from the tiny stage.

Though I missed instrumental doom outfit Craters and sci-fi tech-death posse The Hallowed Catharsis, I arrived in time for Satan’s Cape whose sludgy take on traditional doom perfectly matched the heat of the scorching parking lot. There were a handful of die-hards up front, but most people at this point had sought the shade of the picnic table umbrellas to the side of the stage. By the time Hedks hit the stage, I joined, attempting to cool off with a few cold ones while I watched the noisy-thrash rock duo shred.

After scarfing down a messy burger, I mopped myself up and prepared for Wormwitch. I didn’t have a chance to catch them since the release of their excellent debut full length Strike Mortal Soil and was eager to see them tear through the tunes live. With most of the bands on the bill being of the slower, stoner/doom variety, Wormwitch provided a filthy and raw breath of fresh air. Their d-beat-chug-meets-black-metal-blast made for one of the best sets of the day.

Neck of the Woods were up next — another up-tempo band and a perfect pairing to carry the momentum Wormwitch set in motion. Vocalist Jeff Radomsky took his performance to the concrete, stalking through the crowd as he growled, shirtless and feral, letting the audience get a taste of tunes from their forthcoming debut LP The Passenger. I was momentarily distracted from their blitz of prog-slam by a curious scene at the dunk tank where two police officers were taking their shots trying to dunk a long-haired banger in a battle jacket, a task they completed with delight.

As the sun finally started to relent some of its intensity, Heron arrived onstage, crushing the audience with their harsh, manic doom, making sure that things remained as intense as the midday sun. It was also cool to see festival organizer Scott Bartlett shredding with his band at an event that basically started in his backyard.

They were followed by BRASS, a locally revered balls-to-the-wall rock band who are always a pleasure to see live and made for the most fun set of the day. The exuberant vibe of BRASS’ set ended up playing yang to Black Pills’ yin, with their ferocious noise-punk urging on the night’s impending darkness. I took the opportunity to go for burger round two in preparation for Weedeater.

The sun was firmly below the horizon when Weedeater hit the stage to drop some dirty, fuzzed-out doom on the parking lot attendees, kicking things off with “Hammer Handle.” Dixie Dave was his usual charming self; bottle of Jim Beam in hand, crossed eyes, spinning his ball-cap around and frequently approaching the mic between songs to thank the crowd in his gravelly drawl with a friendly “appreciate y’all.” With no sun to hide from, all the vampires crawled out from under their umbrellas to witness the band run through tracks from across their nearly 20-year career like “Cain Enabler” and “Time Served,” even throwing in their Lynyrd Skynyrd cover of “Gimme Back My Bullets.”

Weedeater were the last band to play on the outdoor stage before the party moved indoors to the Waldorf’s basement “Tabu” stage. It’s a great room and one that rarely sees as much action as it used to. I took some much needed respite at a seat nearby and settled in for Seattle’s He Whose Ox is Gored. Though they are no strangers to the area, I had not yet caught one of their sets and found myself completely mesmerized by their synth-drenched drone and hypnotic riffs. Lisa Mungo, who also handles synths, is an absolute powerhouse of a vocalist and tastefully blends the softer aspects of her delivery with the harsher ones. I’ll certainly be in attendance for their next venture North.

After a few more beers among friends and some top-form stoner/doom from Seattle power-trio Serial Hawk, my sun-baked brain finally gave out. Telekinetic Yeti and Vancouver’s own riff machine Black Wizard were still due up, but a full day of sun, fun, beers, and burgers had wiped me out, so I took my leave. In my younger days, I may have even ventured to the after-party show at nearby all-ages venue 333 to catch some of Bushwhacker’s surely monstrous set. Alas, it was not to be.

Let it never be said that Out For a Riff didn’t have more riffs on hand than a man could stomach. I can’t wait to see what the BBQ is serving up next year.

—Coleman Ingram

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