Review and Photos – The Cat Empire at The Commodore Ballroom, Vancouver, Nov 20 2023
The pre-show music faded out, and the lights dimmed. People were still buzzing in the Commodore Ballroom, chatting with their friends and grabbing drinks before The Cat Empire was meant to begin; slowly the focus shifted. A faint drumming and a spotlight directed attention to the front left of the room, and the crowd began to move and push to see what was happening. The band was entering—not onto the stage, but into the crowd itself, in a procession resembling a marching band.
Seeing the reaction to this, it was clear how stoked everyone was to be at the show that night. When the band took the stage and started the concert with “Thunder Rumbles,” the crowd was immediately on their feet and dancing, taking up as much space as possible and screaming along to the lyrics.
The Cat Empire used up every square inch of the Commodore stage, with drums, guitars, percussion, a brass section, and eight musicians filling out their touring lineup. Their lineup has changed many times over the years, with some core members of the band leaving in the past couple of years. Those in the audience who don’t know this history would be none the wiser, as the band felt full and complete, as if they’ve performed and made music together for years.
This shifting lineup has impacted their music in very interesting ways. From song to song, the genre shifted: from jazz to funk, to latin vibes and to caribbean influence, and back and around. In one song, clear country sounds came through, while the next was sung entirely in Seychellois creole French by beautifully talented performer Grace Barbé. It kept the performance interesting and the audience on their toes—what would come next?
Beyond genre bending, another highlight of this show was the lighting design. At all times the stage was lit up monochromatically and fully, adding to the vibrancy of the show. That being said, if naught for a well placed pole I was able to dip my eyesight behind, I would have been blinded by the continuously moving stage lights, aimed towards the audience. I saw other people experiencing the same thing, and hiding behind their hands for much of the show. But hey—the effect of these bright lights was a well lit crowd, and being able to see people grooving along to the music made it all worth it.
The emotional apex of the night came near the end, when frontman Felix Riebl shared that he had recently lost his younger brother to an aggressive form of brain cancer. Riebl told the crowd that he connects with his brother now best through performing, before playing a song that he wrote in his brother’s memory, “Be With You Again.” It was a touching and impactful tribute, and performed beautifully.
There is so much more to say about this performance. From the incredible musical talents on display, to the stunning solos that each musician performed, this high-energy set did not let up. The Cat Empire is one of those bands who shines through in a live performance, and I couldn’t have asked for a better way to spend a Monday night.
More The Cat Empire at The Commodore Ballroom photos: