The Weakerthans’ strength has always been John K. Samson’s words. Sure, their melodies are catchy enough, but their mix of pop, punk, and country isn’t anything original, and musically, the band’s execution of any of the genres they dabble in, while good, isn’t particularly notable. Your enjoyment of a Weakerthans live show, then, is often tied in directly with your ability to join in with the band’s faithful in what’s sure to be a rather large group sing-a-long. During their most recent Vancouver visit, a two-night stand with the Constantines, it was hard not to be swept up amongst the joy of everyone who showed up to sing the gospel.
The Constantines, who once again joined the headliners for a tour dubbed “The Rolling Tundra Revue,” took the stage first, firing off a set that pulled fairly evenly from across their four album catalogue. The band seems to get a little mellower with every successive release, but mixing the soft strums of newer cuts like “Time Can Be Overcome” with the raw excitement of early songs like “Young Offenders” lent the set a balance that paralleled the pacing of their best effort, Shine a Light. Unsurprisingly, it was the songs from that album, the band’s second release, that shone the brightest. “Nighttime Everytime” got a crowd that was mostly waiting for the Weakerthans to shout along before it slid into a jam that would make Neil Young proud and the title track closed the opening set in epic fashion. It was “Young Lions,” though, that was the fittingly majestic highlight.
The Weakerthans started their portion of the evening off with a trio of slower, newer tunes before bursting into “Watermark” four songs in and jolting the crowd to life. The upbeat number from their second record was the first “classic” song played from the band’s repertoire, and while they peppered the set with cuts from all of their records, from there on in, the audience was very much in the headliner’s hands. It happens at almost every show I’ve seen the Weakerthans play, but it’s still a bit surprising to look around and see just how many people seem to not only know, but also sing along with, every single word that escapes John K. Samson’s mouth. I’ve always been wary of bands that inspire such a devoted following (maybe because it’s mostly jam bands that do), but for whatever reason, at least with this band, it’s hard not to enjoy yourself when everyone around you is having so much fun.