By Cristina Dirlea
The Danforth Music Hall hosted three California indie rock bands last Friday, with The Neighbourhood (The NBHD) as the highly anticipated headliners. Five minutes before doors opened the line-up was 2 kilometers long, according to a Facebook update of a fellow Citizen Edge writer, Amrit Sandhu. By the time I arrived at 7:15 the line was still snaking for about 200 meters but moving fast enough to keep fans excited and prevent frustration. The crowd was about 90% female and, as expected at an “All Ages” show, lots of young music lovers who would proceed to express themselves with high-pitched cheers. The benefit, however, was that the average height of the attendees was on the lower side and coupled with the venue’s slanted floor allowed for a better view of the stage than other venues.
HUNNY dove right into their set, celebrating the same-day release of their latest EP “Pain/Ache/Loving”. They seemed genuinely happy to be on stage and instantly ignited the atmosphere. HUNNY had the crowd already clapping in unison during their first song and kept up the pace throughout their half hour set. Their poppy indie rock would be a great addition to any road trip soundtrack, perfect for bobbing your head or rocking out in your seat.
The time between acts didn’t stretch long enough to let enthusiasm sag, but just enough to replenish drinks or enjoy The Danforth Music Hall’s famously delicious popcorn. Venue staff were numerous, thus making sure that any questions were addressed quickly and that the crowded concert hall was easily navigated, barely having to wait in any lines. During one of the breaks I spotted a young woman sporting a “Coheed and Cambria” hoodie, proving the music versatility of the crowd, as well as the fact that genres no longer define musical preference.
The loud cheers and screams that erupted from the audience as the next band, Bad Suns, took the stage, made me think the headliners were going to appear instead. I had never heard so much excitement for opening bands. It turned out that the youngsters had a good reason: Bad Suns delivered quality alternative rock with pumped up beats and sing-along hooks, as found in their single “Cardiac Arrest”, further enhanced by a relaxed yet passionate stage presence. The large screen behind the stage showed their logo breaking up, in cracked mirror fashion, the visuals adding to their seasoned performance. Lead singer Christo Bowman pumped up fans between songs and even between lyrics. He gave numerous shout-outs to Toronto and genuinely thanked NBHD fans for making it possible to tour with their friends. Bowman took every opportunity to reach down and shake hands with fans, even after their set had ended, showing humble dedication to the people contributing to their success. Due to their down-to-earth enthusiasm and stage presence, Bad Suns ended up being my favourite band of the night.
At one point I joined the wallflowers towards the back, who turned out to be concert photographers (one of them even playing chess with his girlfriend on their phones). The view was much better from there, which was a relief given that the crowd was impenetrable.
A cascade of strobe lights flooded the entire venue, as headliners The Neighbourhood took the stage, eliciting incendiary shrills from the entire audience. Their trademark black & white theme was illuminating the screen at the back of the stage, transforming the band members into black silhouettes. Vocalist Jesse Rutherford engaged the crowd from the start: “How are you doing on this side? How about over here?” as he moved from one end of the stage to the other, to reach as many fans as possible. The music sounded louder than before, covering teenage screams, but occasional microphone feedback drowned out Rutherford’s voice. Fortunately, the incredible musical performance by the rest of the band and the mind-bending light show were enough to forgive minor technical glitches. The screen showed a plane (and later an asteroid) seemingly flying off into the distance and then flying back out of the screen towards raised arms; combined with lighting that encompassed the audience, this created a 3D effect that absorbed the crowd. The spotlight was on the fans, while the musicians on stage looked like shadows throughout the entire set, focusing on entertaining rather than being idolized, with Rutherford as an exception who seemed to be reveling in the attention and screams of adoration.
Drummer Brandon Fried was positioned on a raised platform and his bouncy curls and naked torso alternated between blending into the dark screen and outlining against white images. At one point, all band members surrounded his platform, creating a visual of the tight instrumental aspect of The NBHD’s performance.
During their latest hit single “Afraid”, Rutherford took off his shirt to reveal a chiseled, tattoo-covered upper body which weakened the knees of the overwhelmingly female audience. I wondered whether he wasn’t worried about injuries in case of bra projectiles, but the crowd stopped short of that, in typical Canadian politeness. Rhythmical swaying accompanied the sing-along on the floor, continually raising the temperature of the atmosphere.
After an incredible instrumental-only track, the musicians left the stage as Rutherford made an entrance wearing a fur coat, adding an 80’s flair, which made me wonder whether the young fans would pick up on the reference. What I heard next was unexpected: three tracks with the unmistakable metallic sound of, wait for it, Auto-Tune! Whether an experimental approach or a snub to the nay-sayers, this section weakened the California natives’ show, as Rutherford looked deserted by his band, alone on the dark stage. It was different, to say the least. Nevertheless, the crowd gobbled it up and soon the show continued, without a dip in mood. They ended with the popular “Sweater Weather”, with the lyrics being sung almost entirely by the audience, as the excitement clearly peaked.
The NBHD had delighted Toronto with their brand of indie rock sprinkled with hip-hop influences and experimental mixes. Their light show is a must see and the infectious atmosphere is to be experienced at least once. The opening bands HUNNY and Bad Suns did an excellent job of firing up the fans from the get-go and introduced music lovers to two new bands worth following. Still buzzed from the sensory experience of the night, I noticed some fans skipping as they left, exemplifying the success of the concert.