Ace guitarist Becky Black and stalwart drummer Maya Miller only play a show or two a year in their hometown of Vancouver, for fear of wearing out their fans. As such, it's always a treat when they come out, allowing one to gauge their progress. And progress, they have. Even since their Unpersons album release party at the Rickshaw in January, Miller and Black have both evolved.
Black has absorbed her guitar; it's no longer a tool in her employ. Rather, on the Commodore stage, it hung off her shoulders like an extra pair of arms, her command of the instrument as casual and intuitive as any appendage. It looked as if she rolled out of bed with it on, walked on stage and blew her punk-fuelled blues-rock wad all over our faces.
Perhaps not a technically great singer, Black's lyrics were often indecipherable and their cadence occasionally strained, but she was believable. She didn't pull any punches, giving no hint of pretense in her visceral performance. It's no act with her. For that, we have Miller's hilarious sarcasm and posh white jacket, providing a sense of theatricality between crushing her icky thump on drums, abusing her kit in the best way possible.
Notably, Miller's banter was far more subdued than at their album release party. Her best bit here was when she pretended to be an out-of-town band via rapid-fire commentary on the rain. Ultimately, this less-nonsense approach contributed to a smoother, more content-filled show. It's apparent how seriously they take this.
"Lights" was the second track the the Pack A.D. played, before saying a word to the crowd. The song's breakneck speed and thrashy intensity set the tone for the evening. By "Haunt You," there was a near constant stream of front-row people clawing their way onto the stage and diving back into the dark. This got to the point of Miller asking people not to hurt themselves, which was followed by someone accidently unplugging Black's guitar and knocking over her mic, cueing the encore walk-off.
It's hard to blame anyone for getting caught up in it all, though. The duo demolished almost their entire Unpersons album. "Ride" got heads bobbing around like a corn-popper push toy. "Rid of Me" exploded, a barn burner containing that "just don't give a fuck" attitude, but not put on like so many blues rock Thorogood wannabands.
The band's live rendition of "Positronic" would blow away the song's comparative studio refinery as heard in the video that was played in the intermission before their set. "Seasick" was practically a ballad in context, taking their unshakable West Coast swagger downtempo a few shades. Yet they captivated during the eye of the storm as much as in the blitzkriegs surrounding them.
With Unpersons being almost a year old, the Pack A.D. also brought out a few new tracks, including their recently SoundClouded fuzz bomb "The Water." If this set was any indication, Vancouver will be lucky to keep these women as their own moving forward.