Show Review – July Talk & Metric in Toronto, ON

Who: July Talk & Metric
When: April 26, 2019
Where: Scotiabank Arena, Toronto ON

Photo Credit: B Hartling

The night began with a short opening set from singer-songwriter Murray Lightburn, who is best known as the frontman of The Dears. The crowd was still sparse during his performance, but those who were present enjoyed a set that included a number of songs from his newly released sophomore album, Hear Me Out. The album’s 50’s inspired sway is a far cry from almost anything in his back catalogue but is nonetheless executed beautifully. The live performance meanwhile, was stripped down a bit, with Lightburn’s acoustic guitar carrying more weight, effecting a more predictable but still solid sound that started the night off nicely.

As someone who has been to their fair share of concerts, I will say one thing that struck me immediately about July Talk: they are loud. Even the softer moments in their set are loud. They filled every second of their allotted time with sound, making their entrance to much applause as a massive wave of feedback rolled off the stage. With music building slowly behind her, singer Leah Fay started the set by acknowledging the indigenous lands on which Toronto stands, wrapping up her introduction with the message: “We can all do better. We can start by taking care of each other tonight.” It was a touching way to kick off a set which then absolutely exploded as they launched into “Headsick”.

With a break barely long enough for singer and guitarist Peter Dreimanis to ask the crowd “Will you help us sing a love song?”, they then led the crowd in dancing through their breakthrough hit “Guns + Ammunition” followed by “Now I Know” from their most recent album, Touch.  From there they moved into unreleased material, playing four new songs: “Pay For It” a beautiful song which Fay sang most of while holding hands with members of the crowd; “Still Sacred Can Fall”, which they had played live only twice before; single-worthy song “The News” with it’s super catchy lyrics and awesome riff, and rounding out the new material was “Pretender”. The songs are a promising glimpse at what July Talk have been up to.

Taking a brief detour into older material, the band played singles “Summer Dress”, and later, “The Garden”. Regardless of what they were playing, July Talk never lacked for energy. Dreimanis’ default setting looks something like Ian Curtis on figure skates, while Fay was bouncing herself halfway out of her suit jacket and at one point invited the audience to “Get weird!” before pulling down a massive lunar balloon floating above the stage and whipping it around to the crowd’s delight, only occasionally knocking it into her bandmates.

The last third of their set began with the title track from their 2016 album Touch followed by the album’s four singles, all of which were Top 5 hits on the Billboard Canadian Rock Chart– and July Talk proved exactly why. Fay and Dreimanis put their unfailing energy and stage chemistry on display with “Back + Call”, brought some colour to the stage with “Lola + Joseph”, got the crowd clapping along to “Picturing Love”, and finally closed their epic 14 song set with #1 hit “Push + Pull”.

The lights came up on an arena now over two thirds full and as they came near to going down again, people streamed in by groups of four and five. The floor was flooded with eager fans and the multitudes in the seats got on their feet as Metric burst onto the stage with “Dead Disco” a song that can still ignite a crowd fifteen years after its release on their debut album, which is exactly what it did. From there they moved into Twilight Galaxy, with its classic Metric lyrics: simple, yet catchy; sincere, but still ambiguous enough to be widely appealing.

The first song they played from Art of Doubt was their latest single “Risk”. Over the course of it’s more than five-minute run, “Risk” crashes through waves of cinematic instrumentation and offers an impressive demonstration of Emily Haines’ vocal ability. The performance considerably outstripped the radio edit in length, though it’s hardly out-of-place on the new album, with half of its twelve tracks coming in at about five minutes or longer. If there’s one inarguable thing to be said about Metric, it’s that they have intense staying power. In fact, at six minutes “Risk” was only a small fragment of a set that filled nearly two hours.

Next came the epic “Breathing Underwater” which Haines described in an invitation to fans to embrace whatever the song made them feel: “It sounds like something you would say … like a winner, right? Sure, man. There are euphorias to be had. But what I need to tell you is that song functions equally for when you are absolutely feeling like you are drowning, and you can’t believe it. You can’t believe it, that you are actually surviving, thriving, drowning.”

The rollercoaster of a show continued with the titular “Art of Doubt”, which has a jagged-edged intensity that comes in by surprise. They went on to display the flip side of their new sound with the dip and swell of album-closer “No Lights On The Horizon” which continues to masterfully straddle the line between rock and pop.

For the bulk of their 19 song set, Metric moved back and forth between classics like “Cascades” and “Love Is A Place”, as well as new material like the unforgettable “Dressed To Suppress”, and “Underline the Black”. They got the crowd moving with “Gimme Sympathy” and Sick Muse” and carried their momentum right through to the end with chart-topper “Gold, Guns, Girls”.

After a brief pause, they came back for an encore with “Dark Saturday”, followed by a handful of older songs, including “Help I’m Alive” which Haines used to craft a beautiful moment with the crowd, honouring the memories of those who have passed on. Finally, they closed the set with “Now Or Never Now”. The song is bittersweet, and at once victorious and full of struggle. It’s a complex note to go out on, but that’s the exact sort of emotional contrast that defines the music of Metric. Or, to put it more concisely, as Haines did in a proud proclamation from the stage: “Feel all the feelings! That’s the purpose of Metric in your life: Feel all the feelings!”

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