The Summer Concert Series at the PNE is a long-time summer tradition in Vancouver. Included in admission price to the annual summer fair, these concerts have typically included some pretty significant names in music from a variety of genres, on a small-enough-to-feel-intimate stage in the middle of the fairgrounds. A few years ago, the major concerts moved to a giant stage towards the north end of the park with a standard start time of 8:00pm, and until a couple of days ago, this is where I was planning on heading. Luckily I looked at the schedule the morning of the show, because they had moved a massive DJ-based rave into the amphitheatre, and pushed Platinum Blonde to the oldschool smaller stage. After a lengthy bus disaster that saw me arriving half an hour later than said bus was scheduled, and a bit of well-intentioned misdirection with the fair staff, I finally was handed a temporary access pass, shooed in a side gate, and left to dodge my way through the thick fair-going crowd towards the Mosaic Stage where Platinum Blonde was already in progress to a chipper crowd. As would be expected, a lot of audience members were drifters with baggies of tiny sugar-coated donuts, and plenty of camped-out original fans forcing their 80s pop rock music sensibilities onto their bewildered-looking kids who were either riding on the shoulders of their parents, or in a lot of cases, sitting on the ground among hundreds of oblivious feet, wondering when they would be able to go on the rides instead of sitting here watching mom and dad dance.
Dance they did though, to the delightfully loud, surprisingly-rocking show that was going on before me. I clambered my way through the mixed-bag crowd to try and find somewhere that my short self and camera could get a clear line to the stage, and started to notice that these guys have definitely still got it, and are also definitely still prettier than I will ever be. Evidently, when making early forays into the idea of a reunion, former bass player Kenny MacLean (RIP) used to try to nudge singer Mark Holmes into playing some PB shows by saying that music needed more rock stars these days. MacLean passed away shortly after an early reunion show in 2008, and Holmes acknowledged this tonight while describing why they were currently a three-piece band. “We started as a three-piece. When Kenny died, we tried to get in a new bass player but, uh, it didn’t work out. So I started playing bass… for Kenny.” Holmes’ stage presence is indeed a perfect blend of sassy, cocky, lightly-glammed rock star, and kind, attentive fan-pleaser. He is utterly ageless, and is in, frankly, terrifyingly well-ripped shape, which was not too apparent through his silver-coloured tuxedo coat at this point in the performance. He was in charge of all the talking through the set, asking for audience feedback on things like whether it was okay that they were to perform a fragmented pair of 45 minute sets instead of one big long one as they normally would. That said, original guitar player Sergio Galli was no slouch on stage. He may not have said a word, but he shimmered across the stage in a shiny pewter-coloured jacket and hair that was almost as big as it was in 1985, with perfectly-refined rock star moves and faces. These guys have had a lot of years to get it right, and they still look at home and in place up there, with clearly a great rapport especially as can only come from being together in a band for 30+ years as Holmes and Galli have. While he was often obscured by a wash of white lights, drummer Daniel Todd could be seen doing some skillful drumstick gymnastics, balancing one on a palm or twirling one through his fingers while the other one still hit the kit. Overall, it was much less synthy and 80s-feeling than I would have imagined, even though through lots of classic hits (which definitely got the strongest reception from the crowd), a mysterious backing synth could be heard, which stills blows my mind a bit because they didn’t really follow their original set order (Holmes pointed this out in the second set where he basically apologized to the lighting guy for going off-list), and Todd’s present and oft-used drum pads.
Guitars were held up in the air, lots of tearing back and forth and swaggering around the stage, plenty of picks and sticks hurled into the crowd, and some nice banter ensued. Holmes had lots of tales to tell, particularly of their early days when they had no money and were trying to make a name, writing songs on the fly to pad out a full set because they only had six songs and got booked into a big show, or playing Police covers so they could get paying gigs at colleges, where they would sneak some of their own material in between the cover songs. They ended up playing The Police’s ‘S.O.S.’ here, which was pretty cool. They tried to keep the two sets distinct, but during the second set (before which I took off to meet some miniature horses and eat some of those mini donuts, and Holmes and Todd changed into new outfits) Holmes did ask the audience who had been around for the first set. After some loud “woooooo”s, he said maybe they would play one song from their first set, but only one. “Or… maybe we won’t.” Chuckles from the crowd. “But first,” he continued, “a message from my mother.” The familiar recorded ‘are you sitting comfortably?’ was answered by a huge cheer as they launched into ‘Doesn’t Really Matter.’ After that well-received song was finished, he re-addressed the idea of playing on song from the first set, and cupped his ear to the crowd to see what they wanted to hear. “It helps if you all talk at once,” Holmes said as a hundred suggestions were hurled his way. “Oh, somebody’s got a note for me… what does it say?” He leaned over to pluck the note from the hand of the fan who was holding it up to him. “Oh, it says ‘Not In Love.’” Without skipping a beat, he flung the note to the stage floor and the band seamlessly broke into that song.
They did also break out the newest single they have, which is from 2012’s reboot album ‘Now & Never,’ called ‘Beautiful.’ It doesn’t have quite the presence that the classic Platinum Blonde hits have (tall order, anyhow!), but it was a response to the idea that a lot of the stuff Holmes was producing and remixing in his brief DJ career in Toronto sounded like classic Platinum Blonde, so they figured they would give it another go and write some new material. He mentioned that they are usually selling the album at their shows, but indicated the merch booth positioned beside the Mosaic Stage was sold out of the ‘Now & Never’ album. “Go on Amazon and get it, or iTunes, or download it illegally, I don’t care – just get it.”
Nearing 10:00pm, Holmes pondered how much time they had left to play one or two more songs, and walked offstage and out of sight, “to find out.” He was gone for about 30 seconds, and came back sans jacket, guns a-blazin’ under a shimmery black-bronze tank top that well showed off his fitness level. They played ‘Standing In The Dark,’ leaving the big hits for the end of the show. By this time I was well aware I had missed three or four songs at the beginning of the first set, knew that no song except ‘Not in Love’ had been repeated from the first set, and yet I’d not yet heard the massive hit ‘Crying Over You.’ Was that in the first chunk of the earlier set?? Who plays their biggest hit at the beginning of a show?! Now Holmes began to introduce their last song of the evening by saying it was another obscure one that they don’t play often, and apologized but, “you can’t know every song we play.” Silence for a few moments while they composed themselves and then… ‘Crying Over You!’ What a ruse! The crowd went utterly bananas. It was a fitting end to the set.
They really did kick out an awesome show. They certainly aren’t hard to find playing around these days, and it’s well worth it to seek them out. They have a blast, they bring back some memories, they make some new ones, and they’ll let you dance.