5 Seconds of Summer + Hey Violet + ONE OK ROCK @ Bell Centre – July 15th, 2016

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There’s something about pop-punk, as a genre, that seems to be quintessentially teenage – no matter how old you are. That’s not a dismissal of bands like Australia’s 5 Seconds of Summer, who bring young blood and new electricity to a sound that is surprisingly timeless. As an adult man, I certainly had doubts about my place at this show as I heard the higher pitches of the overwhelmingly under-21 crowd (and their dads) gather in front of the Bell Centre to sing their favourite songs – but any anxieties I had about generation gaps or culture shock quickly melted away into the energy and music.


If I’d had any impulse to infantilize these acts, opener Hey Violet exploded onto the stage to prove that young bands don’t necessarily play around. The L.A. 5-piece, fronted in equal measure by sisters Rena (vocals) and Nia (drums) Lovelis, showed serious stage presence – backing up their relatively young ages with grit, big smiles, and the confidence of more than 8 years of recording and performing. Supported by a slinky rhythm section of guitar, bass, and synth, Hey Violet’s short set pulled double-duty as a victory lap for their 2015 EP I Can Feel It and a road test for new cuts like diss-track “Fuckboi” and yelpy groove “All We Ever Wanted.” I still had a few sobering moments of grown-up embarrassment (having to Google the term “Fuckboi”; realizing that bands can now unironically cover Justin Bieber like he’s their Lynyrd Skynyrd), but I found myself slipping pretty naturally into Hey Violet’s matrix of power chords, bite, and groove.


Japan’s ONE OK ROCK was the next surprise, kicking off a short, muscular set with songs like “The Way Back” and “Cry Out.” Leaning a little heavier into the emo influences of bands like Yellowcard and Alexisonfire, singer Taka Moriuchi’s melodic high-register is put front and centre, supported (but never overpowered) by his mighty backing band. Though the bulk of their set featured bouncy shreds like the poppy “Decision” and “Suddenly,” ONE OK ROCK isn’t afraid to, well, rock, ending the set with the heavier stakes of “Mighty Long Fall.” Even so, the clear highlight was ballad “Hard to Love,” which Moriuchi dedicated to his father – taking a break from all the high energy to start out with nothing but an acoustic guitar, a shaker, and the waving fireflies of the crowd’s smartphone flashlights.


The main event, Sydney’s 5 Seconds of Summer (which I heard, standing in line, abbreviated many times as “Five-SOS”) first made their bones as a YouTube cover band – but now they’re stars in their own right, touring across the world with their second album Sounds Good Feels Good. Tattooed, fresh-faced, and earnest, the band immediately showed why they’ve been able to connect with so many people – starting with the one-two punch of slow burn “Carry On”’s sincere refrain (“you know it’s gonna get better”) and make-money party anthem “Hey Everybody!”’s Duran Duran melodies.


Having built their audience from the ground up, 5 Seconds of Summer know exactly who they’re playing to, and they’ve honed their songcraft and on-stage personas to a T. That’s not to say that they ever feel forced or inauthentic. Instead, there’s a tireless confidence that can only come from having nothing to prove, freeing the boys up between triumphant mid-tempo rockers like “Waste the Night” and “Vapor” to crack goofy jokes about French, lament how the world right now is “a little messed up,” make earnest pleas to “celebrate life, love, partying, and poutine,” and play tributes to Montreal’s own Simple Plan.


When it comes to trying to pick a standout, I have to defer to the real experts in the crowd – and when plaid-wearing Michael Clifford was left alone at the mic to sing “Jet Black Heart,” they made their voices heard… literally. At frequencies I didn’t know I could process, for four literal minutes, and before even hearing a single note, the crowd shattered sound barriers. For four minutes, Clifford stood there – grinning, dumbfounded. Finally: “Gotta fuckin’ play the song some time.” The crowd was a jet engine.


Though I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to connect to the Bell Centre crowd, I was pretty shocked by how seldom I caught myself thinking: “I’m at a kid’s show.” Hey Violet, ONE OK ROCK, and 5 Seconds of Summer’s hot-blooded brand of music is familiar – but, weirdly enough, this is music that never feels stale or dated. It’s a fact that’s hard to ignore when the whole arena takes a break from Instagramming during the intermission to sing every single word in Wheatus’ “Teenage Dirtbag” – a song that, in 2000, was released before many of them were ever born. There might be something universal about the sound and feeling of being young that actually transcends any particular time – but 5 Seconds of Summer manages to catch just a moment of it.


Hey Violet Setlist:

Make Up
Guys My Age
Sorry [Justin Bieber cover]
I Can Feel It
All We Ever Wanted

ONE OK ROCK Setlist:

The Way Back
Cry Out
Hard To Love
Mighty Long Fall

5 Seconds of Summer Setlist:

Carry On
Hey Everybody!
Voodoo Doll
Don’t Stop
Long Way Home
Outer Space
Waste the Night
Jet Black Heart
End Up Here
Good Girls
Perfect [Simple Plan cover]
Permanent Vacation
What I Like About You [Permanent Romantics cover]


She’s Kinda Hot
She Looks So Perfect

Review – Dan Corber
Photos – Steve Gerrard

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