To the shock of no one, when readers voted for their favourite live-music venue in last week's Best of Vancouver edition of the Georgia Straight, the Commodore annihilated the competition. The city's had a long-running love affair with the club, and, after a late-'90s glitch, it's obviously back in full bloom.
Currently celebrating its 75th anniversary, the Commodore had a rough start. Designed and built at the height of North America's fascination with art deco, the room opened in December 1929. Four months later, the stock market crashed, the Dirty Thirties were officially under way, and the Commodore was one of the city's first high-profile casualties. What was supposed to have lured customers away from the Hotel Vancouver and its booming ballroom business ended up sitting dark for half a year. In November 1930, local nightclub pioneers Nick Kogas and Johnny Dillias became convinced they could make a go of it, reopening the club and officially beginning its run as a live venue with dinner and dancing every Saturday. Over the next seven decades management of the Commodore periodically changed hands, but the venue's ability to draw top talent remained the same. The list of acts that have graced the room's stage over the years is truly staggering; a shortlist only starts with Count Basie, Cab Calloway, KISS, U2, David Bowie, the Police, Devo, the Clash, Hole, Tina Turner, the Dead Kennedys, and Blondie. Still, it wasn't until the Commodore closed its doors in 1996 that Vancouver truly realized how much the club meant to the city. For three years, 868 Granville Street sat empty, a period during which Lotusland practically dropped off the map for touring acts. Think about how that's changed since a renovated Commodore reopened on November 12, 1999. Highlight-reel shows at the reborn club have included Weezer, the Pixies, and the White Stripes, all of whom could have chosen to play bigger venues but didn't. Up-and-coming indie stars like the Shins, Fiery Furnaces, the Faint, Franz Ferdinand, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, and AFI have all headlined; without the Commodore, they likely would have pulled a U-turn after Seattle, which is what most acts did during the dark years in the late '90s. The Commodore's biggest coup since reopening has probably been landing Tom Waits for his first club show in nearly three decades. But the room's biggest accomplishment has been rekindling a live-music scene that, just a short time ago, was on its deathbed. For that, the spot known as the Fabulous Commodore Ballroom deserves all the love that Vancouver has shown it.