Review and photos – Bright Eyes at the Commodore Ballroom, Vancouver, April 8 2011
– review and photos by Ashley Tanasiychuk
You’d think that, opening for Bright Eyes, Titus Andronicus could have felt a little intimidated. Not only does Bright Eyes have a huge following, but their live show is excellent.
But the Glen Rock, New Jersey five-piece acted as though this was the show to end all shows. From the opening note through to an excellently epic closer, every moment of their set was filled with writhing bodies, pounding vocals, and driving instrumentation.
“Titus Andronicus” is the name of Shakespeare’s bloodiest tragedy. The use of this name by the band isn’t just a clever literary reference, it is an exact and appropriate one, as most of their lyrics are dark and fatalistic. Examples include “You’ll always be a loser” (from “No Future Part Three: Escape From No Future”), “Your life is over” (from “Titus Andronicus”), and this one, from “A Pot in Which to Piss”:
I’ve been called out, cuckolded, castrated, but I survived
I am covered in urine and excrement but I’m alive
And there’s a white flag in my pocket never to be unfurled
Though with their hands ’round my ankles, they bring me down for another swirl
And they tell me, “Take it easy buddy – it’s not the end of the world”
Brilliantly, though, the spirit with which the songs are played make them sound far from depressing.
Not exactly unknown (Rolling Stone named them one of the seven best new bands of 2010 and they’ve played Late Night with Jimmy Fallon), with a live presence as convincing as this, Titus Andronicus will be back to headlining the next time they’re back in Vancouver.
This looked to be a night where the opener would steal the show. Instead, this Friday night at the Commodore Ballroom ended up being solid from start to finish, thanks to Bright Eyes’ lead man Conor Oberst and his impressively talented band.
As the stage lights dimmed, Oberst came on first, guitar in hand. The six other members of his band took their places: two drummers, saddled side by side (playing simultaneously for most of the show), a female keyboardist/vocalist, a guy tucked away behind more keys, a dapper bassist, and a rhythm guitarist in glasses and ball cap. This band has an excess of sound at their disposal.
Beginning their set with “Firewall” off their latest album The People’s Key, Bright Eyes didn’t waste a second in unleashing their sounds on the audience. The crowd was along for the ride from the beginning – the opening of the second track “Jejune Stars” and its line “Every new day is a gift” had everyone singing along. And this involvement continued to build, as Oberst and his band loosened up and his fans’ admiration grew with each immaculately executed song.
Of added interest was the light-board behind the band. Easily 12 feet high, it spanned the entire stage. At times it was filled with moving dots of multicoloured lights, at other times it split into thirds and played video. All of this, framed by what looked like the tops of giant bat wings!
Rarely taking a moment between songs, Oberst and his Eyes were intent on bringing a non-stop set full of catchy folk, indie rock, and pop to this crowd. With a setlist of 24 (!) songs, you couldn’t blame Bright Eyes for their furious pace. From the sea of smiling faces that filled the Commodore this Friday night, I don’t believe a single person had a thing to complain about.