What: Billy Talent with Alexisonfire, Against Me!, and Cancer Bats
Where: Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre
Rating: 4 (out of five)
The high value-for-dollar quotient of last night’s Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre concert might have had more to do with the current economic climate — Olympics, anyone? — than the acts on stage.
The opening night of Billy Talent’s 19-date tour of Canada featured an extremely solid lineup, with enough visibility to warrant its arena-sized ambition. A quartet of rock and punk acts spread over four and and a half hours, all for the price (in the late going, at least) of a case of beer — hard to argue with that in a depressed economy.
The headliner had all sorts of time on stage, double that of Alexisonfire or Against Me! and triple the time alotted to Cancer Bats. Not surprisingly, theirs was the best-received set of the night. But if there’s a downside to a full night of Billy Talent material, it’s the sound of Ben Kowalewicz’s shrieking voice. Songs like “White Sparrows” and “Rusted From the Rain” fared best early on, as they give Kowalewicz the ability to sing rather than scream, the only tool in his shed that still needs work in the live setting.
His endless energy and easy appeal needs no such tinkering. After “Line and Sinker”, the frontman donned a Sidney Crosby T-shirt to a roar from the crowd of 4,500, which skewed younger but was by no means pre-pubescent (his 81 year-old grandmother, who lives in Parksville, was attending her first Billy Talent concert last night.)
“Let them have football,” he said, proudly sporting the red and white tee. “Hockey is f—ing ours.”
On the heels of the first two opening acts — one solid, one so-so — it took Alexisonfire all of two minutes to exert a similar influence. And once it had the audience in its grip, the punk powderkeg was combustible.
With three frontmen (singers Dallas Green and Wade MacNeil and screamer George Pettit) the band’s energy level was spectacular to watch. “We are not the kids we used to be,” singer-guitarist MacNeil sang on “Old Crows”, as his bandmates flailed about.
All those yesterdays ago, Alexisonfire was a different entity. Pettit, for one, would have been covered in blood and/or half-bare at some point in the show; last night, the closest Pettit got to being naked was during the band’s power ballad, “The Northern”, during which he sang and played keyboards. There were occasional blotches on the pavement — be it the slight crack in Dallas Green’s voice or the set’s overall hurried feel — but Alexisonfire has no shame in its game.
Against Me! opened its hard-charging set with a few tinklings of piano courtesy of Victoria’s Tyson Yerex (on loan from local band Acres of Lions) which quickly segued into “Because of the Shame” from the band’s upcoming album, White Crosses. The three-minute barrage was an eventful beginning to a 35-minute set that seemed to breeze by, like most on this night, in a flash.
Frontman and founder Tom Gabel rides a delicate balance between pop songsmith and protest singer. He was at his best during “White People For Peace” and “Stop!”, both crisp-sounding tenets from Against Me!’s classic full-length from 2007, New Wave. Their set was a highlight.
The night opened with a thunderclap in the form of “Hail Destroyer”, the title track from the Cancer Bats’ 2008 release. Liam Cormier’s vocals were somewhat indistinguishable from the punk-metal sturm and drang. Cormier’s vocal clarity didn’t improve much during the remainder of the Cancer Bats’ set.
By the night’s end, everyone was spent, especially Billy Talent. No wonder why. Not only did they close with a quartet of huge hits (“Try Honesty”, “Devil on My Shoulder”, “Fallen Leaves”, and “Red Flag”) they carried the crowd on their back, Crosby-style, for what seemed like an eternity. Theirs was a gold-medal performance.
March 4, 2010