Foreign Air + Honors @ Le Ministère – 6th April 2019

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Foreign Air is still a growing band – the majority of their discography is a string of singles they’ve been releasing over the past few years – yet when a friend insisted I go to their show last Saturday, I left disappointed. They often get mentioned in the same sentence as better-known bands like Glass Animals or Alt-J, and admittedly based on just their recordings it might be easy to throw them in the same electronic alt-pop bin, but their live show made me understand why their fans are a vocal bunch. 

Opener Honors hyped up the crowd by asking all to raise a hand before counting off to their first song. Lead vocal duties were traded between Patrick Gillett, also on guitar, and Cameron Hunter, who contributed via launchpad when singing backup or mouthing along lyrics. For “Opener,” Hunter took out his phone and used its LED to drive home the lyrics, “sunk down for too long, been lost in the dark/ Please hold out your light.” Pausing for a moment to introduce themselves, they expressed how good it was to be back in Canada close to their Toronto home, and even got a few cheers when they asked if anyone was there to see them. After “Over,” the first song the band wrote as Honors, the rest left drummer Andrew Martino (“Marty”) to flex his chops against a medley of tracks that reflected the band’s musical influences, going from rock to hip-hop. Marty continued to make himself known during auto-tune heavy “Feel Better,” chucking sticks across the venue at someone I hope was his friend. The band kept up their high energy through to their final number, clearing out a runway in the middle of Le Ministère and getting people’s hands up – both this time – to end with a bang.

Foreign Air kicked off their set with an unreleased number, marked as “Paranoid” on the setlist, against purple and red flashes from a tower of lights bisecting the stage. From the same set piece, strobes flashed like the stuttering guitars of “Lying.” Then newest single “The Therapist” gave singer Jesse Clasen the chance to show off some live filters and effects as he distorted his vocals to match bandmate Jacob Michael’s gritty guitar. Clasen’s falsetto at the start of “Loud Magic” right afterward stood in stark contrast, before the song’s dancy beat dropped in to get people moving. The bell-like synths and chopped vocals texturizing the chorus of “Caffeine,” reminiscent of Glass Animals, still had enough Foreign Air flavor to only vaguely warrant the comparison. The strobe came back for another cut yet to be released, “Pretty Nice,” this time as the only thing accompanying a punchy pitched vocal sample that flared up at key points of the song.

Clasen took a sip of his beer, impressed that it had been offered in a glass, and asked if anyone present had seen them the last time they’d been in Montreal opening for Bishop Briggs. A healthy cheer confirmed this, and he did the same, looping his “whoo!” into a processor that pitched it down and echoed it back, joking, “this is what I like to do in my free time.” He earnestly thanked the fans that had come to support them at this stop in their very first headline tour and apologized that he was just getting over a cold, impersonating his apparently gruff-voiced manager insisting the frontman drink water.

The barreling toms of “Wake Me Up” did just that for the crowd as the music was brought back, supplemented by Clasen switching up his usual keyboard with softly strummed guitar chords. A saxophonist joined them for another new song, “Westerneers” to bounce a melody between himself and the keyboard line. Pulsing sub cued in some of the crowd to sing along with “Chakra Daemon,” one of the band’s more popular tunes. The familiar yodel of the Walmart kid, sampled fresh off the meme when single “Used to You” was released last year, was next. The band paused again, this time so Michael could share his sincere appreciation for the faces in the crowd validating the hard work of being independent artists.

The catchy hook of “In the Shadows” encouraged fans that have known the band since their 2016 EP For the Light to sing along. “Turning” followed it with touches of acoustic guitar that stuck around for “Everything is Good Now.” Finally, Clasen addressed concertgoers one last time, excusing their conspicuous lack of a full-length with a story about their new material still residing in boxes shipped during their recent cross-country move from NYC to LA, implying it would come soon. He got serious for a moment, explaining they were missing a member of their tour as he’s Venezuelan and had complications getting a Canadian visa, then brightened the mood making fast-forward sounds after requesting the crowd simply pretend the band left and returning for an encore. Everyone played along with loud cheers before the band delivered their debut and still most popular song, “Free Animal.”

As an indie band, complete creative control is a given, but breaking even is sadly not as easily guaranteed. Foreign Air’s streaming numbers already speak towards the band being one of the luckier ones, but even as they continue to grow their sound and fanbase, their live set inspired all the confidence I needed to foresee them having a successful future.

Review – Dylan Lai

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