For some reason I always had it in my head when thinking about the move to Vancouver that I would go to many concerts. This didn’t make an awful lot of objective sense since I don’t go to at all many at home where my financial situation is far more stable. But with this in mind I started doing little bits of Last FM research to see who was going to be in Vancouver when I was and very early on I discovered that The National and The Walkmen would be arriving shortly after me and playing something called the Malkin Bowl. Unfortunately I lacked any means of buying tickets online and when one of the dates sold out months ago I assumed the second night, announced shortly afterwards, was a lost cause too. Luckily a few days before said show, my favourite New Zealander of all time told me that there were still tickets and that was it really, there was no way we weren’t going.
At this stage we already knew that the Malkin Bowl was an outdoor theatre in Stanley Park (we had seen it on that first visit) and Vancouver played a blinder by providing us with a really lovely evening: warm and still with the odd cloud framed in the sunset. The Walkmen were about halfway through their set when we arrived and instead of going straight in we sat outside on the grass, among a crowd of decidedly hipsterish picnicers, and from that comfortable vantage point could hear them perfectly. Strolling in to catch their last song we found the Malkin Bowl to be smaller than expected and the crowd incredibly relaxed. Several people had spread blankets out at the back and were watching from the ground. We could easily have edged our way closer to the front but everybody in the crowd had so much respect for personal space we didn’t feel right about doing so, besides the venue is actually small enough that from where we stood, at the very back of the standing folks, we were about 5m from Matt and Co, near enough to see every change of facial expression.
The band kicked off the show with Runaway and from the moment they began to play they had the entire crowd mesmerised. It wasn’t a concert to go mad dancing- everybody was too busy staring at the stage and the amazing things happening there. There was a ridiculous amount of talent present, as well as the band there was the amazing Padma Newsome (has her own band called the Clogs apparently, must check them out) on violin and keyboard, and a brass section. It never occurred to me how much goes into every National song until I saw one being created. Every song was beautifully rendered, the sounds they made far outstripping the recorded version, the perfect accompaniment to a gorgeous night, in fact it might have been the night itself that cinched it, the backdrop of stars just made every song seem that bit more elegant and special.
The band breezed through the best of their back catalogue: Fake Empires, Mistaken for Strangers, Karen, Squalor Victoria, an intoxicating Mr. November. The only time my friend and I took our eyes off the stage was to look at each other and say ‘EPIC!’ The crowd went just as mad for new favourites off High Violet, Terrible Love, England and Vanderlyle Crybaby had already been receiving special attention on my ipod, there’d been stirrings of hmm yes I like this song, but in Stanley Park it turned into love and they got full National anthem status.
The only minus to an otherwise plus packed evening was the show’s early finish. Nobody was ready to leave when the band finished their encore but I’ve since learned Malkin Bowl has an early curfew and it wasn’t long after ten when we were making our way back to the bus stop, going blow by blow through our favourite bits and getting overcome by a fresh wave of awe over the brilliance of them every few minutes.
On the bus we started considering our options for post party merriment. The simplest thing was to hop off on Granville, where all the most wonderful nightlife is said to be and take our chances on wherever was making the most noise. At some point we got talking to some Canadians who had been at the concert and asked them where we could go that would provide good tunes for a bitta dancing. They put us off the clubs on Granville, telling us Thursday was not the best night to try them out and advised us to come along to the Cambie, a pub in Gas Town, instead. Gas Town is an older, less shiny part of the city which we were rather eager to see anyway. While not the sweaty dancefest we’d envisioned when we decided to go out the Cambie is definitely going to become a haunt. It’s a proper old fashioned pub: dimly lit, loud with chat, scruffy furniture and playing the most delightfully cheesy music. Thursday nights are for students, which means $12 pitchers of extremely drinkable honey ale and an absolutely brilliant atmosphere. We sat with our new Canadian friends but soon got talking to other patrons who were all noticeably up for the craic, though they did look at us like we were serial killers when we got up and started dancing despite the obvious lack of a dancefloor. It was the pub’s own fault for playing The Beatles Ob La Di, you never hear that out at home, we couldn’t NOT dance. We calmed down afterwards by playing an arcade game called Shoot the Elk. That’s right, there is a real live Canadian game where the object is to shoot as many deer as possible while sparing the cows (there were turkeys as well but I’m not sure if shooting them was a plus or a minus on the score front). I was woeful at it. But must thank those lovely Canadians for providing such worthy entertainment after that amazing concert, and for buying us rather alot of food. They sell hummus in pubs here you know.