A Special Night: Matt Mays @ Commodore Ballroom, Vancouver; March 28 2013

It’s kind of hard to put into words what happened at Vancouver’s Commodore Ballroom yesterday, March 28th.

I’ll give it my best.

Matt Mays is sort of a hero of mine. I’ve been a little obsessed with this man for some time, since about 2008 when he released Terminal Romance with his then backing band, El Torpedo. Something about Mays’ straight-ahead, no bullshit rock ‘n’ roll turned me on, and I have yet to be turned off. He has an enviable knack for songwriting that on the surface, appears more complex than it really is, as he manipulates three simple chords to create a rock symphony (see Cocaine Cowgirl or Terminal Romance). His songs are anything but pretentious, and carry an honest, tradesman style of grit and integrity.

I consider these traits as significant qualifiers when choosing a band or artist to dig into. Last night, at the Commodore Ballroom, Mays proved to myself and the several hundred other people in attendance that he’s worth digging into.

Before Mays hit the stage, hard-rockin’ hairy openers We Hunt Buffalo out of the Fraser Valley (whaddup!) hit the stage and blasted the audience’s eardrums with Sabbath-esque riffs and pounding rhythms. The trio blew through their impressive set with some pretty solid tunes, including a cover of King Crimson‘s 21st Century Schizoid Man. The small part of me that still enjoys “heavy metal” was quite taken, actually. Their set was blazing.

Once We Hunt Buffalo had successfully made the crowd deaf, Toronto’s July Talk followed them up with a raunchy, fun set of their own brand of male-female flirtatious rock. Almost perplexing, though is the fact that singer Peter Dreimanis has the face of an 18-year with the voice of a 50-year old chain smoker. It’s almost hard to overcome. Dreimanis possesses the rock charisma of a 20-year vet and for whatever reason reminded me of George Thorogood. And I mean that in the best of ways. I’m thinking I haven’t heard the last from this talented bunch. Big things.

With an extended break between sets, 11:30 rolls around and I begin to wonder if Mays will ever hit the stage. Not that a single person in the venue would blame him if he didn’t. But, almost as simultaneously as that thought ran through my mind, Mays and his troop hit the stage to a very excited crowd. They open with a stellar, up-beat and pounding version of Indio—their latest single off Coyote. As just about everyone in attendance was aware that guitarist and close friend of Mays, Jay Smith, had tragically passed away only a day prior, one couldn’t help but feel for the band and wonder how much their loss would impact/inspire their performance. As soon as Indio ended, chants of “Jay Smith! Jay Smith” rang out in the audience with many surely wondering when and how Mays would acknowledge the painful loss of their brother in the set. You know it was going to happen, you just didn’t know how. Or when. Or if you were going to wind up a mess or not.

The evening progressed with a few more new cuts from the band’s most recent release as Stoned, Take It On Faith, and Loveless each sounded fantastic and better than I could have imagined. The album versions really don’t do the songs justice, in my opinion. Mays then played a cover of JJ Cale‘s 13 Days, and then slid right into Tall Trees before going into an extended version of Dull Knife, which was one of the many highlights of the show. Still to this point, however, I hadn’t caught any acknowledgment of Smith’s absence, but you knew it was weighing on the band. How could it not be?

Sure enough, after Dull Knife finally ended, the rest of the band headed side stage while Mays stood alone in front of a transfixed crowd with his Gretsch White Falcon in hand. He spoke a few words, explaining he was going to do the next tune alone. He said the past few days had been rough. I can’t even. Chase The Light was the song he played. As he finished, the crowd cheered their loudest and longest while Mays appeared overcome with emotion. This was the moment that many had waited for, and it was truly special. I’ll never listen to that song the same again.

After the somewhat unofficial ode to Smith, the rest of the band came back and belted out Travellin’ and Move Your Mind—a few terrific tracks from their 2005 self-titled LP. Shortly thereafter, my cell phone died and wound up on the floor of the Commodore Ballroom, so my track-listing order may be a little hazy, but I do know this: the band played epic versions of City Of Lakes, Terminal Romance, and finished the night off with yet another unforgettable version of On The Hood 

On a night where the headliners had just lost a member of their band some 48 hours prior to going onstage, one would likely have expected a much more sombre affair than what was presented at the Commodore. But an energetic, inspired performance is what they got, and were grateful for every ounce of it. I know I won’t ever forget this special show.

My deepest sympathies go out to Jay Smith’s family, friends, and bandmates. Smith is survived by his wife and children and a trust fund has been set up in memory to support his family in this difficult time. Follow this link to donate, if you wish.

Rock In Peace.

-Dylan

PS – Apologies for the total lack of photos. I was unable to take my DSLR into the Commodore, unfortunately.

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~ by whet_hopped on March 29, 2013.

One Response to “A Special Night: Matt Mays @ Commodore Ballroom, Vancouver; March 28 2013”

  1. I was there last night and I felt so honoured to share that time with Matt and the boys. I gave them a single white rose in Jay’s honour. My heart breaks for them. Losing a brother just the day before, they carried on and played through their pain ~ the most generous offering for their fans. It is a show I will never forget.

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