Pictured from left to right: Paul "Bonehead" Arthurs, Liam Gallagher, Noel Gallagher, of the Manchester rock band, Oasis, at the Imperial, Vancouver.
I suspect you learn a lot about your city’s reputation in the collective popular imaginary by the way visiting bands perform at their shows there. My Montreal years coincided with the city’s sudden and meteoric rise in musical reputation. I never saw a headliner phone it in; Montreal was a big stop on the tour and every band I ever saw took their shows there extremely seriously. Vancouver, on the other hand, I mean, not so much, right? Vancouver seems to remain, to bands from faraway places, too hazy somehow to bother unpacking your 'A' game. On long tours some cities must become casualties of tour fatigue, and Vancouver seems to be a city where big bands suddenly feel very tired.
Two blocks north of where The Shanghai Junk once was, on the other side of Main, is The Imperial. We went to see Snail Mail, whose EP and debut album we can mostly sing by heart. Lindsey Jordan got through their set, you’ve got to give her that much, but 200 dates and counting, I mean Holy Iron Maiden! Bigger doses of downtime never hurt anyone either. It didn’t matter that much. The opening band, Choir Boy, from Salt Lake City, was transcendental. They’d been added to a few dates on the Pacific Northwest swing of the tour. They played like their lives and future careers depended on showing up on nights like this. Performances as good as Choir Boy's that night are why you always keep going to concerts. On January 27, 2019 a band nobody knew gave a room full of West Coast nobodies a show they'd never forget.
I’ve seen it happen here before. At the Commodore Ballroom in Vancouver in 1995, Oasis performed in the city for the first time. They were louder than the opening band, but that’s about it. Red Autumn Fall, from Calgary, was only opening this one show. The show had originally been scheduled for the Starfish Room. Britpop wasn’t yet a thing, and the promoters had not expected Oasis to get so big so quickly. They moved the show to the Commodore, which also sold out. The air of anticipation was intense. It turned out to be the biggest show RAF would ever play. Fittingly, they gave the best performance they would ever give. For one night—on January 25, 1995—Red Autumn Fall can legitimately say they played better than the best band in the world. Oasis was too cool to care, and the band never really repaired the damage caused by its first impression in Vancouver. They came back to the city the following year and whoever it was who threw that show at Liam, probably give them the keys to the city. Throwing coins might have been a little harsh, but I still feel like the act came from an honest place. Oasis moved on stage less than the immovable stone statues at the Imperial.