Vancouver

The Neighbourhood + Hunny + Bad Suns @ Commodore Ballroom – October 20th 2015

The Neighbourhood @ Commodore Ballroom - October 20th 2015

I hadn’t actually planned on being here tonight, as I had this gig down for the 22nd of October (it’s Tuesday, the 20th). Despite the scheduling snafu somewhere, I found myself at the Commodore Ballroom on the house left side again, a few feet from the house lighting tech.

At 2000 hrs when the house lights go down the screeches, screams, and clapping tells me this first opener, Hunny, is not totally unknown. They’re just unknown by me. They play a nice toe-tapping brand of indie rock. As I look over the crowd, I’m thinking if the people on the dance floor were to just bunch up a bit, they’d be just past the post (sorry, tiny Canadian electoral system joke there; the General Election just happened the day before). The demographic appears to mostly be people in their 20s and 30s. The band’s lead singer (he’s also one of their guitar players) lets the audience know this is their last show in Canada and he really, REALLY likes calling the city ‘Couv’. He’s not far off actually; generally, people in suburbia call the city ‘THE ‘Couv’, but that’s just splitting hairs.

Looking back onto the stage, part of me wonders how many guitars a band needs. This one: 3, plus bass guitar, as well as keyboards and drums. Hunny like doing holdover distortion effects between songs; it seems to be ‘their thing’. As far as gimmicks go, I wouldn’t recommend doing it if the pauses between songs are going to be longer than 8 seconds or so, because it’s a bit off-putting. It doesn’t too often over their half-hour, seven-song set.
I must say I enjoyed what turned out to be their final two songs the most. They had a slightly more energetic and upbeat vibe to it. A little like Atlas Genius, with waaay more guitar action (the last time I saw Atlas Genius, they toured as a three-piece, I believe).

The changeover took almost no time at all and within a quarter of an hour, Bad Suns were on stage. There were immediate screams of anticipation once the house lights went down again. There was one fewer guitar in this ensemble (they performed as a 4-piece, if you don’t include the two dudes off stage left with the Macbooks), and already the rhythm section is more pronounced. The second song I actually recognised – it’s that ‘cardiac arrest’ song and vocally it sounded completely different from what I remembered hearing on the radio. It’s as though they exchanged the singer different. Appreciative screams before and and after the song.

Numbers-wise, there are probably just as many people on the dance floor now as there were for the previous opener, they are just a lot more engaged with the music. Their 5th song had lovely syncopation to it – like the lilt you get from a 12/8 time signature, but really I would wager it was a 4/4 dressed up to party. The singer apologised for something I couldn’t make out – maybe he had a cold and that’s why he sounded different? After their 8-song set (30 minutes length) was done, there was much thanks, kisses blown, and much applause as well.

The audience knew it was time for The Neighbourhood (or NBHD – which addresses the our/or spelling conventions by circumventing them) before the house lights dimmed again. There were shouts, screams, woos, general loudness even before the two DJs in the wings (I am presuming that was their function) completely finished their horrid mix. Sorry, not a fan – it doesn’t help that I’m shivering from sitting under the air-con (either that or the backdoor is open because the draft is also bringing cigarette smoke with it, which is charming) all night – but I am definitely hoping for a raucous show. Mere feet from the house lighting tech is a cherry spot, but next time I’m bringing a parka. As if to add insult to my injury (or he was chilly himself) singer Jesse Rutherford walked on stage in a hoodie and flannel shirt. Enough about that, let’s talk about THE SHOW!

Touring their new album Wiped Out!, The Neighbourhood began with “W.D.Y.W.F.M.?” (What Do You Want From Me?) and I see many hands in the air and fists raised towards the ceiling during chorus and verse, especially the ‘wha-ah-ah-ah’ parts.

The next song was introduced: “Let It Go” and big sound fills this big room. The projection screen LCD enhances the lovely atmosphere this song creates. It has such lovely, juicy chords in this song that just linger on their beats and the screams afterwards would seem to indicate the audience loves it as well.

With the first notes of “Wires”, there’s more screaming to be heard. During the introduction, Rutherford says “thank you for being here”. The audience sings along to the ‘oh-oh-oh-oh-oh’ bits between choruses and I see quite a number of smartphones recording this song.

The next song is introduced as a song off the new CD coming out on October 30. At parts “Prey” doubles down on itself in intensity, but then for the verses, the guitar part gives a slightly more upbeat sense to it.

Speaking of atmosphere, one of the reasons I like “Baby Came Home” so much is because it’s this moody, dreamy piece that would be an excellent score to a wide shot in black and white of a solitary car driving through the Arizona desert. Until it levels up and takes on a different tone, like the shot should now be birds of prey circling and diving down to the ground to feed. Rutherford’s leisurely-sounding, legato style is just perfect for these songs. Ditto for “Afraid” for which the audience sings along pretty much beginning to end, hands are up waving in time to the music, and the screams are the loudest I’ve heard yet.

The fog machine blows through from backstage with plenty of cold air suffused with cigarette smoke for “Daddy Issues”. It doesn’t look as though many people were all that familiar with it, but it in no way takes away from expressing their appreciation. “Female Robbery” again has many hands up and quite a bit of movement from the crowd, especially for the chorus. I’m finding the guitar part a bit overly loud here, the balance between instruments seems to be slightly off but then levels out again for “The Beach”. Rutherford’s microphone is so close to his mouth that his diction has been reduced to gravel-in-mouth. I can tell it’s a story, but between that and the overloud shouty bits, it’s utterly lost on me. The legato is gone and for all the unevenness and lack of musicality right now, it may as well be a seagull squawking. The recording is MUCH more pleasant.

The next song is introduced as “Wiped Out”, the album’s title track. The introduction has an easy flow to it, and the song then disintegrated into noise and distortion with a steady drum beat and a bass line. All the while, the audience is just watching. Nothing else. I’m sitting here a bit stunned as well, and I’m wondering if this is the self-indulgent, navel-gazing part of the set? The distortion continues after the drum/bass stop. Christ! I don’t mind telling you, that was painful.

The stage is empty for a few seconds. Costume change for Rutherford. He had lost the hoodie and flannel by about the 5th song and returns solo in a ’70s pimped out shearling jacket. Let’s call this part of the show the encore and it’s a medley of all kinds of stuff (see setlist below, courtesy of Setlist.fm) that features auto-tuned vocals and a background drone that vibrates the floor and furniture as well. It’s a little rap/a little hippety-hop. I officially hate this. In the audience, I do see a few hands up, and when beckoned, the audience does respond vocally and with hands in the air. The participation is short-lived but the crowd is obedient. There are ‘woos’ when the word Vancouver is inserted into the lyric. As far as performance goes, it’s alright, but I was very glad when it was over.

The band returns for “Warm”. There’s more engagement from the audience for this song; I can see rhythmic head nodding or swaying about on the floor. When the heavier beat (double time, perhaps) begins, there’s even jumping and a number of hands raised in the front rows, and just generally throughout the front half. “Sweater Weather” had to come sooner or later, and there’s a sea of phones recording it from the off. As expected, the audience sings along and even solos a line or two. It’s the ultimate example of audience participation – their voices fill the room and I wouldn’t be surprised if this is what the audience was over ready for; what they’d been waiting for all night, because the release is audible.

The final song, “R.I.P. 2 My Youth” is really the last chance for hands-up and such and the front half of the dance floor takes full advantage. The band even gets a chunk of the back half involved as well. When the band has taken their leave, sounds of symphonic somethings play the crowd out. The stage lights are still on, and the house lights are not, but the stage crew starts taking down the gear so the audience streams to the exits. It’s just shy of 2300 hrs, and unsurprisingly, I am one of them.

Setlist:
W.D.Y.W.F.M.?
Let It Go
Wires
Prey
Baby Came Home
Afraid
Daddy Issues
Female Robbery
The Beach
Wiped Out!
Lurk/Jealou$y/Dangerous/When I Get Back/ #icanteven/U&I
Warm
Sweater Weather
RIP 2 My Youth

PS> If this review sounds a bit testy, my team lost to Arsenal in the Champions League earlier in the day, and for the majority of the show, I was sitting with all my layers on including my jacket zipped up, hood over my head, and gloves on. It seemed colder inside than it was outside, and I was certainly dressed for that.

PPS> I’m a wimp when it comes to cold.

To see these photo in the full-size Flickr album click here – The Neighbourhood.

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