“You guys ready for Shad?… No. You’re not”.
These words by We Are The City’s lead vocalist Cayne McKenzie set the tone for Vancity’s favorite local hip hop artist last Friday night at The Vogue Theatre. For the record, he was right – we weren’t ready.
We Are The City hit the stage to a tumultuous applause from their devoted fans and friends and immediately set about laying down an energetic beat that got the reluctant to their feet and the enthusiastic off theirs. There’s nothing quite like a local band show in Vancity; the vibe is intimate, the crowd sports a universal smug smile (let’s not lie, we all know Vancouverites rock better than the rest), and everybody is infallibly polite as they dance their pants off.
This trio of passionate performers were borderline fanatic about their music on stage, flitting between deadpan concentration and ecstatic vitality. Cayne McKenzie’s hair threatened to flip right off his head and Andrew Huculiak, the drummer, was bouncing out of his seat as he pounded out the beat. Their intensity was the perfect introduction for Shad, who’s known for his poetic and sometimes self-deprecating lyrics that are atypical of most hip hop artists out there today.
When Shad did hit the stage, it was like he just couldn’t help himself from grinning. It was the first time I’ve ever seen him perform in the city he’s come to call home and it was obvious how much he enjoyed it. Hard not to, I’d imagine, given his hero’s welcome. At one point between songs he asked, “Can I be myself tonight, Vancouver?” He got a universal, vehement “YES!” and proceeded to be just that for the next two or so hours of his show.
Shad is about the only rapper out there to whom I’d attach the term ‘lovable’ – again, this might be because I’m biased towards our dear Vancouver talent. But it’s also true that he’s willing to be silly on stage, willing to laugh at himself in his verse, and willing to hug a blubbering, star-struck fan (me) with a kind smile afterwards. He referred to one of his tracks as his ‘pozzy jam’, saying it just made him feel nice and I swear when he laughed afterward it was almost a giggle. Tell me that’s not endearing.
He started his show with some older tracks from TSOL and The Old Prince, playing the crowd favorite “Rose Garden” about halfway through. He coasted for a bit on these older beats before switching it up to his new album Flying Colours. He did a few of the songs solo, spoken word style, and there’s no word for it but mesmerizing. I was tempted to start snapping after “Progress”, his personal re-vamped version of “American Pie” – they killed the lights and he asked the crowd to light the stage with their cellphones. The resulting ambiance was reminiscent of a dim cafe full of dreamy-eyed poets. I wouldn’t have felt out of place in a beret.
The only hiccup in his show was during “Rock To It”, when he couldn’t get his guitar to work. He gave up after a few attempts and lost no momentum. He apologized (naturally) and kept the banter flowing, not missing a beat. It’s this kind of easygoing mentality that makes you listen a little harder when he’s rapping; if it’s important enough to be serious for a second, it’s damn well important enough to hear.
Like I said, there’s something warm and fuzzy about a concert based on local talent. Like we’re all included in a really well-intentioned inside joke. We Are The City set the stage and Shad blew it up, and Vancouver left The Vogue proud to see her lights shining bright through the rain.
Watch Shad’s “Fam Jam (Fe Sum Immigrins)” off ‘Flying Colours’, out now on Black Box Recordings: