Disengaged Tokyo Police Club Rock Into Vancouver

Tokyo Police ClubTokyo Police Club / The Arkells
Commodore Ballroom
Vancouver, BC
October 2, 2010

By Whitney Bragagnolo

This weekend the fabulous Commodore Ballroom welcomed Southern Ontario based bands The Arkells and Tokyo Police Club to a packed, enthusiastic and eager crowd. Surprisingly, the audience was not solely comprised of a young demographic, eager for the escape and embrace of these quickly emerging Canadian indie rock acts, but  also housed a bevy of mature music lovers who travelled quite a distance to enjoy and experience Saturday evenings performance. Ready with their t-shirts in tow; CDs in one hand, beer in the other, the audience was armed for a good night – unified together by a shared hunger for some feel good Canadian rock n’ roll. 

The Arkells are a band that has definitely been on the Canadian indie radar a lot since early 2010, subsequent to their Juno win for New Group of the Year. The buzz surrounding this Hamilton -based band has been booming across the country. Seeing them earn recent opportunities which include being hand-picked to open for alt- rock super-group Them Crooked Vultures, as well as having a much-coveted performance slot at the Much Music Video Awards.

The Arkells took the stage to a warm applause, and a room of cheers welcomed them back to Vancouver. Many of their fans were reuniting with the band after seeing them close the show at the 2010 Fox SEEDS Finale show in August.  The quintet definitely brought their signature soul-rock back to BC with full force. Their performance did not disappoint. I enjoyed seeing the growth of the Arkells as musicians and as performers taking shape, in addition to the camaraderie that has evidently fused the band significantly from the last show I saw of theirs in the fall of 2009. Their energy was extraordinary, and their stage presence was congenial and substantially more confident. They immediately won the crowd at the Commodore that evening, and as intimate and inviting as it is as a venue, its reputation, stature and history perhaps can be intimidating for a fairly newer band. In addition, even when full, it’s a big stage, and a big room to play for. The Arkells succeeded with no difficulty in owning it. Saturday evening was their show,the crowd was lost in their moment.

Being only mildly familiar with the songs of the Arkells, it was exceptionally exciting to observe a band that lacked predictability, they stood true to their self -proclaimed soul rock, yet kept the sound evolving during the whole set. Even though all of The Arkells are obviously admirable musicians as various members of the band hopped between different instruments, and vocal harmonies, it was the intensity of Dan Griffin’s keys that really impressed me the most.  His poise and confidence are strongly expelled through his playing, yet he maintains and exudes a strong sense amiability in his showmanship and his interactions with the other members in the band.

Though they played all their songs well, they did not truly peak their performance until "John Lennon”  from their 2008 debut Jackson Square, a performance that included lively fans cheering them on as the group’s utter joy in performing was clear and infectious and full force. The guys brought out some friends on stage to join them for the song, which included a free-form sax groove and the room engaged in an adrenaline driven super enthused united sing along.

Those who lined Granville eager to get front row spots hugging the stage for Tokyo Police Club got a real bang for the buck in seeing such a great representation of the future of Canadian indie rock. Tokyo fans effortlessly became caught up in the infectiousness of the Arkells and many I observed sticking around for a meet and greet and perhaps snap a pic or two of the 5 piece after the show.

I apparently missed the buzz surrounding Tokyo Police Club. My preconceived notion was yet another eastern Canadian indie band, adding yet another group to the already over saturated market of young Canadian indie pop-rock trying to break big in the US and across the country.

Admittedly, I was absolutely not familiar with Tokyo’s history or discography prior to the show. I knew them by name, recognized the titles of a few tracks and was evident somewhat of their success south of the border remembering they were a big name on this past Coachella line up. I was unaware of the rest of their impressive resume of festivals including  Lollapalooza, Bumbershoot, Glastonbury Festival as well as numerous TV late night appearances including two on Letterman alone, yet,  I still was not convinced or sold on the idea of the band.

After chatting with several fans in the crowd, their draw and popularity became more recognized. Few had flown in from Calgary, another group had drove down from Prince George and I even talked to a couple of friends who had made the trek north from Seattle to watch these Newmarket Ontario boys take the stage. The fans guarded their coveted front row seats with force and proclamation they were Tokyo’s’ biggest fans. After learning I was press, they rather kindly squeezed me in, gave me a briefing on what to expect and their favourite tunes. The front row crowd  were confident I would become a fan, shocked (and many insulted) I didn’t own the 2010 release“Champ”.

Well, honestly, it wasn’t a bad performance at all.  Front man Dave Monks was charismatic and charming. He was entertaining, the vocals were sharp and the songs were upbeat and catchy. Tokyo’s young hometown vibe makes them feel relatable and likeable, and their indie- free spirited fans exude their energy and share their passion for feel good rock and roll.  However, I believe that the Arkells were a strong act to follow, and as most of the audience was there for Tokyo, they did not need to try as hard to impress the crowd, as if their history, CD and fan base spoke for itself. I found their performance disengaging, as with many bands I have prejudged in the past, or are simply unfamiliar with, the live show, (especially one from a band with such a successful history for a new group) blows me away and I find myself lined up at the merch booth following the performance. For Tokyo, I felt short changed on their live experience – one that clearly won the hearts of this room full of fans.

Although the boys of Tokyo were obviously talented and there were parts of the show I enjoyed,  including  fan favourites to which the crowd was rocking, where small mosh pits began to dot across the audience (particularly during both Elephant Shells’ “Tessellate” and the closing  “Your  English is Good.”), I don’t think its over between Tokyo Police Club and I. Thousands of fans can’t be wrong. The winning of desirable festival spots says something else. In addition, a strong holding on the indie charts north and south of the border speaks an opinion shared by both fans and critics across the nation. Hopefully next time Tokyo Police Club comes around,Ill see the light.