Big Wreck @ The Commodore Ballroom, Vancouver, May 2 2012

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Big Wreck were something of a commercial radio powerhouse in the late ’90s, particularly in Canada.  Fronted by Canadian lead singer and lead guitarist Ian Thornley, the band released their debut In Loving Memory Of… in 1997 which was propelled by the hit single The Oaf.  The band failed to capitalize, however, on the head of steam they had amassed and didn’t release a second album until 4 years later in 2001.

The sophomore effort, titled The Pleasure and the Greed, was not near the success their debut had been, and inevitably flopped.  And somewhat tragically, I might add, as the album featured a handful of very, very good songs (see: Mistake, Knee Deep, Ladylike, Undersold).

Well, Big Wreck broke up in 2002, a year after that album was released.  Ian Thornley went on and did his own solo thing for a couple albums over the last 10 years with mild success.  Probably just enough success for him to avoid a blue-collar job.  Then, in late 2011, it was announced that Big Wreck was back, quickly releasing a new single that would be followed by an album in early 2012, as well as a supporting tour.

This past Wednesday night, said supporting tour happened to pass through Vancouver which found Big Wreck playing the famous Commodore Ballroom on Granville St to a near capacity crowd.  I was delighted to be in the company of Scott Graham and Rochele Potter of What’s For Lunch BC, as well as their significant others and my good friend Steve, who are all big fans of Big Wreck.

Prior to their set, a band by the name of Rikers out of Ontario kicked off the evening.  I’m sure the guys from Rikers are really nice and are well-meaning, but I couldn’t take them seriously.  It may have been the music, or the lyrics (“I’m on the radio!”), but it was probably their look.  Needless to say, I couldn’t wait until they were done.

Yes, I know: I’m a jerk.

Once Big Wreck did finally take the stage, they kicked off with 3 quick tunes from their latest album, Albatross.  The chugging, riff-laden Head Together started things off nicely, followed by Million Days and Albatross.  The latter  showcasing the sound that shot Big Wreck into power-pop rock stardom in the late ’90s.  Million Days featured the most technically intricate guitar solo I have ever heard from Thornley, leaving no note unscathed.

Mistake was next on the set-list docket, and one of my favourites from The Pleasure and the Greed.  I was quite surprised to hear it, to be honest, expecting the set to contain only radio hits from earlier work as well as the new material.  But Thornley decided to inject a few treats for true fans such as the aforementioned Mistake and All By Design, to name a few.

Part of the way through All By Design, the band kicked right into one of the their biggest hits, That Song, bringing the crowd to a boiling point.  A boiling point that included a mosh pit.  That I was right behind.

Now I’m not a party-pooper and would come to expect this kind of behaviour at a heavier show, but when the dance floor is filled with alcohol-fueled meatheads in their late teens and early 20s, I really shouldn’t have been surprised.

The band played out the rest of their set (see set list below) including a few more radio singles as well as some of their latest work.  They even threw in a tune from Thornley’s solo jaunt, Come Again.  Neat-o!

Throughout the show the band was tight, the drumming from Brad Park was absolutely stellar, including a phenomenal drum solo, but something was missing.  I don’t know if I could really put my finger on it, but it may have been Thornley’s general attitude and vibe.  He sounded amazing, and at 40 years old, that’s no simple feat, but his energy was lacking.  He didn’t seem all that excited to be playing, for the most part.  He came out, played music, sang, did what he had to do, thanked the crowd when necessary, spoke a few words, but that was it..

Maybe I’m being an overly critical jerk again, but I was underwhelmed with the entire stage presence and engagement of the band.  I wasn’t expecting over-the-top theatrics or cartwheels or Nickelback-esque pyrotechnics or anything like that.  Just… some energy or a sense of gratitude or something?

Or maybe I’ve seen too many bands who are really trying to actually make a name for themselves in this business and put on the show of their lives, grateful for every moment.

Maybe it was due to the fact that the last show I attended was Coldplay a few weeks prior, and they were indeed over-the-top when it came to visuals and theatrics.

Or maybe the show was just another pay cheque for the band…

Overall, Big Wreck played a pretty solid set-list and they sounded phenomenal; however, a dynamic performance, it was not.


Big Wreck Set-list


~ by DR on May 5, 2012.

9 Responses to “Big Wreck @ The Commodore Ballroom, Vancouver, May 2 2012”

  1. Their sound is so solid, and I think you and I (and Scott and Lyndsey) are spoiled to know so many personable musicians. Maybe if Ian Thornely had some friends in the crowd he would have warmed up. That’s probably optimistic.

    Ugh mosh pits and Big Wreck bring me right back to 1999.

  2. All I can say is I’m glad I got to see them in Edmonton! The whole band was having a great time and seemed to really enjoy the audience and the whole experience. They put on an amazing show!

  3. I completely agree, they (or Ian) really did nothing to tear down that fourth wall between the band and audience. Save for a few brief interactions, there was nothing to really develop any energy exchange with the crowd, which is usually a hallmark of shows at the wonderfully intimate venue that is The Commodore. Perhaps I’m just jaded, having seen quite a few shows there now (I’ll probably compare all future Commodore shows with the ridiculously high standard that was set when I saw Slash play 1m in front of me/the rail on back-to-back nights). I do wonder whether kicking off the set with a couple of new and relatively slow songs had something to do with the lack of energy in the room. I’ve essentially come to expect bands to come out with something really engaging and then fit new or slower material in afterward. Bang-on review, as it was musically a fantastic show, but you’re right, something was “missing.”

    • Thanks for those words of confirmation, Justin. I wasn’t sure if something was off with me, or if there really was something missing from the performance. Great seeing you again, my friend. Once a year is not nearly often enough!

  4. I think what you are seeing is just that Ian is wanting more focus on the music instead of the whole party-rock show thing that’s been going on for years. I saw him live when he just released his solo album, and he had the same vibe. The rest of the band was jumping around and such, but he was there to play music and nothing else. And that’s just the way some people are. I think there should be more acts that try to put as much attention on the music as possible, instead of having tons of distractions or “entertainment”.

  5. Good review I agree. You by chance aren’t the Guy standing with my friend and I in the front that night? Were from oregon

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