Ladyhawk Biltmore Cabaret, Vancouver BC, May 2

Ladyhawk Biltmore Cabaret, Vancouver BC, May 2
Photo: Derek Robitaille
One could hardly pick a better setting than the Biltmore to see the last show of Ladyhawk's Decade of Passive Aggression Tour, a homecoming show to cap off the BC hard-rock quartet's cross-Canada victory lap in celebration of their tenth year as a unit.

Things can change a lot over that period of time; the band began its career with an underdog attitude, heavy drugs fuelling a learning curve that swung through Crazy Horse revivalist rock jam sessions, jumping out of the gate with albums in '06 and '08 that were marked by Darcy Hancock's extended guitar solos and Duffy Driediger's ennui-lamenting, self-deprecating lyrics delivered in a haze of pot smoke. They relaxed to a more refined power-pop approach by 2012's No Can Do, which contrasted their onset of mid-30s malaise with leaner, lighter instrumentals.

Though their most recent recordings show a newfound maturity, Ladyhawk started their set fashionably late, keeping their fans waiting until well after midnight to begin. With a fervent intro from Jim Kilpatrick of Shotgun Jimmie (for whose opening set Peters had drummed and Hancock played bass, with Will Kidman of the Constantines providing lead guitar swagger), the boys from the Okanagan were off to the races, quickly showing why they have a solid reputation as one of Canada's premiere live bands.

They kicked off with "I Don't Always Know What You're Saying" from 2008's Shots and smoothly transitioned into "Came in Brave" from their 2006 debut. Despite the late start, their enthusiasm was fiery, immediately getting the crowd shoving and yelling all the words, the beleaguered front row continually bending over the low stage as the rest of the crowd surged back and forth behind. Both the crowd and the band seemed to pick up intensity as the evening progressed, with "Teenage Love Song" receiving an appropriate amount of pogoing and fist pumping, while "The Dugout" earned a couple of ill-advised crowd surfs under the low ceiling.

While the rhythm section provided propulsion, Hancock showcased his shredding skills all night, his newfound less-is-more approach making for immediate impact. Duffy did not demonstrate a lot of vocal range, but there was honesty in his delivery. His torment was palpable as he delivered the line "turning off a little switch in my soul" in "I'm a Witch" (from No Can Do), while Shots ballad "Faces of Death" delivered one of the set's most meaningful moments. Duffy screamed, and lamented "I know there's no such thing as endless love," emoting with no reservation. The band's deeply ingrained dynamic was apparent in the song's stops and starts, leading to a killer, unprovoked singalong to bring the track to a close. That kind of resonance can't be bought or even rehearsed. It is something special, of the moment.

Ladyhawk are, indeed, a tight, skilled quartet, now bolstered by life experience, more focused in their increasingly rare time together but ever rocking out. They do what they do well, better live than on record, with good pacing throughout their set, balancing their more raucous jams with their soul-searching rock ballads. And even though they moved through their set list briskly, Duffy still found time to make humble pleasantries. With all of their potential and sometimes realized star power, they keep it relatable.

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