Live Review: The Dudes & The Zolas @ The Vogue Theatre, Vancouver – April 19th 2013

Friday night at the Vogue theatre marked the end of The Dudes Canadian tour with The Zolas. Setting this show apart from the rest, was the only one billed as a double headliner… and what a glorious night of music this was. I am always a little bit nervous about shows billed this way, it seems that no matter how much the fans of one act should/maybe/probably be fans of the other, it never seems to work out this way. Every time I’ve been to a double bill, the crowd never seems to appropriately fill the space as in reality, the crowd is very split between performances. So, with some trepidation, I couldn’t help but wonder what the bigger draw was going to be, in the eternal tug-a-war of popularity, would Vancouver-natives The Zolas prevail? Or would the well established Calgarians reign supreme? Thankfully and surprisingly, neither outcome came to fruition as neither band outshone the other.

So, what happens when Vancouver & Calgary collide? Chaos. That, and a whole lotta fun. Vocalist/guitarist Zachary Gray and pianist Tom Dobrzanski were originally part of the pop band Lotus Child before they broke off as a duo to record 2009’s “Tic Toc Tic” as The Zolas. Having released their second full album late last year, I was excited by the potential of their set. Their latest album, “Ancient Mars”, is musically distinct form “Tic Toc Tic,” and arguably feels a little more subtle, a tad more mature. I’m admittedly a sucker for their emphasis on reverbed pianos, and the complimentary effect it has with the guitar parts on their well crafted songs. This latest album showcases Tom’s talent on the keys, and being a piano lover, it’s fantastic to know that the band fully utilizes the keys to augment Zachary Gray’s excellent guitar playing. Onstage, Zachary and Tom are both incredibly charismatic. If the crowd didn’t already adore pair, this show solidified that sense of awe. When the band took the stage, to a loving rush of applause, it wasn’t long before the infectious piano chords of new song and opening track from their sophomore release “Ancient Mars” title “In Heaven” came ushering forth from the speakers and ascended with rousing vocals and heavy guitar riffing. Not having a true foundation under me as far as having heard much of The Zolas new material really didn’t matter the second they were plugged in and they started playing. In fact, I actually felt lucky to be introduced to the understated beauty and catchiness of their new songs in a live setting. All were solid at the core and had a life of their own when being enveloped in their sharp sound and epic delivery. At one point the boys paused to share their wonderment at occupying the same space Prince had, just a couple nights before. They informed that crowd that they had found Prince’s request list and that included a box of Lucky Charms. So, to spread the magic of Prince’s aura, they dusted the crowd in the Lucky Charms that the legendary musician left behind in a moment of epic hilarity. Highlights of their set included their latest single (and the album’s title track) “Ancient Mars” with it’s hooky chorus, ephemeral keyboard sound and slick tempo, as well as the tuneful funkiness of “Strange Girl”. Additionally, the songs “Observatory” and “Knot In My Heart” kept the crowd on its feet and moving in an unanticipated and very welcome dance party. The apex of their performance for me hinged on their brilliant delivery of “The Great Collapse” and “Marlaina Kamikaze” and their already classic track “You’re Too Cool” from their debut album “Tic Toc Tic”. Live, these songs have the ability to grab the audience in a way that their recorded material doesn’t quite capture in the same fashion. This was not a deterrent by any means, however, but only helped to emphasize that The Zolas music has a life that exists on record that is as distinct and alluring as when you are fortunate enough to be saturated in their live sound and stellar energy. A fantastic start to the double bill, without question.

In some ways, after the Zolas left the stage, this reviewer felt completely fulfilled having just been thoroughly entertained by their thrilling set, even if it felt to have gone by too quickly. Having seen The Dudes previously at last year’s Ski and Snowboard festival in Whistler, at the wonderful Vogue theatre last spring and then again at the Keloha music festival last summer, admittedly I made the assumption that the highlight of this double bill for me would be the Zolas, if only because of the freshness of their new material and the fact that it was my first time experiencing them in a live setting. I told myself that as much as a safe set by The Dudes would be just what the doctor ordered, that it would be hard for them to match the buzz I just received from the Zolas musically.

When The Dudes took the stage, however, and the backbeat and opening chords of “Girl Police” exploded from the amps, familiarity was the last thing on my mind. As Dan Vancon so eliquenty captured the night on their twitter feed: “Words can’t describe the magic of last night. But one word can. RAD.” The excited crowd that had assembled to watch their favourite sleeveless, bearded, tattooed minstrels take the stage and bathe us in a wave of pure guitar driven rock and roll were dancing, swinging and beer-swilling their hearts out in pure joy. If the hipsters of the evening had turned up for the evening to get a glimpse of the Zolas and then retired, they will have missed the critical part in the evening when the “party” that this double bill really was had its moment to charge in and crank up to high voltage. The lesson I learned when walking away from the show was that their is absolutely nothing routine about seeing this band more than once. The rockers were churned out in a blur of crunching guitars and raucous beats, and nobody could sit still or keep from belting out the lyrics to the singalong quality of their playful lyrics. From the hook-ladden “Girl Police”, to the pulsing “Pretty Lies”, to the cheeky “Mr. Someone Else” the fun and wit and infectious energy emitted from the guys onstage was in full swing and we all had the bug.I particularly enjoyed the moment when lead singer Dan Vacon introduced the song “Mr. Someone Else” by saying: “this song is about finding yourself in the tricky situation of having a teensy crush on your buddy’s girl.” The alternation of The Dudes catchy, effervescent hard rock coupled with their ability to entertain with funny anecdotes, laments, or intros to songs maintained the party that was happening at the Vogue theatre that night. It was clear that The Dudes have an amazing knack for delivering a high octane rock show with personality and a style of their own.

Part of what also impressed me was the fact that in this day and age when most people that attend concerts are too busy glued to their iPhones to truly absorb the experience, it was truly refreshing to witness and be part of a crowd that was enjoying itself too much to take the time to text or tweet when the true party was happening right in front of them. Another highlight was the anthemic song “Ghosts We’re Buried On” when the Zola’s bassist Johnny Walsh took the stage to aide in backup vocals on the track’s soaring chorus. Even when I thought the show had reached it’s apex of sorts with The Dudes having heavily loaded the first half of its set with many of the crowd pleasing tunes that I myself had also been looking forward to jumping around to, they kept the momentum coming with hilarious banter between songs, and a solid offering of their most current songs from last year’s EP “Barbers,Thieves and Bartenders” and a few new tracks no one had yet heard. The songs “American Girl”, “Tear It Up”, and “Do The Right Thing” all featured through the remainder of The Dudes set, concluding the reverent show with a three song encore that the Vancouver crowd were astonishingly still hungry for after an already exhilarating friday night. It’s always a treat when the opener takes the stage with the headliner at the end of a show for a cover tune or to help out on a final number. In this case, having been musically given a double bill of two wonderfully talented bands that contrasted and complimented each other in style and content, the treat of having the Zolas appear back onstage with The Dudes to sing their song “Good Time” seemed to sum up what everyone’s experience at the Vogue that night was really all about. As the chorus rang out of the speakers and the crowd swayed back and forth in a sweaty wave and singalong chant, “We had us a good time”, indeed. I could not dream up a more perfect way to ring in 4-20: simultaneously being “Record Store Day” and, well, 4-20.

Thank you, The Zolas and The Dudes. You brought down the house and gave us all a show to remember.

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