Minutes after Justin Bieber got off stage in Rogers Arena, We Are The City’s show began at the Imperial, a few blocks down the road. The experimental pop group, made up of Cayne Mckenzie (vocals, synths), David Menzel (guitar), and Andrew Huculiak (percussion), had a certain expectation for their audience: that we all came together to discover something, to find meaning in chaos, to search for purpose in a dark club. Throughout the show, Cayne “shhshhd” the audience, called out an idiotic crowd surfer and mocked a pocket of disruptive jerks close to the front. There was a contract between the audience and performers: that we understood their art and that they would help us find what we came searching for.
We Are The City’s most recent record Above Club walks a subversive line between fleeting escapism and nihilistic tragedy; it’s an album to put on when you want to lose yourself, but one that is constantly questioning this mindset. The Vancouver-based trio, who haven’t played a hometown show in two years, deconstructed the experience of pop music, stripping its form to chaotic discords and philosophically examining the implications of club culture. My favorite track from the recent EP is Club Music, a satire of EDM with an experimental barrage of dance loops and chaotic rhythms. The chorus shouts “Please, let dance music start after we have time to get messed up.”
At one point in between songs, Cayne looked out at the audience and spoke into the mic, “Sometimes there’s nothing to say.” Although they hardly interacted with the audience the eccentric band maintained a level of masterful control throughout their set, subtly rearranging the timing of certain tracks to emphasize certain beats, emotions or lyrics. In Lovers In All Things, Cayne faced the audience and spoke with his hands, as if performing a sermon. “Read the Bible, believe the Bible, need the Bible, believe the Spirit,” he sung gently.
“Friends Hurt,” from their album Violent, begins with the lyric “my home videos won’t mean a thing in fifty years that day will come and all I’ve done is rendered forgotten.” Before playing the song, Andrew Huculiak, the acrobatic drummer, reminded the audience that this moment will happen only once, this singular instance where we’re all gathered together with these particular songs played in this particular way. It’s fleeting.
As a band that subverts expectations, demands the attention of their audience and doesn’t even play their biggest local hit to date, “Happy New Year,” it’s perhaps a little odd that We Are The City finished their set with “Kiss Me, Honey,” by far the most radio-friendly track from Above Club. But this closing track pulled the band’s entire thematic palette into a coherent picture — the feelings of dislocation, the deconstruction of pop music, the desire to seek God and maybe find Him through these chaotic sounds.
During this closing dance track, with the instruments drowning out Cayne’s vocals and our own singing, we were all in another place, including the idiotic crowd surfer, the intoxicated jerks, and everyone I was brushing shoulders with close to the stage. Had we all found what we were looking for?
“Here and now. I can’t figure it out. Here and now. I can’t figure it out. Kiss me honey like you mean it, and repeat it, and repeat it.”