Walking into a Billy Talent concert, you already know to expect a high-octane experience. The Mississauga boys didn’t become one of Canada’s preeminent punk bands without reason. Few people however could have expected the surprises that popped up at the show this past Monday at the Air Canada Centre. The crowd was a little spoiled, as not only did they get a hit parade from Ben Kowalewicz and company, but a whole bunch of special treats as well.
The night was started off by rising Hamilton punk group (and 2016 CASBY nominees) The Dirty Nil. They’ve been around for over 10 years now but it’s only recently that they’ve really kicked things into high gear. With a sound that’s very much rooted in early 90s college punk, the trio had the show beginning on a melodic note. Songs like “Zombie Eyed” and “No Weaknesses” were heartfelt but confident, straddling the line between rock and emo while using elements from both sides of the genre division. Frontman Luke Bentham was extremely gracious as he thanked the crowd for their support.
The Dirty Nil
Second up were metal revivalists Monster Truck. The shaggy Hamilton crew wasted no time in unfurling their chugging guitar riffs and rollicking rhythms for the audience, dropping hot jams right off the bat. A brief power outage did nothing to slow the momentum, as frontman Jon Harvey’s congeniality filled in the gap. The band is well-versed in their genre’s nuances, with a lot of their songs steeped in heavy blues imagery. Amongst the headbanging and furious soloing were thematically appropriate songs like “Old Train”, “Sweet Mountain River” and “She’s a Witch”. 2012 single “Righteous Smoke” popped up toward the end of the set, with Harvey quipping “this song is about a very certain kind of smoke”. The band then proceeded to play it bathed in green light.
Billy Talent kept the energy going by starting their set with 2006 hit “Devil in a Midnight Mass”. With its snaky, twisted bass line it was a natural segue between Monster Truck’s set and their own. “Hi, we’re Billy Talent from down the street” Kowalewicz joked after the song ended. A solid mix of older material and songs from last year’s Afraid of Heights followed.
The spry frontman made no illusion of the fact that there were going to be a few unique twists to the show, repeating things like “this is a very special show for us”. The first of these happened nine songs in when original drummer Aaron Solowoniuk hopped on the kit for two songs- the classics “Pins and Needles” and “Surrender”. As he deals with multiple sclerosis, touring drummer Jordan Hastings fills in for him live. Already a nice surprise for fans, who greeted Solowoniuk with a roar of appreciation.
Just two songs later another special guest hopped up on stage- Monster Truck guitarist Jeremy Widerman. Together they dedicated a cover of the Tragically Hip‘s “Nautical Disaster” to Gord Downie; Kowalewicz also wore a white vest with “GORD” sewn into it.
The latter half of the set veered closer to this decade, with songs from the more recent albums dominating the stage. Kowalewicz donned a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey for the battle cry “Red Flag”- perhaps a good omen for the team? The lights went dark after the song; naturally the crowd expected an encore. What happened next was beyond everyone’s expectations.
Before touring with Billy Talent, Jordan Hastings was known primarily as the drummer for legendary post-hardcore act Alexisonfire. Those bandmates joined him on stage as the entire arena lost their minds. They weren’t on for long- their set was comprised of “This Could Be Anywhere in the World”, “Boiled Frogs” and “Young Cardinals”, but it was enough to launch the night into the stratosphere.
A proper encore from Billy Talent concluded the show. “Try Honesty”, the song that started it all, made an appearance, but it was 2012 hit “Viking Death March” that finished off the set. A triumphant set that left thousands jubilant and will no doubt be remembered for years to come as an experience of mythic proportions.