Full disclosure: but for the first few paragraphs, the original version of this recap has been lost to the ether of the internet. I write this almost a full two weeks after the concert took place, so any and all exuberance conveyed here will be in part to the notes I took at the time and the staying power of the bands’ performances in my mind.
Truly one of Vancouver’s premiere live music venues, I’m back at the Commodore Ballroom for the second time this week. Nights like these are why introverts like me leave the house (and are glad we did when we come home). Nights like these are what a music fan hopes to experience when they see a band live. Those of you who know my reviews/concert play-by-plays also know I am effusive in my praise and confused when things aren’t, well, praiseworthy. Tonight was me going in blind and having my mind and earholes blown and loving every single moment of it.
When Jamie N Commons, who I thought was ‘just’ this shaggy-haired poncho-wearing singer/songwriter, first walked on stage and began performing, within seconds his voice had me doing a head tilt. A little more and the holy sh**s started coming. Great voice. Like, wow. Remember the film The Commitments, when singer Andrew Strong started singing, people were surprised at how full and soulful the voice was. Yup. That. Only this one’s not Irish, but Kiwi. Whatever you’re doing, Jamie, keep doing it. Stylistically, it reminded me of that classic southern US blues-rock, Here I was thinking his set was going to be one of a solo singer/songwriter, and while he did deftly pluck his way through the first song on acoustic guitar, his bandmates joined him as of the second. The crowd was about 6-8 people deep on the dance floor with all the tables along the sides occupied (mezzanine is closed) and the applause isn’t polite – people are liking what they’re hearing from the four-piece (2 guitars, one bass guitar (who I think also played an oil drum), drums, with lead guitarist also providing incidental keyboard for at least one song). During this set they also perform a new song they haven’t played live much yet: “Home” (possibly). I haven’t been this impressed by an opener since the first time I saw Walk the Moon. Get. Their. CD. If the production value holds up to their live performance abilities, you’re in for a treat. (I bought the Marathon EP – and I love it). They’ve managed to fill the dance floor to a good 70% before their 40-minute, 8 or 9 song set was complete (I may have lost count while trying to contain my excitement). The last song, “Jungle”, nearly knocked it out of the park. The power chords and the guitar riffs all around. Jesus! I don’t often hear calls for “encore” after an opener is done, but I heard quite a bit of that tonight.
Click to check out the full gallery of Catfish and the Bottlemen + Jamie N Commons
At about quarter to 10, the lights go out and the cheers erupt. This is definitely a livelier crowd than the other night. There’s a tease of a light show during “Helter Skelter” by The Beatles over the PA and Catfish and The Bottlemen come on stage dressed all in black, looking like they mean business. Jamie N Commons really was the appetizer for the searing guitar chords and testing the limits of my eardrums, and how fast I could write so I could get back to enjoying the music.
For the first song, “Rango”, many in the audience sing along from the get go. There are hands up and this show is officially off with a huge statement. By the second song, introduced as “Pacifier”, more and more people fill the dance floor with full-on jumping in many pockets.
Checking in with the crowd and ensuring everyone was good, the next song is “Sidewinder”. For all the loud, which sometimes I personally don’t respond well to, I am not minding in the least. This song has a great light show going on, of the kind that might cause an epileptic concern. The next song was introduced as “Fallout” and more people want to join in the happy chaos on the dance floor. We’re not full yet, but so many more are jumping, arms up, and singing along. This is such a high energy band playing high energy rock, how can you not respond in the same way?
McCann dedicates the next song “for anyone who bought our album when it came out”. For “26”, drummer Bob Hall is smashing the floor toms for all he’s worth (not to mention the rest of the kit). The song gets a big finish with a single long lingering note that goes straight into the next song, “Business”. More drum kit stellarness, this time with a spotlight on him. Between Hall and what’s also going on in the bass guitar department, guitars and vocals seem decorative at this point. The rhythm section forms the substance here.
“Kathleen”, ‘the single’ (although it came out last year), ostensibly the only song I knew, and it’s on the strength of it I’m here. They also just performed it on James Corden’s really late show. Unsurprisingly, hands and arms are in the air, much jumping and joy all around. When the song ended, I thought it easily could’ve gone on for another minute or two. It’s a truly great rock song.
“Homesick” is introduced as the very first song on the album, after McCann thanks the Vancouver crowd for coming out. There are screams during the last third of the song after the band has (rather surreptitiously) left the stage, leaving McCann alone with his microphone, guitar, and the audience singing along right to the end. For “Hourglass” McCann switches to acoustic guitar and the few people trying to have a conversation are audibly shushed by many others. The audience really knows this song well – there is much singing along right from the off and throughout. It’s obviously a much loved song. Nearing the end of the set, the band return for “Cocoon” and they absolutely bring back the rock edge. The crowd is encouraged to make their appreciation heard more with a call “Let’s hear you, Vancouver!”; the response is magnificent. It’s not until the final song that I get a ringing in my ears. It’s taken a while, but no regrets. Catfish and the Bottlemen would seen to agree; McCann says: “Vancouver, thank you very much for having us. This is as loud as any room we’ve ever played in”. He introduces “Tyrants” as the last song on the album and thanks the house once again. This song has great power bits interspersed with slightly quieter moments and had a nice succession of endings. They’re rather an unassuming band in that despite there being 3 microphones set up in the front, lead singer McCann is the one doing the talking. I wonder if the others are more talkative in other markets, or at home. It’s okay – Canada is Commonwealth, they can understand the odd Welsh accent (Kelly Jones has no problems making himself understood here).
Listening to the recorded songs online and comparing them to what I heard that night, Catfish and the Bottlemen live are a band unfettered. There is no less polish to their music apart from the engineered CD, but boy, those flattened out edges still have plenty of feistiness to them. Further, as long as the amps go to 11, Catfish and the Bottlemen will deliver. One of the only critiques I have, and this is me as a complete and utter newbie, is that the songs are not easily distinguishable from one another. Please consider, I know no lyrics and I’m going solely by what is being presented, and (this I wrote on the night) I already know that writing this up will pose a different set of challenges. I still left with every intention of buying the CD on my way out except there was ‘only’ the one by Jamie N Commons to purchase (and Ben and Jamie from the band to chat with briefly), so Balcony will be put on ‘the list’. We all win. I know I did.