Real Live Action

author
Aaron Schmidtke
photography
Tristan Schnetzler

Omar Apollo came about the scene in a fashion that continues to be widely attempted but is rarely successful. He’s an important piece of one of the first generations of this type of bedroom pop artist that merges layered vocals over automated drum tracks with an X-factor of sorts that separates them from the pack of other Soundcloud-originated musicians — think artists like Still Woozy, Dominic Fike, or Elujay. For Apollo, what makes him special is his charisma in live performances and sensational voice that switches between English and Spanish within the very same songs. 

Vancouver appeared as the second show of Apollo’s North American tour which would see the 25-year-old perform in over 30 cities with support from Deb Never, who was raised just across the border in Seattle and Spokane. Deb Never took the stage to an overtly present crowd for an opening band and they really held up. As someone who had not heard Deb Never’s music before going into the evening, I left impressed with a desire to check out their work on a streaming platform at home. 

The Commodore Ballroom is, I would argue, Vancouver’s best high-end, mid-sized venue. For touring artists that can’t quite fill the Rogers Arenas or Pacific Coliseums of the city, the Commodore fits almost 1000 comfortably. By the time Apollo strutted onto the stage, it certainly seemed that most of those 1000 converged toward the front of the stage for the opening track “Kickback” from his 2019 project, Friends. The tour was in support of Apollo’s debut full-length Ivory and he did not disappoint new or old fans, as a nice medium of half the set was new tracks and the other half filled with older favourites. Ivory arrives as Apollo’s most mature and well produced album to date with features such as Daniel Caesar and Kali Uchis, who was slated to perform the next night with Tyler, the Creator. Thissparked conversation on whether or not she would be in attendance and perhaps an appearance on their song “Bad Life” if she had already arrived in Vancouver, which proved to not be the case. 

Apollo’s stage presence is one of the highlights of his live performances as he genuinely seems like he is at his zenith when playing on the big stage. Despite the bedroom pop roots of a good chunk of Apollo’s discography, he played with a full live band which elevated the performance. This was further complimented by a couple songs done with just Apollo and his guitar. Among a slew of bouquets being tossed toward the Mexican-American star, one fan passed him a Canadian cowboy hat which he sported for the entire next song — an homage to Apollo’s first Canadian show in almost two years. 

author
Ashley Wood

It was the evening of April 22 and there was an undeniable buzz of excitement on the street as I arrived at the Vogue Theatre. I had purchased tickets to the Destroyer concert two years earlier, just as the world began to go into lockdown — I was so excited to finally see their show. When I walked into the theatre, I was greeted by the opening act, Rosali. They had a warm sound that invited the crowd in, a soft rock with contemplative lyrics that fit the performance to come. 

After a short break, Destroyer took the stage, opening with “It’s in Your Heart Now.” As I sat in the back of the theatre, I felt a wave of comfort as the audience happily soaked in the band’s sound. “June” followed suit, the opening bars felt like the first days of summer, brimming with hope. The lush, unpredictable instrumental felt like being pulled into a dream, a labyrinth where the questions posed in the lyrics didn’t need an answer. At times, vocalist Dan Bejar would pick up a piece of paper and recite his lyrics like poetry. The performance was intimate, with band members weaving between each other’s melodies. A few songs later, “Tintoretto, It’s for You” opened with a jazz piano accompaniment that metamorphosed into an explosion of synthesisers. Every second left the listener resigned to simply feeling and listening, rather than trying to figure out what shape the sound was taking. The soothing piano chord progression, accompanied by an offbeat pulse and synth, felt like falling into a new, trance-like space.

 In the second half of the show, “It Takes a Thief” shifted the tone. The beat felt like a reckless abandon that you could dance to. It made me recall an interview with Bejar I read a few years ago, where he cited Joni Mitchell’s Blue as one of his favourite albums. Listening to the instruments blend together and work to shift mood, I could feel its influence. The merging of genres created an ever-evolving sound that belonged only to itself. The drummer seemed to be in his own world, improvising rhythmically with the bass player, the keyboardist too, perfectly matching his chords and melodies with the guitarists — I was amazed to hear the lush instrumentals come to life in real time. Before the closer, there was a small break. The crowd quieted down in silent anticipation, then came a beautiful instrumental solo from the trumpet player. He unfolded a melody that melted into the opening bars of “Suicide Demo for Kara Walker.” The entire crowd was captivated and at the end, the band was called back on stage for an encore. The encore ended with Bejar’s cadence “We are slain by that stuff.” Those who were seated rose to their feet to give the band a standing ovation, and they bowed warmly in reception. Leaving the theatre I felt wrapped in the warm afterglow of seeing Destroyer in our home city. — Ashley Wood