Gig Review: Catfish and the Bottlemen with Jamie N Commons at The Phoenix

I woke up on Saturday morning feeling like I hadn’t been to a concert in years. I had seen Taylor Swift two weeks before and George Ezra and James Bay a couple months before that, but I was missing dark, packed venues and intimate settings. Although I loved both of the aforementioned shows, there’s a huge difference between fifty thousand screaming fans in the Rogers Centre or a random outdoor venue and a familiar theatre that I’ve been to multiple times before. At this point, there are a lot of venues where I really feel at home, and I like that.

The Catfish and the Bottlemen show sort of crept up on me. I felt like we bought the tickets years ago, and it wasn’t until a couple weeks before the gig that I actually remembered that it was happening. So I started listening to The Balcony once again, getting into a certain mood and playing “Fallout” and “Business” so many times that they were on constant loop in my brain. Even so, the day didn’t really feel out of the ordinary until we were lined up outside of The Phoenix and the entire band walked past us and into a car. And then it felt really, really real, and I remembered just how excited I was to be there. That’s when it gets good.

Before this concert, I had missed at least two chances to see the band perform. As usual, they started out with small Toronto venues, meaning that they were always nineteen plus and I could never go. Finally being able to go to one of their shows felt really special, since I’ve been following them for at least a year and a half. Needless to say that once the excitement kicked in, it was full-on and I couldn’t stop thinking about how good it was all going to be.

Before I actually start getting into the review, let me just get a word in about the playlists that bands play before they even come on stage, when anxious fans are filing into the building, packed like sardines to get as close to the barrier as possible. I love these playlists. So much. I can’t even imagine waiting for a show without music streaming through the speakers, mingling with the voices that fight for airspace. We walked in to “Kids” by MGMT, and then an onslaught of some of my favourite songs continued on, including “1901” by Phoenix, and “Someday” by The Strokes. That last one had me suddenly putting my hands in the air and yelling the lyrics at Katelyn and Amelia. It was exciting.

An hour later, the opening act, Jamie N Commons, waltzed onstage. Tall and lanky, draped in a patterned poncho, and I had a feeling that he was going to be something else. I was instantly taken aback by his talent, every word sounded as though it was ripped out of him, tearing both him and the audience to shreds. The crowd got crazy and involved, which is unusual for an opener, and he declared multiple times that although it was the last show of the tour, it was also the best. I enjoyed his entire set, but it wasn’t until he played “Broken and Breathless” and “Is Your Love Still Strong” that I actually thought that I would listen to him again. (I have since found out that neither of these songs can be found online, which is slightly depressing.) Then it all got really intense, and it felt a lot like his own show, rather than an opening act. It was incredible, really.

Just over half an hour after Jamie, the lights dimmed for real, the venue got smoky, and Catfish and the Bottlemen made a forceful appearance. They opened with “Rango,” and it was all red and white lights and powerful instrumentals and Van running around the stage excitedly. I was captivated immediately. It felt really good to be back in one of my favourite settings. Concerts make me feel excited and at home and happy and this one was no exception.

A few songs later and the band started in on “Fallout” and I could feel the electricity coursing through my veins. This is possibly my favourite song on the album, and the bridge is everything I need in life, so singing along at the top of my lungs was inevitable. There’s something incredibly magical about yelling your favourite lyrics back to your favourite bands. Everything outside the venue seems to stop and you just start cherishing every single second that passes. (Or that could just be me. Let me know in the comments if I’m crazy or not.)

The set continued with “Business” and “Kathleen” and “Homesick,” each song building and building as the concert went on. The crowd got more involved, repeating the lyrics in unison and filling in when Van took a step back from the microphone just to hear what all his fans sound like. That’s always a special moment, the realization that the lead is no longer singing and the crowd taking it upon themselves to sing instead. The band smiling, in awe of what’s happening, and the audience smiling back at them. Add that to the long list of reasons why I love concerts.

After “Homesick” came “Hourglass.” Everything got dark again, every band member but Van left the stage, out came an acoustic guitar, and the entire crowd knew exactly what was going to happen next. The opening chords wafted out of the speakers and the audience joined in, softly singing along with every word. The only lights were on Van, it felt extremely intimate, and everyone was focused on him and the incredible song he was playing. Pure magic.

It all ended almost too quickly, the band finishing off with “Cocoon” and “Tyrants.” It felt cathartic to stand there, nearing the end of the gig, yelling “nothing’s alright, believe me” at the top of your lungs along with a thousand other people. The night was great. Contrary to the song lyrics, everything really did feel alright. Van took demos from people in the crowd, looking genuinely interested as he scanned each one. The crowd sang along passionately to every single word. There was so much jumping and moving that the floor was actually shaking. I left with sore ears and a voice that was almost gone, disintegrating by the second. It was a wonderful way to spend my Saturday night, and I haven’t stopped listening to Catfish and the Bottlemen since. I’m already itching to see them again, and I sincerely hope that that happens soon.


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