Published Sep 04, 2015"I hope everybody is having a good time like we're having a good time." - Jesse Hughes
California's Eagles of Death Metal are a pure-blooded rock band. Founded by friends Josh Homme (of Kyuss and Queens of the Stone Age fame) and frontman Jesse Hughes, the project first appeared on volumes three and four of Homme's Desert Sessions series in 1998. They've flourished since then, releasing three albums between 2004 and 2008, each more successful in the charts than the last. Homme subsequently became overwhelmed by the success of his other projects, so this one had taken a back seat, but they are back with a vengeance now.
Touring in anticipation of the October 2015 release of their fourth album, Zipper Down, Homme was not in attendance in Vancouver on September 3, but this show was clearly something special for Hughes. Around the time the band released their debut album Peace, Love, Death Metal back in late 2003, the Commodore Ballroom provided the scene for their first ever live show, opening for Placebo. This time around, they were the headliners, and they filled the place to capacity on a Thursday night.
Hughes dressed for success with a '70s athletic shirt, dog tag and lightly tinted aviators complementing his greasy sideburns and thick porn-stache. He was like a character right out of a Hunter S. Thompson article or Almost Famous, and there was a palpable charisma to his famously generous stage presence. When he said the Commodore was one of his favourite places to play, he meant it, as their many tributes to Canada would prove.
Later, after quoting Jim Morrison's "get my kicks before the shithouse goes up in flames" speech, the crowd stomped their approval unprovoked. Hughes seemed visibly taken aback at the gesture, stunned and humbled to the verge of tears, before making a heart symbol with his hands, and then gathering himself to channel an evangelist preacher selling the sins of rock.
Throughout the set, Hughes tossed an Elvis Presley amount of sweat towels into the crowd, and they responded in kind with hats and bras. The most notable incident happened when Hughes brought the lights up to decide to whom he should throw one of his towels, and he was hit in the face with a captain's hat, which he immediately donned and said he was looking for his Tennille before commanding a shout-out to the venue's security. It would have taken an earthquake to knock this guy out of the moment.
Hughes also cajoled the crowd to say happy birthday to those in attendance who were celebrating, noted how the Canadian Mounties were all "good-looking motherfuckers" at the border but didn't like his moustache and coaxed a wave of devil horns out of the audience before breaking into their righteous cover of Stealers Wheel's biggest hit. During their rendition of "Silverlake (K.S.O.F.M.)," their guitar tech took over Hughes' six-string, allowing him the freedom to peacock about the stage. Afterwards, Hughes made a joke about how that was better than a Richard Simmons workout, which earned a rimshot from the drummer.
While the banter was impeccable, it wasn't a pitch perfect performance. Hughes' voice was a bit rough, sounding rather like the subsequently quoted Jim Morrison in "Now I'm a Fool," and hardly attempting the falsetto chorus to "I Only Want You." Instrumentally, tracks like "Wave Bye Bye" were a little repetitive, and the lengthy guitar battle between Hughes and Dave Catching during their closing "Speaking in Tongues" was like a middling interpretation of "Dueling Banjos" from Deliverance.
What's more, it's hard not to miss Josh Homme. Obvious to those who have seen him live and judging from his myriad collaborations, Homme is a musical magnet. Seeing Hughes without him was like only seeing one polarity of that magnet.
The band were all fairly one-dimensional onstage. Catching showed flashes of finesse on guitar, but he had a wicked ZZ Top poker face behind that massive frosty beard and dark sunglasses, so he was difficult to connect with. The rhythm section was solid, but bassist Matt McJunkins' greatest moment came as the tiebreaker for the encore's guitar battle, when he rocked a couple of Rush bass lines to great applause. When they all played, there was little to draw attention away from Hughes himself.
Yet, there were more than enough moments that worked. "So Easy" came so easy, "I Got a Feelin' (Just Nineteen)" hit the sweet spot and practically everyone in attendance helped them sing "I Want You So Hard (Boy's Bad News)." The energy was fantastic, and Hughes earned the benefit of the doubt, playing guitar like a machine gun and working the show as hard as any frontman in the business.
When Hughes came out for the encore, he said Nardwuar was right, that the home of rock and roll was Canada. Appropriately, he was then hit in the face with a bra as soon as he started playing "Takin' Care of Business" by Winnipeg's own Bachman-Turner Overdrive, a cover that earned a generous amount of crowd singing, and a few vicious boos. (One guy hated the song so much that he climbed over a drink-laden table just to get away from the crowd, and then booed the whole way out of the venue.) But, as they say, there is no accounting for taste. For the rest of us, that was a cherry on the rock sundae, a touching gesture of appreciation for the neighbouring country that loves these boys as their own.