Review and Photos by Samantha Wu
It’s been 20 solid years of music creation for Irish-English EBM industrial duo VNV Nation and to celebrate this momentous occasion, the band has embarked on a special 12-date Compendium tour that features an intimate three-hour show for fans of select cities. They took their Compendium tour to Toronto earlier this week, a city that holds a special place for singer Ronan Harris who called Toronto home for the early part of the 90’s.
The Compendium show is something truly unique, a VNV show unlike any fans have seen in the past. No opener, just Harris, drummer Mark Jackson and accompanying DJs delivering 20 years of music spanning all their albums. If you were anything like me, who first heard the pulsating infectious beats of “Darkangel” and “Epicentre” at a friend’s house party while being young and impressionable, feeling these beats awaken a new feeling of exhilaration and energy that required being released on a dancefloor, you did not want to miss this show. VNV Nation was my gateway drug to many nights spent on crowded dark dancefloors lit with frantic strobes.
The crowd poured into the Danforth Music Hall early for this show and soon the venue filled. VNV Nation didn’t disappoint opening with “Space and Time” from their Automatic album. From that point they poured out the hits – “Tomorrow Never Comes”, my beloved “Darkangel” and “Epicentre”, and the slower, brooding and melodic “Carbon”. The beauty of this Compendium tour is that no two shows will be alike, no to set lists alike. This particular show belonged to the Toronto Goth and alternative community who hold VNV Nation to a particular high regard.
Two things make a VNV Nation show the spectacle that it is – the music accompanied with Harris’ haunting and emotive vocals and thematic lyrics, and one helluva light show designed by the band and, of course, unique to the show. Strobes, lasers, and colour flooding all make for a visually stunning performance.
I came to this show ready to move and to pour my heart out on the floor, but after shooting my photos, I strangely found myself caught in a throng of people pressed to the front arms outstretched in hopes that Harris would reach out and shake their hand. This is not what I expected for a VNV Nation show – people come here to dance! They come to make use of the whole of this floor to move! That didn’t happen as much this time around which I found strange. As often as Harris called out to the crowd that he wanted to see people dance, in response they stared ahead or shifted around as much as they could while packed in a crowd. Maybe it was how early in the week this show was (a Tuesday) and therefore how far from the weekend it was to make for people being in a less of a partying mood, but the energy from the crowd seemed surprisingly lackluster.
That certainly didn’t take away from the actual show itself as Harris, Jackson and company certainly delivered an immensely powerful and energetic show. Though maybe not as energetic as I’ve seen from VNV Nation shows in the past. Particularly, Harris would normally be pouring with sweat by mid-show from all the dancing and running around on stage he would be doing to hype a crowd. This time around, he was cool as a cucumber. Not saying he wasn’t enthusiastic to interact with the crowd, but he seemed more subdued.
As he’s done in previous shows, Harris informed the crowd to turn the flash off when taking photos. Not so much that the flash was distracting on stage but flash won’t capture the band or the pretty lights well. Don’t you see, he’s doing you a favor! As people didn’t seem to listen, he addressed this again later in the show. While attending the show of an electronic band, people embrace their technology and were happy to capture the experience on social media – tweeting photos (as Harris also commented on) and live-streaming on Facebook. That, Harris embraced, grabbing live-streaming phones from the audience to capture the band up close and personal. At one point Harris even asked for the house lights to be turned on briefly so a guy in the crowd could look for his dropped wallet. It was eventually found and the crowd cheered.
More fan favorites were played throughout the night – “Legion”, “Control” (a ‘song about cars’ that really got the crowd going as they chanted back “I WANT CONTROL!”) “Illusion”, “Sentinal” “Testament”, “Standing”, and “The Farthest Star”. The band took three breaks later in the show, not sure if you would call them ‘multiple encores’ and more so playing a non-stop three-hour show is simply not an easy task. They came back the first time around and dazzled the crowd with “Joy” and “Chrome”.
After a second break, VNV Nation introduced their special guest for the evening – another draw to the Compendium tour is that they welcome a new special guest to each date – Stephen Groth of the Norwegian futurepop group Apoptygma Berzerk – who entertained the crowd with “Kathy’s Song (Come Lie Next to Me)” with Harris singing backup. The audience ate this up, singing the lyrics right back. It was a beautiful moment made even better by VNV Nation following it up with “Beloved”. Everyone loves “Beloved” and the emotions flowed.
Following their final break, VNV Nation closed the show, somewhat surprisingly, with “Electronaut” – an instrumental track, something I didn’t expect them to choose to end the night with. The laser show that came with the song looked amazing.
Though the energy from both the crowd and the band were somewhat off I should say, the show was simply amazing. Once again, VNV Nation never fails to deliver a performance filled with wonder, joy, hope and even a few tears. Here’s to 20 more years.
Space & Time
Tomorrow Never Comes
The Great Divide
The Farthest Star
Kathy’s Song (Come Lie Next to Me) – with Apoptygma Berzerk
If I Was