Regal strings erupted in volume, and out danced two figures in militaristic jumpsuits and shades. (For the one with two black buns on her head, picture Chris Sheppard from Love Inc.) A uniformly attired backup singer followed, and then came Claire Boucher, aka Grimes.
It’d be a disservice (and literally inaccurate) to refer to the dancers as “backup dancers.” They made the front of the stage their own for most of the show and added as much to enjoy as Grimes’s electronic dance-pop. Even Boucher drew well-deserved attention to them, encouraging the audience to give them props for “killing it.”
Grimes has professed to “hate” all of her old singles, but she covered up any ill-feelings towards her past work with a brightly spirited performance. Maybe it was the fact that she was home (she made sure to let everyone know how good she felt to have been back in Vancouver), or maybe it was the freedom that her newer hands-free set-up afforded her. She relied mostly on backtracks, which allowed her to leave her synths and frolic with her dancers. The curious knee-high medical boot on her right leg didn’t hinder her mobility at all.
Seemingly in one fluid motion, she flowed from “Circumambient” to “Genesis”. “Symphonia IX (My Wait Is U)” put fans in a blissful mood. Next, it was the dancers’ turn to chill out. During the first half of scrapped-demo-turned-new-album-cut “REALiTi”, the dancers sat on the platform that held Boucher’s consoles.
The handful of new songs Grimes played from her upcoming fourth album, Art Angels, were big on beats. Her Janelle Monáe collaboration, “Venus Fly”, is a club-banger waiting to happen. Another new one roared like a tropical thunderstorm while Boucher shrieked and shrieked and continued shrieking after collapsing face down on the stage. And while Rihanna rejected Grimes and Blood Diamonds’ “Go”, the audience was all open arms.
As expected, the crowd came unglued for her endlessly covered mega-hit, “Oblivion”, which got the loudest pop of the night and put the Commodore’s extra-bouncy floor to work. “Phone Sex”, Grimes and Blood Diamonds’ idea of a perfect pop song, followed, and true to their aim, it sounded impeccable live
Despite the classical music that played throughout the night, Grimes forewent ritual, asking if it’d be okay for her to skip the hokey, “awkward” encore motions and just go into her final song. Fans had no problems hearing more music as soon as they could get it. Grimes ended her early and sweetly short set (about an hour) with “Kill V. Maim”, another new track, about “a vampire monster that can travel through time.”
Even when Grimes was not singing about such ridiculous, fantastical things, she looked like she was having a ball. Her presentation mashed high and low production. The dancers’ moves and synchronization were supreme. The lights ran the colour spectrum, most dazzling as turquoises and violets refracted into quill-like beams through scaly drapery – oceanic tones with a metallic sheen that created an otherworldly feel. Smoke and wind machines blasted during various points. But there were just enough dancers, not an entire troupe, and they wielded simple props, mostly: ribbon wands, laser pointers, and, well, two pairs of sais.
As Grimes’s name continues to grow, it’ll be interesting to see how tightly she keeps straddling her trajectory towards major pop stardom and her foundational DIY, whatever-works sensibilities.