The Strumbellas at Commodore Ballroom

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The Strumbellas do not waste any time getting to the main event, and that is exactly what they did at Vancouver’s Commodore Ballroom. Foregoing the usual prolonged introduction swelling to the first chord, the band simply began with drums and bass, adding each member of the group until the opening lines of “Running Scared” broke the instrumental build. At this moment it was clear that the Strumbellas do not mess around. They are simply here to play music and enjoy every second of it.

By the second song, the crowd was ready to meet them at the same energy level throughout the night.  Having been five years since the band had released new music, the fans were ready to get their fill of the Strumbellas’ new album Part Time Believer. “Welcome to our CD release party!” they quipped before beginning the album opener, “Hold Me.”

It seems in five years, and through a major lineup change with Jimmy Chaveau as lead vocalist, the Strumbellas have not lost who they are. They still have their signature blend of folk, rock, and pop that comes across as anthemic yet sincere. Whether they are playing their radio hit sing-alongs, retooling deep cuts, or covering iconic rock songs, this is a group that is a complete unit. The keyboard work and synth by David Ritter added some more electronic highlights to many songs, while never taking away from their original folk core. Isabel Ritchie’s violin was a highlight that textured each song, while Darryl James and Miles Gibbons offered up a solid backing on bass and drums to keep the groove of the night ever marching forward. John Hembrey’s lead guitar work gave all the songs the distorted edge that was necessary, although unfortunately, some his best fretwork got lost in the mix. Chaveau has also stepped into his role with great aplomb. His charisma and talent are up to the task of fronting such an established act and having the chance to do it without the drama that usually enshrouds other bands’ roster shifts is a bonus. 

Throughout the night, the group jumped through all of the uptempo energy and thoughtful ruminations that you expect from a group such as this. Like many shows some of the greatest moments were when everything was stripped back. Chaveau, Hembrey, and Ritchie brought the acoustic part of the set and showed the group’s magnificent range. They can go from “giddy-up” folk to heartfelt acoustic ballads. They break it down only to build back up again to end with the whole band returning for the final choruses of “I’ll Wait.”

This is what sticks out to me about the Strumbellas, no matter what, they make good music, and want to play good music with you. They do not need any flashy adornments or overblown production. In fact, they forego the usual song and dance of an encore because they would rather respect the music than pretend to leave. It was refreshing to see, and as I left the concert, I realized that I’ll take authentic musicians who just want to share their great music rather than overproduced hype trains any day of the week.

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