You rarely see the kind of balanced fan representation that was on display last Friday at the Commodore. What I mean is, when The Ballantynes streamed onto the stage at 9:30, they weren’t playing to a disappointingly thin opening crowd. There were more than a few people in attendance whose main draw were The Ballantynes.
The seven-piece East Van ensemble wasted no time in heating things up, kicking off their set with “Stay”, which saw the saucy Jennifer Wilks and Vanessa Dandurand trade off vocals with bandleader Jarrod Odell while he made angry love with his Hammond. Odell amped up even more for “The Message”, gesturing grandly and pointing to the rafters like a true, inspired Reverend of the New Church of Garage Revival.
Then came “No Love”. By mid-song, you could almost see the band members’ individual energies shake off any remaining early set restraints and just… click. From that point on, The Ballantynes went full throttle, performing with an uncompromising vitality and a genuine, infectious exuberance that is rarely seen on a stage. Playing through their set with the rapid refrain of a runaway locomotive, The Ballantynes could not have set the bar any higher.
Luckily, No Sinner was up to the challenge. The gang popped the set cherry with “Mandy-Lyn”, a slow, grinding rock number that prompts flashes of half-cut, whiskey-goggled infidelities in dark tavern corners. “Won’t you take me up to your room / where we can howl at the moon.” Damn.
No Sinner plays like hot sex. The band’s set felt like a series of tumbles in the hay, some nice and slow, some hard and fast, but always with just the right amount of sweetness and teeth marks.
The combination of Colleen Rennison’s playful yet soul-drenched vocals and Eric Campbell’s intuitive and incendiary blues guitar is powerful to the point where you’re not sure what to focus on first. The magic happens when you stop trying and land somewhere in the middle. Bolstered by Brad Ferguson’s thick bass sound and Ian Browne’s wide open, jazz and blues-infused drums, the sound No Sinner achieves is an encouraging reminder that the old guitar-drum-bass-vocal combo can still, when done right, sound new and exciting. After a short homage to The Stooges’ “Loose”, No Sinner wrapped up their set with the title track to their April 2012 EP, Boo Hoo Hoo.
The Pack A.D. walked out ready to tackle the dangerously charged room and did not disappoint the faithful, whose palpable anticipation bordered on giddiness. “Haunt You”, which you’ve surely heard and tapped along to by now, was gasoline on the well-lit mass of humanity that popped and bopped front and centre.
It’s become clear that not everyone can pull off the stripped down, two-person rock approach that was reintroduced to the mainstream years ago by The White Stripes and more recently by The Black Keys; Pack A.D are far past pulling it off. Edging closer to a punk sound than the aforementioned acts, guitarist/vocalist Becky Black and drummer/back-up vocalist Maya Miller have developed their own raw and heavy rock sound. Pack A.D. deliver their music in a way that is “Pack A.D.” and nothing else. The nitro burst their 2011 album Unpersons gave them was well deserved and, to many long-time fans, just a matter of time.
Announcing Friday’s gig as their last show for about a year, Black and Miller gave their fans what they wanted and needed, despite all the distracting stagediving, which was admittedly entertaining at times, but was more often half-inspired. At one point, Black left the stage in frustration when her mic fell over, thanks to doofus who pushed the stage monitor. As much as I love seeing musicians lose their shit and work over the odd fan, it was impressive to see Black soon return, clearly encouraged by Miller, and churn out a few more crowd-pleasers.
Vancouver rock fans got what they were looking for last Friday, and then some. But, being the greedy, slick lick-addicted little fans we are, we still want more, more, more. Based on the Commodore show, there’s sure to be more magic right around the corner.