The Province (Vancouver)
April 11, 1996
Metal lives, seriously
A one-armed drum solo competition?!
What kind of . . . .
But there I was at the Mighty Niagara Tuesday night for the One Armed Beat Off: A Tribute to Def Leppard drummer Rick Allen (who lost his arm in a 1984 car accident but carried on with one stick and some fancy footwork).
Right. Tuesday night had nothing to do with Rick Allen and everything to do with reliving the glory days of the ’80s when heavy metal ruled and a PC was something your math teacher was saving up for.
Admit it, if you hit your teens in the early ’80s, you still give the volume knob a quick clockwise twist every time you hear the opening riffs to Ace of Spades or Jailbreak.
Heavy metal, as its name implies, sank into the folds of our brains and settled there like that wad of Double Bubble someone dared us to swallow back in grade school.
Whatever comes along, neither really passes.
Metal’s like a bad smell that won’t go away. A lingering undercurrent (which a lot of people still take seriously).
At the Niagara pub, they don’t take it seriously.
While other venues play disco on Tuesday nights, Metal de Fromage is the odeur du jour at the Niagara — big hair, smoke machines, mini-skirts, snake-skin boots, lemon-gin shooters.
“It’s kind of weird ’cause I haven’t been getting excited about music for quite a while,” says club manager and metal revivalist Brian Salmi. “It’s a nostalgia trip for most people coming down, but we do get a few metallers here every week.”
Real metallers, I saw them myself. Too many levels of parody going on for me to discern fact from fiction.
You thought a one-armed drum solo competition was tasteless? Oh no, wet-T-shirt contest . . . swear to God. And a free lemon-gin shot for every pair of knickers handed over to the bar. I’m telling you, too much.
Underwear to the Underprivileged was the cause.
“So those women in the Third World don’t have to run around naked any more,” hollered Salmi from the stage as two pairs of skivvies floated forward.
(Salmi told me later he’s got a contract with a vending-machine company in Japan. At that point, I could have believed anything.)
With ribald patrons — some pierced, many poodle-coifed — openly singing all the lyrics to Iron Maiden’s Run To The Hills and hollering “Give me an R! . . . R! . . . Give me an O! . . . O!” it was a bizarre spectacle to behold.
Then came the wet- T-shirt contest.
Five contestants vying for $100. Some people.
Guys and gals leaping over chairs and tables, launching glasses with the tips of their buckle-boots, lunging for high ground to get a view.
“Somehow I don’t detect any irony in this,” said the self- described ironic observer who joined me for a night of metal.
“It’s just good old-fashioned ogling.”
I could have sat around and argued the point, but the contest was under way.
“Back up, you (expletive) perverts,” said Salmi, trying to get the crowd under control.
“This is (expletive) heavy metal. Whatdya mean, `Do they have to take their bras off?’ ” volleyed Salmi with Metal de Fromage gusto.
With a throat full of fake smoke and vapor from several dozen jettisoned beers, I was unable to puncture the wet-T crowd. Just as well, this is a family newspaper.
Falling back from the melee, I bumped into local pop artist Jim Cummins.
So, Jim, do you find all this inspiring on an artistic level?
“It’s only inspiring me to watch another wet-T-shirt contest,” admitted the off-duty painter. “Or be the boy in the wet-jockey- shorts contest, that’s about it.”
With the shirts dried off and things back to relative calm, it was time for the band.
“From the deepest, darkest depths of Planet Surrey . . . THIS IS MORDOR!” hollered Salmi as a group of competent long-hairs began the helicopter head routine and other metal posturings.
“Metal’s still alive in Vancouver and disco sucks!” mused the Mordor frontman, white high-tops and a $10 Timex complementing the heavy couture.
Funny thing is, they really believed they were being taken seriously, the lads of Mordor, even the lead axe man, unlit cig soggy in his mouth.
“We’re going to milk this till every head-banging, metal low- life doesn’t get it any more,” said Salmi as I dodged out of metal city.
Heavy metal. We can run but we cannot hide. See ya at Lollapalooza. Metallica’s headlining.
The Province (Vancouver)
May 9, 1996
Shock value … some s-t-r-e-t-c-h: Wet T-shirts as pub `events’ are one thing,
but the flip side’s a bit much
Warning: This column deals with mature subject matter. Reader discretion is advised.
There’s little that can shock a generation jaded around the edges and blase to the core.
No amount of corruption, no level of violence, no twist of perversion.
It’s all old hat . . . nothing new under the sun and all that.
The apathetic “Whatever” and the ironic “What’s your point?” are the stock reactions to anything or anyone attempting to illicit shock.
It takes a lot these days to offend, outrage, sicken.
That said, the reaction to an “event” that went down at the Niagara pub on Tuesday night was a collective, “Oh-my-god!”
It’s billed as the “sickest bar in Vancouver,” and now I believe it. And if the Mighty Niagara is to be held up as a cultural barometer, oh boy, strange days indeed.
The “event” wasn’t unprecedented. Iggy Pop was at it in Romeo in 1968; Perry Farrell had a go in Hawaii in ’90; Blind Melon’s Shannon Hoon followed suit in Vancouver in ’93.
But those guys weren’t in a contest. Those “events” were a little more, shall we say, spontaneous.
The shock wave wasn’t restricted to the pub in question. The graphic posters for Tuesday night’s contest went up last Friday.
“Not even at the six-foot level, right down at three feet on an empty pole,” said a woman who works at a travel agency on Commercial Drive. “Kids couldn’t miss it.”
“I’m not opposed to what goes on in strip joints,” added the woman, who didn’t want her name connected with this issue. “I have a few dancer friends myself, but that’s behind closed doors and it’s the person’s choice to walk in there.”
Over at city hall, the permits and licensing department reported no pre-event complaints concerning the contest.
The Niagara certainly got an earful.
“We’ve had a lot of calls and complaints about it,” the bar’s manager, Brian Salmi, said Tuesday morning. “I’ve never seen a poster disappear so fast in my life.
“Nothing from organizations,” added Salmi. “Just some blue- haired conservative types from Kerrisdale. I don’t really understand the whole thing myself . . . what’s the big deal?”
The “event” — part of the weekly Metal de Fromage night — was a response to the wet T-shirt contest the pub held a few weeks back — the women wanted “equal time,” according to Salmi.
“I can spend 200 bucks and get the whole town talking about the bar,” he added. “Of course, it’s shock value, all the way. I have no problems with that at all.”
But is such a contest legal? I wondered.
“You’re kidding,” Brent Thompson with the ministry of the attorney-general, said yesterday. “Actual penises were shown? Good grief. Actual naked flesh was shown? Wow. I’ll get back to you.”
Turns out there is no prohibition against full male nudity in a licensed establishment.
As a hotel pub, the Niagara is a member of the B.C. & Yukon Hotel Association.
The association has an ethics committee, but it takes a complaint from one member about another to fire it up — a rare occurrence.
“We don’t monitor or know— unless I read the newspaper — what they’re doing,” admitted BCYHA executive vp, Jim Chase.
So anyway, I went down to this “event” Tuesday night. I really didn’t think it was going to happen. Who’d sign up for such a contest? Wouldn’t an inspector of some sort jump in and zip things up?
Well, six guys did sign up. And there was no one there to stop it.
Up on the stage, the John Thomas’s were out and gaff-taped to emcee Blondie Butler’s “table of love” for the official measure.
Much laughing, much groaning, but not nearly as popular as the wet T-shirt event.
Some things are best left under wraps.
For the record, the winner measured in at six and three-quarters – – relaxed, shall we say.
Rick, the winner, was put up to it by his friends. Did he feel objectified?
“Not at all,” said the 25-year-old who pocketed $100 for his effort. “I got drunk, I did it. I’ve got what I’ve got, what can I do about it.”
Strange days indeed.
December 14, 1996
Scene and Heard
Vancouver city council’s biggest muckraker Brian Godzilla Salmi, the man who ran for mayor as Ronald F. McDonald and convinced 54 people to run as gonzo politicos in Vancouver’s civic election, is spending his nights booking acts at the Mighty Niagara. As usual, his imagination is working overtime, which can be a scary thing.
Salmi’s been running Metal de Frommage nights on the occasional Saturday, and as you might guess from the name, they are a cheesy celebration of heavy metal sludge. Tonight is one of those nights, and contrary to the rumour mill, Judas Priest will not be making an appearance, says Salmi. Instead, JP5, an ensemble of veteran Vancouver headbangers from Slow, Spank Machine and Tankhog will be grinding out metal covers from Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath ands Wasp. You might think that’s all the stale smoke and condensed sweat your poor lungs can take, but there’s more. Think of it as experimental therapy, and Salmi is the patient. Metal lovers will also get a chance to, “hit-a-hippie for a buck,” which may sound like a case for the BC Human Rights Commission but it will be done humanely, he insists.
The first time Salmi did this he went to Granville Street, found a hippie (the definition is unclear), tore a $50 bill in half and promised him the other half if he showed up at the Niagara that night. When he showed, Salmi says he covered him in hockey gear and for a dollar allowed patrons to take a whack at him with dried-out children’s hockey sticks (if they hit too hard the sticks broke). After 20 minutes the hippie was unharmed and got his full $50 plus several pints of beer. Tonight they’ll be using sponge whiffle bats. Now for the really big question: Why?
“I hate hippies,” growls Salmi. “I was working for Greenpeace five or six years ago, and my job was to round up people and bring them down to Vegas for a protest at the Nevada nuclear test site. We had 5,000 hippies, and I had to put up with hippies for five days in a row. Now I can’t stand hippies.”