To say it was an emotional show would be a massive understatement. Only a couple days before Matt Mays was set to return to the Commodore Ballroom in Vancouver, his longtime friend and guitarist Jay Smith was found dead in a hotel room in Edmonton.
With what I can only imagine to be a heavy heart, Mays announced that they would finish up the last couple dates of the tour, with all proceeds going into a trust fund set up for Smith's family.
There is also a paypal link on the front page of Mays' website, which you can also donate to, if you missed the show.
I got to the Commodore part way through the first band of the night, Vancouver's We Hunt Buffalo. They were in the top three of the 2102 Fox Seeds competition, and they were pretty much exactly what you would expect from a "Fox Rocks" band. Loud, heavy guitars, hard drumming, and gruff vocals, they were very much a grungy, garage rawk band. And while they certainly were not bad at what they did, it was just not my thing.
Next up was July Talk. I had heard one song from them in rotation on CBC Radio 3, but didn't know what to expect, but they impressed me almost right away. Peter Dreimanis and Leah Fay share vocals, with a huge contrast between his whiskey and cigarette fuelled rasp and her soft yet powerful voice; the two voices shouldn't mix, and yet they do so very well. The pair also had a great energy and playfulness on stage, constantly moving around and interacting with other members of the band, a few times Peter getting in Leah's face, and her teasingly shoving him away. And the playfulness didn't end on stage, Leah at one point borrowed the sunglasses of a fan up front for a song, and tossed her scarf to someone else mid-way through the set.
Their obvious passion for playing was infectious, and their blues-twinged rock, from the incendiary stomper, "The Garden" to the final song of the night, the catchy "Paper Girl". The band definitely gained a fan that night (me), and I would love to see them again next time they're in town.
And finally, it was time for Matt Mays. The band came out carrying a single lit candle, and immediately launched into "Indio", the first song from his most recent album Coyote. Mays has always been raw and passionate when performing, but his emotion really came through tonight. Songs like "Loveless" just oozed raw emotion, and lyrics became much more poignant. In "Dull Knife" Mays crooned "In this vicious life we lead / give us grace / give us speed" and later in the set, during "City of Lakes", he took special care with the suddenly heartbreaking line "I lost a friend in this past year / I miss his guitar playing in my ear"
But the most emotional moment was part way through the set when the band took a brief break and Mays introduced the sombre "Chase the Light" as a song for anyone feeling lost. By the end, the entire crowd was singing along, followed by at least a full minute of the most heartfelt applause imaginable. Mays was visibly moved, taking a moment to compose himself before moving on to "Travellin'", the band slowly joining him before it burst into another big sing-along.
He ended the main set with "Cocaine Cowgirl", building into a massive ending, but was back out for the usual encore with one of my all time favourite songs, the heartwrenching and epic "Terminal Romance", and brought the night -- and the tour -- to an end with July Talk joining the band on stage for "On The Hood".
And as the band was leaving the stage, Matt Mays and his band stopped in the middle of the stage, picked up the still burning candle and huddled around it for a moment, before going.
Indio, Stoned, Take it on Faith, Loveless, 13 Days [JJ Cale cover], Tall Trees, Dull Knife, Chase the Light, Travellin', Move Your Mind, City of Lakes, Cocaine Cowgirl.
(encore) Terminal Romance, On The Hood.