At the Commodore Ballroom on Friday, March 21
A veritable who's who of CanCon talent, the members of Mounties have all graced the stage of the Commodore Ballroom at some point over the last 15 years. Whether via a solo show from the eclectic Hawksley Workman, a scorching dance-rock display from Steve Bays' Hot Hot Heat or a melodic alt-rock set from Ryan Dahle's Limblifter, the trio had made an impression on Vancouver crowds long before the fledgling collective's Thrash Rock Legacy LP reared its pop-skewing head earlier this month. It's no wonder, then, that the act's headlining show at the Commodore, its first in town and only its fourth overall, packed the fans in to get a closer peek at Canadian rock royalty.
Ahead of the headliners, JPNSGRLS delivered a brief opening set big on crunched-up post-punk melodies, awkward dance moves and the crew's own landing strip-long smiles. "Holy fuck, we're playing the Commodore. What a trip," vocalist Charlie Kerr marvelled incredulously before throwing out compliments to the crowd. Despite the cheers the group yielded, it was uncomfortable to watch the over-eager frontman filming himself with an iPhone as he yelped atop the tedious, wanky riffs of finale "David and Goliath."
Maritimes pop experimenter Rich Aucoin's absolutely manic set got off to a rocky start, if only because a murky house speaker mix garbled a video montage of inspirational moments lifted from Animal House and Dead Poets Society. Luckily, Aucoin seized the day with uplifting mantras of his own, getting the crowd to chant along with him on catchphrase-leaning pop assaults "Undead" ("We're are not dead yet") and "We're All Dying to Live" (“This heart is beating”).
Letting a blur of pre-programmed melodies streamed from a sampler and the cannon-fire beatwork of live drummer Joel Waddell do the work from the stage, Aucoin spent much of his time in the pit. There, he shook an illuminated light bulb like a maraca while parading around dancing showgoers, shot streamers into the air and helped cocoon the standing section with a multi-coloured parachute for a more intimate experience. Explosive to say the least, the performance left many, including Aucoin, glistening with sweat and covered in confetti.
Mounties' set was less prop-intensive, instead showcasing the extremely dialled-in dynamic between Workman, Bays and Dahle, as well as a backup band featuring Parker Bossley on bass and Cary Pratt on percussion. Workman, for the record, appears to live the Mounties life the hardest, having walked onstage to the sounds of an EDM remix of the group's signature tune "Headphones" wearing a seemingly self-referential pair of cans and a toque emblazoned with the band's name.
While Bays' fantasy film synth oscillations ushered "Pretty Respectable" in dreamily, Workman assumed the role of a nightmarish, teeth-baring beast, waking up the arrangement with a series of monstrous kit-scouring fills. He held down the rhythms just as hard for the '70s prog-pop-flavoured "Feeling Low," a hypnotic high-point in the genre-jumping set that also highlighted Bossley's lean-and-mean, ultra-distorted bass runs.
Workman remained seated for most of the night, cracking wise into the mike in between songs, while a somewhat reserved Dahle was content to unfurl juicy six-string solos and reedy cries from his corner. This left centre-stage Mountie Bays to take on frontman duties, stepping away from his keyboard occasionally to strut the stage with a tambourine or shake his famously frizzy mane while crouching and crooning in front of the fans.
Despite busily cramming in textures of new wave, bossa nova and indie-pop into "Made up Your Mind", there's an effortless ease to the Mounties sound. That said, the band got maybe a bit too free on the number, which ran out of gas over a quieted-down mid-section that had Workman letting out a series of song-stifling sex squeals and Bays conjuring his inner Ray Manzarek with an over-the-top organ solo. More successful was the airy glam track "Waking Up On Time," where Bays and Workman's vocals entwined masterfully with Dahle's sky-reaching licks.
The Hi-C sipping tropi-pop bounce of "Headphones" gave the crowd a late-in-the-game thrill, with the infectious clank of Pratt's cowbell mercifully overpowering those bizarre lyrics about "feeling more connected than unlimited Wi-Fi." An encore stripping "Latch Key Kids" of its beat then found Workman perching a foot on his drum stool and flapping his arms like a soused-up heron as he harmonized with his two new best buds, Bays and Dahle.
That the camaraderie of the supergroup is so obvious is clearly a big part of Mounties' charm. Workman lovingly referred to the outfit as a bunch of "giddy school boys" before a finale of "Tokyo Summer," and while Mounties is full of seasoned professionals, it's great to see that the members are learning a few more tricks.