Marking their 36th performance on the Commodore stage, Spirit of the West returned to their annual St. Patrick’s Day stomping grounds. The local Vancouver band is currently celebrating their 30th year together. It’s always an impressive feat when a band is able to sustain a career that spans over several decades and they not only stay true to themselves but also manage to retain a solid fan base that encompasses veteran fans as well as those younger or new to the fold. As Spirit’s St. Patrick’s Day performance demonstrated, the band’s vigour, energy and diversity has not wavered in it’s many years, nor has the band’s ability to deliver a dynamic set diminished.
Entering a venue like the Commodore Ballroom in and of itself is always a treat, but the atmosphere is extra enjoyable when one finds themselves in it for a holiday event such as St. Patrick’s Day. This was not a your average Saturday night. Fans especially in the spirit were dressed for the occasion and in the mood to celebrate the holiday with a headlining band whose music and sound are the perfect accompaniment to such a night. The sold out crowd were a glowing sea of green, with many donning any Irish accessory they could flaunt. After a raucous and well received set from openers Good for Grapes (G4G), fans danced, and sang along to a well-DJ’d interlude as the stage was struck. Spirit of the West finally took to the stage close to 11pm. At first glance, Spirit of the West looks like a group of well seasoned older musicians. The late nature of their set was a tad surprising to me but when they began to play, they shed their years completely. As their sound ushered itself out of the amps, the crowd exploded with energy and excitement. From their first chord, the lively crowd was seized and swept up in wave of frenzied acoustic strumming and flute soloing. Lead singer John Mann danced, jumped and spun around the stage with the reckless abandon of a frontman half his age, and did it better than most I’ve seen to boot. He and his bandmates shared vocal duties and shifted effortlessly between instruments, an attribute that always impresses me in a live performance. It’s always refreshing at a live show to be treated to a broad array of instruments and in Spirit of the West’s case, this is very true. Acoustic and electric guitars had their moments to sing while the thunderous time keeping of drummer Vince Ditrich maintained a welcome tempo for solo keyboard, accordion, and flute parts in songs to have their moments to flourish. The other interesting thing was the traditional element to Spirit’s music mingling with other sounds and styles as well. Being rooted in a traditional Scottish and Irish musical style could work against a band if that style was the only one they could perform well, but it was refreshing (even for St. Patrick’s Day) to hear elements of alternative, acoustic folk or even new wave in the band’s repertoire to add variety to their set and display their chops and diversity for a mixed crowd who may have seen the group perform many times or for the very first time. I absolutely loved Vince’s solo performance part way through their set. Again, the variety and versatility demonstrated by this band was incredible. And, I have to admit, my Canadian university years have endowed me with a deep love of their most famous song “Home for a Rest.” It was the perfect end to their set but I was happy to see them honour the crowd with an energetic and lively encore. All in all, I could not imagine a more perfect way to celebrate the patron saint of Ireland.