Punk rock is not a spectator sport. It’s a communion. And it’s pretty fucking hard to pull off in a venue that fits 18,000. (Green Day can do it, but that’s another review.)
And it was the challenge facing Alexisonfire last night as their Canadian tour with Billy Talent, Cancer Bats and Against Me! came to a close in a sold-out, hometown show.
AOF are road warriors with honed live skills. There’s no question they can blow the roof off clubs and rock open air festival crowds.
But the Air Canada Centre is a cavern requiring grand gestures and clichés, something in which the five-man band don’t exactly specialize. The few hundred kids (and I do mean kids here — I was wearing boots older than some of the young ‘uns in attendance) closest to the stage could be seen experiencing a connection with the band.
But when you’re screamo (deal with it, “post-hardcore” revisionists), how can you really expect to have a successful call/response when thousands of non-fans can’t make out the words? Even those who did simply mouthed along from the safety of their seats, all the band’s fury fizzling into the air.
At least by the end of the short set, AOF’s “blues spiritual” track “The Northern” bleeding into “Young Cardinals” lifted the otherwise wall of fast-paced fuzz well into the rafters, offering a crescendo of emotion to swell the hearts and hormones so clearly about to burst.
Billy Talent, on the other hand, were made for this shit. From the very first note of “Devil In A Midnight Mass” that came throbbing out of Ian D’Sa’s guitar, they took command of the massive crowd. These “four idiots from Mississauga” acted like the biggest rock stars in the world.
I’ve taken to describing Billy Talent, not disparagingly, as the new Loverboy. You know, a Canadian rock band that write one radio hit after another, not exactly breaking new musical ground but having established their sound before most of the copycats get on it and manage to remain cool as they get better and bigger. Like, matter how popular they get, they will never embarrass the nation in the same way as, say, Simple Plan.
How much you enjoy Billy Talent live, of course, will depend on how much you like Ben Kowalewicz yelling at you. In between screeches, he’s got charisma up the butt. He swears a lot. He banters about hockey. He knows what to do when a bra is thrown on stage.
Very little of this is punk rock. (Which might explain the rather wimpy mosh pit that sort of got going.) So what? What this was, in an age of irony, indie and nostalgia, was an authentic arena rock experience, jam-packed with huge hits (“Rusted From The Rain,” “Surrender” “Nothing To Lose,” “Try Honesty”), metal-worthy guitar riffs and cheezeball stunts.
This was just like when they prodded the audience to recreate a moment from their last ACC show in 2007 by lighting the place up with lighters/cell phones. It worked. Yet for all the choreographed jumbotrons and singalongs, there is real genuine sentiment at work here — sincerity super-sized. And so here’s a cliché of my own: it couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch of guys.
March 29, 2010