West Meets East: Gnarfunkel tears down the Mansion

Vancouver band leads night of contagious energy

Three artists performed at The Mansion.
Supplied by Virginia Maria

It was worth being in Kingston for at least one night this reading week when Gnarfunkel, Nice On, and Kyra Johnson rocked the Mansion on Friday Feb. 24. 

Hailing from Vancouver, Gnarfunkel came to Kingston during an East Coast tour which has taken them from a burlesque bar in Ossington Village to a concert hall in Montreal.

Taking the stage under raucous applause, Gnarfunkel was a flurry of hair, lights, and funky chords. Comprised of Tyler Lanigan (vocals, guitar, saxophone), Myles Hildebrand (lead guitar, vocals), Sebastian Valdivia (drums) and Clarke Buchanan (bass), Gnarfunkel proved their self-proclaimed “West Coast Funk” has a fanbase on this side of the country.

However, before Gnarfunkel introduced themselves, local talents took the stage.

Kyra Johnson was the first act of the night, returning to her hometown for her second show ever. Showing an undeniable pop potential, she wowed the crowd with her graceful, soaring vocals.

Johnson closed her set with a standout moment of the night when she dropped her band to serenade the audience with a performance of “La Vie en Rose,” accompanied only by her ukulele and a wash of blue lights.

“My grandmama used to sing me the French version when I was little, and it was one of the first songs I learned how to play [...] so it felt like a bit of a full circle moment getting to play it on stage and share it with everyone,” she told The Journal.

Nice On was next up, but they didn’t feel like an opener. Combining talents that have been jamming around the Kingston musical scene for years, the groovy seven-piece ensemble brought vibes of the highest calibre and established themselves as an exciting act in the University circuit.

When Gnarfunkel finally took the stage, they kicked off their set with an overpowering, reverb-soaked cover of Britney Spears’ “...Baby One More Time” and closed their encore with Blink-182’s “All The Small Things.” They explained their dynamic approach to covers as often taking an accessible song and “funkifying” it.

Gnarfunkel is a live band to its core. Even their debut album, Gnarnia, is live performance of their album captured in a studio that they recorded when they realized they wouldn’t be able to perform because of the pandemic. 

Because of these roots, Gnarfunkel’s show was electric. Goofy antics with the audience, synchronized kicks, and guitar sword-fighting were entirely on-brand. 

“For the first time we actually followed a bit of methodology for designing a set. It’s based off of this book called the Live Music Method. […] You ramp up to this huge energy song, and then drop it down to almost nothing. In Kingston, at that point, everybody stopped moving, stopped talking and put their arms around each other and sang along with our ballad, which was one of my favourite moments,” said Lanigan.

When I asked about inspirations, they claimed above all else authenticity to themselves, visually and sonically, and to their homes on the West Coast.

The origin story of Gnarfunkel’s name may be the best way of understanding the band, besides seeing a live show. After jamming their way into a fresh new lineup in 2018, the gang went on what Tyler called a “spirit quest” to Tofino, known colloquially as “the surf capital of Canada.” 

While surfing, jamming, and having a great time in Tofino, they visited a little surf shop that identified their boards by naming them terms like bummer and wipeout. 

“One of our boards was named Gnarfunkel […] we laughed about it and then found out [from Urban Dictionary] that it meant something ‘straight up gnarly to the funky extreme,’” Hildebrand told The Journal.

Right now, Gnarfunkel is looking forward to the biggest shows they’ve ever played that are taking place later this month at the Lucky Bar and Fortune Sound Club in Vancouver.

When I asked if they wanted to say anything by means of a sign-off to the Kingston scene, Hindebrand said: “Oh, yeah. We’ll be back.”

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