Commodore gigs remembered for venue's 90th birthday

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      The Commodore Ballroom celebrates its 90th birthday on Thursday (December 3), which the City of Vancouver has proclaimed as Commodore Ballroom Day.

      Colin James will perform two livestreamed shows from the hallowed venue, marking the 33rd time he's been booked there.

      I've booked myself into the Commodore many more times than that, stretching back to that time Kiss played there on its Hotter Than Hell tour in January of 1975 and Gene Simmons nearly lit the red-velvet curtains on fire with his fire-breathing antics.

      That was seven years before I scored myself a dream gig writing about rock music for the Georgia Straight, and would no longer have to pay for tickets to see Commodore shows. In fact, when beloved, longtime proprietor Drew Burns was in charge, he would sometimes let me bring as many friends as I could muster to shows that weren't selling well.

      I was a pretty popular guy back then. Pretty drunk, too, what with all the beers my freeloading concert buddies would supply in return.

      Here's 10 Commodore gigs that I reviewed and remember fondly:

      The Stray Cats, August 13, 1982: "Lee Rocker’s upright bass was a different sight, as was Slim Jim’s drum kit. He only uses one cymbal, one snare, and one bass drum–and a pair of sticks. Phantom and Rocker used their most basic of instruments to create a gelatinous platform for Setzer’s Cochranish boogyings and spirited lead vocals."

      Stevie Ray Vaughan, August 29, 1985: "Vaughan played for a solid two hours, during which time he wowed the crowd by playing behind his back, above his head, and all over the place. At one point he strolled off the front of the stage and across a few tables, where he pulled off the Hendrix trick of playing with his teeth." 

      Johnny Winter, September 18, 1987: "Larry Williams’ 'Bony Moronie' had the sellout crowd bellowing for more of the same, and he gave it to them with his famous rendition of 'Johnny B. Goode', the same one that made me wear out my copy of the landmark Johnny Winter And Live LP."

      The Georgia Satellites, July 28, 1988: "There’s nothing quite like your favourite bar band in your favourite bar to bring a tired body back to life. After a long haul to Seattle last week to check out the Monsters of Rock show at the Kingdome, I was pretty tired,  but it didn’t take much of the Georgia Satellites’ raunchy brand of bastardized blues-rock to give me a second wind on the following night."

      The Beat Farmers, November 23, 1990: "At one point during the proceedings it appeared that a huge fight was breaking out near the front of the bar—a mass of people tumbled into a table and wiped it out, comically dragging a string of balloons down from the balcony above. Then I noticed a pair of cowboy-booted legs dangling in the air on top of the mob and realized there was no cause for alarm. It was just Country Dick on his return trip to the stage, after being carried to the bar for a tequila."

      The Tragically Hip, July 16, 1991: "By the time the band had ripped through 'Little Bones', 'New Orleans is Sinking', and 'Blow at High Dough', the dynamic magic of Kingston, Ontario’s favourite sons was beyond argument."

      Steve Vai (with Devin Townsend), September 29, 1993: " 'You know one of the reasons I like Vancouver so much?' asked Vai when the band was called back for an encore. 'It’s because that’s where Devin’s from.' With that, Vai took the youngster on in a showstopping guitar duel, and although Townsend proved himself worthy of the challenge, Vai wasn’t quite nice enough to let his colleague outplay him, hometown crowd or not."

      Jeff Beck, February 17, 2001: "He covered all the sonic bases while adventurously reinventing tunes by the Beatles ('A Day in the Life'), Muddy Waters ('Rollin’ and Tumblin’), and Indian musician Nitin Sawhney ('Nadia'). But it was on his own material, such as the reggae-tinged 'Behind the Veil' and the delicately soaring 'Where Were You', that Beck most prominently displayed his fiercely original fretwork."

      The Darkness, February 24, 2012: "Not to be outdone by the likes of Angus Young–or Eric Nally–Hawkins hopped on a roadie’s shoulders during the encore and got carried around the Commodore dance floor while laying down all matter of nasty guitar licks. That was about the time that I decided this was probably the best concert I’d ever seen. Next to Thin Lizzy, of course."

      Gov't Mule, October 25, 2013: "To keep the seventies vibe in full swing, the encore was a two-pronged tribute to Humble Pie. As well as the aforementioned '30 Days in the Hole', Gov’t Mule performed the band’s ’71 hit 'I Don’t Need No Doctor'. Steve Marriott must have been smiling down."