The lineup outside of the walls of the place the locals so affectionately call "Dicks On Dicks" consists of about ten people. It's a few minutes past eight o'clock, the official 'doors open' time for this, Sean Lennon's first solo show in Vancouver since 1999. There is truly an odd mix of people in the lineup for the show; the middle-aged Beatles obsessives are the ones that really stick out like a duck's ass. After a few minutes of waiting and a generous frisking outside the club's inner sanctuary, we are ushered into the scummy little bar.
As the minuscule crowd gathers around the sticky bar tables and wobbly barstools, opening act 8mm takes the stage. The group (consisting of former NIN/Marilyn Manson engineer Sean, his wife Juliette, and drummer Jon Nicholson) plays trip-hop-oriented 'alternative' music reminiscent of early Portishead or Goldfrapp. Their sound is built largely from pre-recorded sequences via Sean's stack of sequencers and filters and the cooing vocals of R. Unfortunately, the group isn't getting much of a break here in their first Canadian appearance. There is a grand total of two people on the dance floor, and the rest of the half-assed crowd is distributed amongst the barstools lining that area, like a bunch of perverted girl-watching drinkers. Sounds harsh, but there is some truth here; there are quite a few whistles coming from male patrons in response to lead singer R's choice of attire.
Sadly, the beautiful girl with the tight red dress carries less presence than the enthusiastic backing by the drummer and guitarist, who seem to thoroughly enjoy playing the music that they do. Juliette is, quite simply, a rather uninteresting performer on this occasion. This is why the most memorable song of their set is "Forever and Ever Amen," a track where Sean takes over the lead vocal position. After nine songs of distilled, rigid performance, the band finally allows themselves to get a little unhinged for their final song, the aptly titled "Give It Up." The apathetic audience gives them some obligatory farewell applause, and the band exits the stage, leaving me to believe that this band would be much more interesting on record.
After at least half an hour’s worth of equipment shuffling and audience member repositioning, Sean Lennon and his band approach the stage. I feel a tinge of excitement to see Yuka Honda position herself behind the keyboards, as the group launches into the opening chords of the title track of Friendly Fire. Sean is an entertaining performer who peppers in comical little anecdotes between some otherwise straightforward performances of his songs. He is a charming man with a deadpan wit, which he uses to share his thoughts on such deep subjects as Pamela Anderson ("Pamela Anderson is Canadian? It's just that she's so American. But you know the one good thing about Pamela Anderson? She'll never drown. Okay, that was inappropriate.") and clouds ("They look like they're taking a nap on the mountaintops.").
This is a show of limited surprises when looking at the choice of songs (one B-side and only one track chosen from Into The Sun). But all things considered, Lennon and his band turned in an incredibly tight, thoroughly enjoyable performance. The sound was almost flawless, the bass tone was nice and phat (note the exceptional use of a fancy hip-hop adjective there), except for some slight buzz from Sean's acoustic guitar. One of the most enjoyable performances of the evening was the inclusion of Friendly Fire outtake "Piano Epic," which sounded far more interesting in the live format, versus the rather uninteresting MP3 available on his MySpace account.
The one misstep in the set was a recalculation of the boppy "Headlights," which Lennon and his band opted to take from a mid-tempo clap-along to a higher-tempo rock number. Unfortunately, the new pacing of the song leaves it feeling slightly empty and drives the chorus' hook beneath a surface of distraction. That said, if the group had continued to play each song in such a similar manner to the album, it could have left the gig feeling contrived. So "Headlights" became the suicide bomber in the set, designed to lift up the remainder of the songs.
What is most apparent during this evening is the fact that Lennon has mellowed, and his music has become slightly more melancholic than that of his Into The Sun days. After a ridiculously obvious encore cue after a vastly extended cover of Marc Bolan's "Would I Be The One," Lennon re-emerges to perform an intimate solo acoustic version of "Tomorrow." The song thrives without the hindrance of the additional musicianship in the background, leaving him with more room to extend notes, prolong rests between chorus and verse, and play with his captive audience. He is an engaging performer who doesn't seem to mind if anyone else is enjoying what he's doing.
"I have to play a song from my first record," quips Lennon, as the rest of his backup entourage joins him on the stage once more. There is more truth to this statement than I think he is aware; had he opted not to rewind his life for that moment, this gig wouldn't have had the same kind of impact. Sure, it's understandable if he doesn't want to have to play ten-year old songs that don't have a lot of relevance to him now, but this is not the case with the audience, who is waiting for such a moment with much anticipation. The crowd gives an enthusiastic cheer as the band begins to play "Mystery Juice," the first track on Into The Sun. One couldn't help but wonder if there would be a distortion-filled chorus a la 1998, and when the moment finally arrived, it didn't seem cheesy, but incredibly satisfying.
As the band meandered along the song's addendum, Sean concluded the evening with a warm thank you and a "see you next time," which is an incredibly encouraging thing to hear from a person who waits eight years between album releases. And while this set of 12 songs did seem relatively short, there is something to say for leaving one’s audience wanting more. Which is precisely what Lennon did: leave these Dicks on Dicks patrons yearning for more. Perhaps if Friendly Fire manages to create enough forward momentum, we, as music listeners, won't have to wait so long for the next solo release by Mr. Sean Lennon.