On one hand, Jeremy Enigk had good reason to be thrilled by the more-or-less rapturous reception given to Sunny Day Real Estate at Vancouver’s CommodoreBallroom on Thursday. Night one of the emo pioneers’ reunion tour found just under 700 fans partying like it was 1995, the last time the original lineup of Enigk, guitarist Dan Hoerner, bassist Nate Mendel, and drummer William Goldsmith hit the stage together.
On the other?
“You have to bear with me,” Enigk announced one song into the night. “I’m having trouble with my vocal cords. So if you know the lyrics, sing along.”
No one did of course, which was no slight on distortion-smeared offerings like “Friday” or “Iscarabaid,” but more a reflection on the fact that proper enunciation isn’t high on Enigk priority list. For the most part, attempting to sing along was as pointless as trying to decipher “Louie Louie” as sung by a half-cut Keith Richards.
Those looking for a spectacle went home disappointed. Arriving on a plain stage in jeans and T-shirts, Sunny Day Real Estate came across as the kind of regular guys who end up working in mail-sorting, save for Goldsmith, whose industrial-looking headphones suggested he spends his days parking planes at SeaTac Airport.
Apart from bass-playing bobblehead Mendel (obviously an old hand at big gigs as a member of Foo Fighters), the band was tentative in the early going — 14 years of dormancy will cause some stiffness — but the unfailingly polite Canadians clapped their asses off anyway. Six songs in, though, the band finally had shaken the rust off — a now-shirtless Goldsmith bludgeoned his kit during a shock-and-awe “Shadows” while Hoerner unleashed sheets of shoegazing guitar violence; Enigk got lost in the moment, geysers of sweat exploding off his bald head. MVP of the night Goldsmith put on nothing less than a clinic during the marauding thumper “Red Elephant,” then upped his game for the all-out assault of “Song About An Angel,” which crashed across the finish line with all three of the band’s front-line players gathered around Goldsmith in a circle, backs to the audience, obviously in awe.
Only marginally less impressive was the debut of a new Sunny Day Real Estate number, appropriately titled “New Song,” where the guitars suggested someone has a minor thing for the beginning of the Who’s “Baba O’Riley.” Enigk announced the number as a work in progress, but that didn’t stop Hoerner from grinning like he’d just won the Powerball lottery.
By the time they encored with “In Circles,” the signature track from 1994’s classic Diary, Hoerner wasn’t the only one in the Commodore with a shit-eating smile plastered on his face. The crowd proceeded to unravel in the best possible way, making for the night’s indisputable highlight. As his bandmates crashed along through the song’s dramatic peaks and valleys, Enigk stood at center stage, howling. Even though he was no doubt in a world of pain thanks to his broken voice, it was beautiful.