September 19, 2014
I have no idea why, but 2014 seems to be the year of the Canadian indie rock reunion. Check it out: The Constantines, Death from Above 1979, the Unicorns, the Smalls, Young and Sexy, and Roots Roundup have all reformed and/or released new material.
That’s all great, but for me, the most thrilling reunion of the year is… BUM.
BUM is a hugely underrated, very brilliant power pop band from Victoria BC. In 1993, they released –seriously– one of the greatest albums not enough people heard called Wanna Smash Sensation (produced by Kurt Bloch, released by Popllama). I played that record to death and know every song and note. The band also released a string of absolutely killer singles and EPs.
The amazing thing about BUM is that they were basically the perfect four-piece band.
They had NO weak links, which is extremely rare in rock ‘n’ roll. They boasted a songwriting tandem that had a yin-yang equality of greatness: guitarist Andrew Molloy provided the chorus-heavy, Instant Kool-Ayd pop and power ballads, while Rob Nesbitt served up the buzzsaw blasts of emotionally charged melodic punk. It meshed incredibly. The harmonies were outstanding.
BUM also boasted powerhouse precision drumming from Graham Watson (also the drummer in my own band the Smugglers for many years post-BUM). BUM were even perfectly West Coast-multicultural with their underrated anchor: the ultra-cool bassist Kevin Lee, with his stoic expression, Ramones-style bowl cut, and low-slung, star-speckled Fender bass. For awhile, Kev co-owned one of the best record stores in Canada called Funhouse, on Yates in downtown Victoria, which seemed to give BUM the inside edge on the best labels and bands going in the early 90s, and there were a lot.
BUM’s Buzzcocks-like steady stream of singles in the early 90s provided the anticipation, but when I first heard Wanna Smash Sensation I could hardly breathe. I’ve always maintained the eternal idea that Wanna Smash should have been as big as Dookie or at the very least any of the better Redd Kross or Sloan records. Not to be. It turns out the only “territory” that really “got” BUM, (besides a small drunk army of adoring fans in the Pacific Northwest) was Spain.
BUM were HUGE in Spain.
Like folklore huge. Like billboards and wall murals and sold out shows and massive audience sing-a-longs huge. Full rock star status. Yet in Toronto they’d draw 35 people. In Eugene, Oregon… don’t ask. (But I shoulder part of the blame for that one because the Smugglers were also on that bill. Animal House it was not.)
The Smugglers instantly hit it off with BUM because we shared the same underdog sense of humour. The Smugglers’ “music” was a lot more lowest-common demoninator garage-pop, based in gimmicky showmanship, sleight-of-foot trickery and bombast, to distract the audience from our lack of actual songwriting talent. We were always in awe of BUM’s writing skills. We also had some incredible parties with BUM. Lots and lots of laughs, all night long.
At the height of BUM’s fame in Spain 1994 (and with rapidly growing interest in Japan), Nesbitt abruptly left the band within a year of the release of the classic Wanna Smash Sensation. I remember being stunned. Watson followed soon after, making the questionable career move of joining the Smugglers for the next decade.
That perfect foursome, that once-in-a-lifetime alchemy that was BUM in its prime, was over, just like that.
All four members do lots of other great things musically to this day (Budokan, Suite Sixteen), though it seems it’s when the four of them come together that they’re truly at the well of rock ‘n’ roll greatness.
That’s why it felt like my wedding day when I heard of their unlikely reunion. Thank the gods for that cliche of ‘time heals all wounds’ because, twenty years later, based on the Youtube footage alone, I had no idea BUM would sound so HOT HOT HOT.
Sure, they may be bent on being bent on rivalling fellow Victoria punkers NoMeansNo for “Most Grey Hair On Stage”, but SO WHAT? The collective Clooney look just adds to the vibe; the boys still sound fantastic. That’s what counts. Here’s hoping that reunion show at the Rifflandia Festival in Victoria on September 13, 2014 was just the beginning. Your disciples want more. I’m not one for endless nostalgia, but reunions can be done gracefully and done well.
So cheers to all those other bands for getting back together and making it a trend, but for me, my fist is raised in the devil horn salute for return of the mighty BUM. I dearly hope for the promise of more BUM shows in Vancouver, Seattle, Nanaimo, Japan… and of course the entire country of Spain.
Because… a promise is a promise.