It was the best of venues, it was the worst of venues. Out in the crowd, Place Bell is fantastic. Sightlines are great and the sound is great for an arena, I’d put it up there with a little room we used to call Metropolis, which I never thought I’d say for a venue its size. So here’s the but… getting in your seat is a pain. Maybe it’s lack of staff, as we’re seeing in a lot of places post-pandemic, but you walk right into the venue and beer lines are merging with bathroom lines and it’s hard to get around. I saw people leaving the merch line cause it was simply too long. The hallways are a mess with people frustrated with long lines and sometimes even trying to figure out which line is going where.
That being said, on to the show. Local NOBRO were first up, a band that seemed to be gaining a lot of steam before the world stopped. They are the Lady Ramones and I think the actual Ramones would approve. They seemed to pick up where they had left off. While it took a second for the crowd to warm up, they built up to the first mosh pit I’ve seen in 2 years. The energy was kept at a fever pitch and they left the crowd buzzing.
Next up was Rise Against. By now, I’m likely in double digits seeing this band perform live and I can say they’ve definitely slowed down, but in a good way. It’s like the pitcher who struck batters out with 100mph fastballs when he was young, but later on, had to learn to throw a curveball and still struck everyone out. Now, instead of coming out and kicking you in the teeth, they rely more on frontman Tim McIllrath’s charm and the insane anthemic, chantable quality of their choruses to get to the crowd. It works. Don’t get me wrong, any show that kicks off with Prayer of the Refugee is still a show I’m not bringing grandma to attend, the classics are still there, there’s just a different, warmer quality to it all that fits the band like a glove.
As for the set, the classics were all present and there were a few surprises that pleased hardcore fans. Survive is one of those songs that everyone wants to scream at the top of their lungs after that breakdown hits and they did. It was also the perfect song for the band to dedicate to the people of Ukraine and to everyone who’s had tough 2 years.
Always a highlight of a Rise Against show is the acoustic set. On this night we only got Swing Life Away, but let me tell you, if you’ve never been huddled with a few thousand of your closest complete strangers, singing along to this gem, holding a lighter or your cellphone up in the air, what are you waiting for? Seriously.
And the main event, hailing from Toronto, Ontario, weighing in at a combined weight of somewhere around 600 lbs, Billy Talent. Yes, they still swing like heavyweights. Time forgot to tell these guys that they’ve been at this for 20 years. If I put this night’s performance of Try Honesty up against their early performances, they’d be identical except for the hair.
There’s also a phenomenon happening right now that those of us getting back out there are witnessing. Bands are feeling the catharsis of doing what they love again and it shows. This was the second show of the tour and you could feel the emotion when singer Ben Kowalewicz spoke about the doubt that he’d felt that he’d ever get to do this again.
Having seen the setlist ahead of time, I was a little concerned by how much of it was taken up by the new album, which I wasn’t familiar with, but that didn’t matter. Turns out there’s so many new songs because they hit hard. About a minute into it, Forgiveness I + II became one of my new favourite Billy Talent songs. I put it on as soon as I got back to the car.
Now Montreal, we need to have a chat. Just me and you, okay? We need to talk about how we treat the downtrodden. There are those who have suffered all their lives in ways we can’t possibly imagine. For some people loss, pain and disappointment are part of their everyday lives. I speak of course of Maple Leafs fans. When Toronto musicians talk to us about their condition, we need to support them, not boo. We need to see it as the cry for help it really is.
Fortunately, that was the only booing we heard all night. The crowd was electric. On songs like Fallen Leaves and Red Flag, the floor was jumping all the way to the very back row. As the floor cleared out, there wasn’t a dry armpit in sight and I was very happy to have my mask, even though it was covering a big smile. We’re back! (Knock on wood!)
Review – Richard Brunette
Photos – Steve Gerrard