Spirit of the West at the Commodore

Last night, for old times’ sake, I went to see Spirit of the West at the Commodore Ballroom. The show marked the conclusion of Celtic week in downtown Vancouver.

For the unfamiliar, SOTW is an energetic Celtic-folk-rock band that was very popular when I was in university (they’re something of an aging college band). At those legendary parties in the theatre department, no song made my fellow students more manic than SOTW’s “Home for a Rest” (meanwhile, I was ensuring the place didn’t burn down because somebody was hot-boxing the lighting booth–damn my responsible streak). I’ll post an MP3 of “Home for a Rest” at the end of this entry. [more]

As usual, we arrived early, found some decent seats, ate dinner and suffered through the opening act. Tonight’s infliction was Danny Michel, who looked a bit like Giovanni Ribisi and, with his unaccompanied electric guitar, sounded a bit like a Canadian Billy Bragg.

Spirit of the West opened with “Canadian Skye”, followed a couple more old favourites. Lead singer John Mann is a very capable singer, with decent range and a surprising power behind his voice. He’s also one of the most articulate rock vocalists I’ve ever heard. I could hear the “bru” in “February waits for March to spring back again” on “July” off of their new album.

I was worried that the show would all be rote readings of SOTW favourites, but they mixed things up in the second half of the main set. They played an instrumental reel, and then “Sadness Grows” with gorgeous harmonies. This was followed by a loose, extended take on “Is This Where I Come In?” and a lazy “Goodbye Grace”. “Home for a Rest” whipped the crowd into a hopping frenzy for the encore, which started with “Wedding Speech”. They closed the show–how could they do anything else–with their classic song about drinking their way across the North Shore, “The Crawl”.

Theirs was an extremely well thought-out set. I often imagine an Audience Goodwill Meter, which the band must manipulate to keep the crowd happy. They open with a few favourites, and the goodwill goes well into the green. Then they can introduce new songs, and maybe an obscure cover or instrumental (which I dig, but I’m an outlying case). Then a few more ‘chestnuts’, as Mann put it, and so on.

We got what we paid for, and went home happy. I think that applies to everybody–the band seemed to genuinely have a good time. Here’s the aforementioned MP3:

If this has anybody interested in the band, I’d recommend starting with their greatest hits CD Hit Parade (this feels like I’m pitching my affiliate link, but I don’t actually have one, so I’m not).

3 comments

  1. i went to the show friday night hoping to catch u2. 😛 rumors rumors. they didn’t show, but spirit of the west was good.

  2. The Audience Goodwill Meter is why the cover band I work in never has a set list. We try to gauge the crowd before we start, pick a few good opening numbers, and then wing it from there depending on how they react to different songs. It’s surprisingly difficult work, but after 15 years we’ve become (generally) pretty good at it.

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