Stephen McBean's love letter to Victoria

What: Pink Mountaintops with ACAB Rocky and Scars and Scarves

When: Thursday, 9:30 p.m. (doors at 9)

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Where: Upstairs Cabaret

Tickets: $15 (plus service charges) at Lyle’s Place, the Royal McPherson box office, and Ditch Records.


Stephen McBean doesn’t want people to think that Get Back, the fourth Pink Mountaintops recording and one largely pre-occupied with events in and around Victoria during McBean’s youth, is an auditory version of a mid-life crisis.

If anything, it’s a love letter to the city that raised him.

“Victoria is always home, it’s home in my heart,” McBean said by phone from the Silverlake district of Los Angeles, where he has lived for the past four years.

“But I haven’t lived there since I was 21. It was such a small part of the places I have lived, but it will always be home. And that intrigues people.”

McBean, 45, goes deep into the annals of Victoria on the psych rock-friendly Get Back, most of which recalls the days when he and his friends spent their time playing in bands, partying with girls, and skateboarding. It was the summer of 1987 and McBean, whose run of Victoria bands includes some of the best in local lore, couldn’t have been happier.

He references a series of local people, places and things, from Oak Bay, Bastion Square, and the Dayglo Abortions to 1980s fanzine Youth Plague, the O.A.P. Hall and the Rat’s Nest. The song Sixteen even references the storied corner of “Yates and Douglas,” a skateboarding hotspot frequented by McBean and his crew.

“That’s what we did,” McBean said, sounding happy to relive the memory. “I remember running from rockers and cops on those streets.”

His career has taken off in the years since, mostly while based in East Vancouver.

His projects (Pink Mountaintops and stoner-rock favourites Black Mountain), often operate loosely and by committee, albeit with the sometimes disorganized but sweet-natured McBean at the helm. He was going to go at it alone on Get Back, just him in his bedroom, until Icarus Line producer Joe Cardamone offered him a key piece of advice.

“He told me to sing like I was 20. That, in a weird way, impacted the album. I hadn’t screamed like that in a while. For one, it felt really good. And two, it tied in with the songs about Victoria.”

The band he brings to the Upstairs Cabaret tonight for his Pink Mountaintops performance will be new to local audiences, but McBean is excited to have former members of the Mooney Suzuki, Cat Power and Wolfmother along.

He’s also interested in showing his U.S.-based mates some of the spots he wrote about. “Hopefully some of those freakish characters from Victoria come out for it,” McBean said with a laugh.

He will be in good company at the Upstairs Cabaret, which operated for two decades as Harpo’s Cabaret, perhaps the best room the city has seen and a venue McBean played often years ago.

Making matters more serendipitous, the concert (a fundraiser for a local family in need) was booked and promoted by former Harpo’s booker Marcus Pollard, who helped some of McBean’s bands navigate growing record label interest during the late ’80s and early ’90s.

McBean spent a little over a decade in Victoria and Sidney, yet he was involved in some heavy-duty musical hitters, including Jerk Ward, Red Tide, Mission of Christ, Gus and Onionhouse.

The thrash-metal Mission of Christ was a standout, drawing a record label contract offer from California imprint Metal Blade at a time when Victoria bands were not on the music industry’s radar. He touches on the subject on the Get Back song Second Summer of Love — and in doing so, conjured up all sorts of memories.

“We got the contracts and they essentially sat in the back of [singer] Mike [Synnuck]’s car,” McBean said. “We eventually signed them and showed it to Marcus, who said, ‘This is the worst f---ing record deal in the history of the world.’ The label got bought out by Warner Bros. right after that, and they lopped us along with the bottom half of the roster.”

McBean recovered nicely, from tours opening for Coldplay to glowing reviews in publications such as Pitchfork.

His longtime friends, however — while supportive — remain McBean’s toughest critics. You can’t trust anyone in LA, he said, so his Victoria friends are required to give him the truth when it comes to his records.

He has referenced things in his life on past recordings, but never as directly as on Get Back. That was a rush, he said.

“I have a few great friends from Victoria who have always said, ‘I like what you’re doing, but you’re still hiding.’ This time, it was nice to use that Springsteen thing where he talks about Jersey. I’m not from Jersey, so it was fun to say Yates and Douglas. To someone else Bastion Square sound like it could be in Britain. But that was one of the great skate spots in Victoria in the ’80s.”

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