Theophilus London and Friendly Fires get Commodore into dance mode
// JJ Brewis

Vancouver’s legendary Commodore Ballroom gave host to one of the best mish-mashed performances on Oct. 18. For those unaware of the evening’s lineup, the variety must have come as a pleasant surprise. Audience members were treated to both UK dance pop in the form of Friendly Fires, as well as New York’s Theophilus London, a flashy, fashionable rapper more influenced by classic hip-hop than contemporary. L

ondon did his job of warming up the crowd, and then some. Fresh off the release of his longawaited debut LP Timez Are Weird These Days, London worked the crowd with his sing-rapping that he’s becoming well-known for. The last time London appeared in Vancouver at Fortune nightclub, he rapped over backing tracks of famous Vampire Weekend and Ellie Goulding singles. A year later, and plenty of exposure under his belt, London returns to a bigger venue, now backed by a full band — aside from the MacBook filling in for a drumset. Equipped in dark shades and a hand-me-down denim jacket, the lanky MC slyly charmed the Commodore crowd. With a plethora of gold chains sharply swinging with his every move, London proved that he’s got the swagger and presence to join the likes of Kid Cudi and Kanye West in the big leagues.

Early in his set, London announced that a very special guest, “David”, would be joining him on stage for part of his set. To the surprise of the audience, London went backstage and pulled out a full-sized carboard standout of “Bad” era Michael Jackson, which he positioned behind a microphone for most of his performance. He then kickstarted his big single “Last Name London”, taking the stage like a race horse out of its stable. Clearly feeding off the applause from his appreciative crowd, London really got up close and personal with the front row, often times bending over and rapping right in someone’s face. But the tactic came off more as highoctane than aggressive, and the fans excitedly cheered him on. With dance moves that only “David” could match, and the ability to lyrically stylize “what happens when you wake up and realize you have 7000 contacts in your phone”, London somehow comes off endearing, combining his 80s New York fashion with a genuine toothy grin that appeared after each track. Rapping over the Broadway standard “Hey Big Spender”, London promises the crowd some “brand new shit,” which, even though he likely says every night to every crowd, comes off as a personal gift resulting in massive applause.

The main attraction, UK’s Friendly Fires, had a tough act to follow, but lucky for them, their onstage charisma matched London’s, but in an entirely different way. The band casually walked on stage while some heavenly yellow rays shone out around them, the crowd could hardly handle the anticipation leading up to their opening number. The band began with “Lovesick”, a track from the band’s latest, sophomore album Pala, and in no time, lead vocalist Ed Macfarlane showed the crowd that he was not to be outdone by London’s impressive dance moves. Macfarlane shook his hips, fist pounded the air, and never stopped, not even on the short breaks between songs. With a saxophone crooning behind him and a trumpet at the ready, Friendly Fires demonstrated that they’re not up for being your average UK indie dance act.

But despite Macfarlane’s wild moves, the most impressive person on stage seemed to be drummer Jack Savidge, performing on a raised platform near the front of the stage, a fitting placement for such a talent. The drummer, who was hospitalized earlier this year due to exhaustion, played with such speed that it was almost tiring just to watch.

The Mercury Prize-nominated band kept up this vibrant energy for their whole set, which included at least a couple cowbell solos, most notably in the tropical-sounding single “Jump In The Pool”, in which Macfarlane became so antsy he slid off the stage and paraded through the crowd, where a midst of camera flashes and grabby hands got a bit carried away.

The band clearly had a lot of fun on stage, banging out group maraca sessions mid-set and laughing to themselves when they caught a glimpse of each other’s dance moves. With sci-fi stylized green lighting complimenting the spooky smoke machines, the band had a great visual backdrop to work with. Every one of their songs sounds like a well-packaged anthem, both sing-along ready and lending itself to the audience shaking their asses, as much like the MacFarlane as they could. Such was the case with “Chimes”, in which Macfarlane told the crowd, “Let’s start living again,” which came across as a humble suggestion that just happened to be backed with the catchiest beat of the night.

// JJ Brewis, Art Director
// Photograph by Melissa Dex Guzman

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