The Grapes of Wrath at the Commodore Ballroom
Nostalgia has it’s place, though in the music business it can also be frustrating. The tendency to look back can be an impediment the careers of promising new voices. Fans’ demands for the songs of their youth can be crippling to artists who want to explore and grow.
Sometimes though, nostalgia can bring back a career that disappeared to soon, before reaching the point of creative exhaustion. For every Rolling Stones–who I’m sure will be touring with Keith Richards’ corpse propped up on stage beside Jagger–there’s a band that broke up before they should have. Into that category fall the Grapes of Wrath, whose acrimonious breakup years ago left fans wanting a whole lot more than they already had.
“It’s nice to be back at the Commodore Ballroom–it’s been twenty years since we last played here” was how Kevin Kane opened Saturday night’s show, which was one of a handful the band has played in almost that long. The reaction from the audience at the already packed venue made it clear that they’d been missing the band too.
Over the next hour or so the band pretty quickly showed that this wasn’t just about nostalgia for the good old days: while any number of bands have reunited sounding more like a mediocre tribute act than their old selves, this wasn’t the case here. Both Kevin Kane and Tom Hooper sounded fantastic on vocals. That long gap certainly hasn’t hurt the band’s instrumental skills either: they sounded better than ever, though the faded memories of 20 years ago may mean I should settle for “as good as they ever were.” Who knows: Hooper & Kane have been playing solo shows in their respective home towns in the interim years, and that time alone on stage may have tightened up their playing a bit.
Though a new album is in the works–The Grapes of Wrath have been working with producer Darryl Neudorf in the studio–the night’s set list drew heavily on material from all of the band’s earlier releases. Old favourites like Fishing Tale, and I am Here had the Vancouver crowd up and dancing–you’d have to live here to know how hard that is to do. Two of the band’s quieter but more popular numbers were played back to back, and the pairing of All the Things I Wasn’t and What Was Going Through My Head did a nice job of showcasing both Hooper’s and Kane’s voices.
A newly released singles collection features two new songs, and the new material fits in nicely with the rest. It was always hard to put a label on the Grapes of Wrath: the material shows the strong lyrical songwriting and guitar work that typically gets branded as folk-rock but there’s enough harder edged material with solid drum beats and bass lines here to make that label limiting and frustrating. Brand the band’s sound however you want, it’s that solid songwriting and those vocal harmonies that give the band its distinctive and likeable sound and the new material continues in the same vein.
The band closed its set with You May Be Right and Peace of Mind, the latter featuring both Kane and Hooper sharing lead vocals and filling the room with beautiful harmonies. It was just about perfect, but no one wanted it to end.
Kane joked about the band’s merchandise at one point, calling the t-shirts “post modern appropriation” and suggesting that fans grab them before “a certain sports company sends their lawyers after us.” Let’s hope that doesn’t happen, because it’s not that often that an old favourite comes back with this much promise. It sounds like that new album coming in early 2013 is going to be something to look forward too, and if the follow up tour is half as good as this night it’s going to be a gig you need to be at. It’d be a shame if bickering lawyers brought this revival to a halt. Keep your fingers crossed for now.
The Grapes of Wrath are touring with 54-40 before returning to the studio to prepare a new album for release in 2013. New songs featured on the band’s Singles release is on iTunes and is being previewed on Soundcloud. Check the band’s site for future tour date announcements.