Judah & the Lion teach the Orpheum how to have some fun

Judah & the Lion at the Orpheum, 10/24/19


Vancouver’s Orpheum Theatre is one of the city’s most beautiful venues. Right up there with the Queen Elizabeth, it’s a top spot for a visually stunning show. What the two venues also have in common is that they’re both seated concert halls with little to no floor space.

So, when Nashville’s Judah & the Lion took over the Orpheum Thursday night as part of their Pep Talks Worldwide Tour there were certainly moments that felt better suited for an open floor. The neighbouring Commodore Ballroom or Vogue Theatre would seem more of a fit for the band’s bluegrass pop-rock but both had their own events Thursday.

Nevertheless, sometimes it can be nice to stick to assigned seating and be free of the pressure of joining the floor crowd. You just hope that the band can be okay with it too. It was clear early in the set that frontman Judah Akers was not too happy with an all-seated venue.

“Now I know we’ve got seats here…but we invite you to just get past the seats and experience this in a rock way.”

He said it, but it felt like even he didn’t believe he would be able to get the crowd to fill up the limited floor space.

As a concert attendee, most fans can agree you want to show the band that you’re enjoying their music and try to give them back the energy that they’re giving you. When a band like Judah & the Lion are putting on shows night after night, you want to show them that you can be as rowdy as the last city. In a venue like the Orpheum, it makes that job a bit tougher for everyone.

However, despite the seats, nothing can take away from the beauty that is the Orpheum Theatre. The three core members of Judah & the Lion (Akers on vocals/guitar, Brian Macdonald on mandolin, and Nate Zuercher on banjo) were joined by three other long-haired performers. One pulled rhythm guitar duty, one showed furious skill behind the drum kit, and the other had his own standing drum kit and occasionally pulled out a massive keytar. The six members spanned the large stage from side to side and it made for a stadium-like presentation.

Photo by William Cook

It’s been a massive tour for these guys that’s lasted over three months. Akers said Vancouver marked the 54th show on the run that had them in the UK in July and making their way through the States since August. And it’s not a small set either; they went all out with the performance. You’ve got to give it to them for making it much more than just a band running through the songs.

As mentioned, the Orpheum is not the easiest place to work up a crowd, but the 29-year-old frontman managed the audience with respect while at the same time getting the most out of them as possible. One especially liberating moment was when Akers invited fans to “get as weird as you’re willing to get in public” while dancing to the next song. It felt a little uncomfortable at first, but when it was put to the test with “GoofBallerz” off their latest, it all came together for a wonderfully freeing, and silly, experience.

It was most definitely the Pep Talks tour. They played almost everything off the latest album; the two notable exclusions being “7000x” and “Passion Fashion.” It’s great to see a band three albums in showcasing their new material. Too many shows you find band’s having to rely on their old stuff to keep the fans engaged, but it’s safe to say some of the best Judah & the Lion have put out is on their latest offering. As for older work, they shared the cathartic 2017 single “Suit and Jacket;” the jarring 2016 cut, “Reputation;” and they closed the set with their most popular song to date, “Take It All Back 2.0.”

The band covered Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” and it was during an extended bridge that Akers shared some words of inspiration. He spoke of how everyone there was carrying “something.”

“Your something could look like addiction; your something could look like depression… I don’t know what your something is… but no matter what you’re going through; no matter what your something is, it will never stop you from being able to do anything you want with your life.”