Hedley has always been a band that has existed on my periphery for ages, and although there have been singles which have caught my ear, none have ever inspired me to declare that I was a quote/unquote Hedley fan. It was on the Canadian Idol stage that Jacob Hoggard cemented himself into the vernacular of the nation (and appeared on my radar). It was due to the popularity of that platform that people young and old alike knew Jacob’s name. After being ousted from the 2004 season of Canadian Idol in 3rd place, he headed back for a short-lived reunion with his bandmates, as Hedley 1.0 disbanded shortly thereafter.
Much like the phoenix, Hedley rose from the ashes and Jacob reformed the band with Chris Cripps, Dave Rosin and Tommy Mac in 2005. It was there that Hedley began their legacy in the storied Canadian Music Scene. A music scene that has its fair share of success stories, as well as a lengthy list of bands who have fallen by the wayside. However, it is well into 2016, and Hedley have a legion of fans who adore the band’s 6-album discography; the latest of which is Hello, the album which has brought the band to Halifax’s doorstop for an April 12th date.
It marked the first time I darkened the Scotiabank Centre’s door for a Hedley concert, so I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. I knew the cachet that both the band and Hoggard’s name bore across different demographics, as my mother was familiar with their work, and the crowd was largely a pre-teen/teen audience, with parents chaperoning a handful of younger fans. The fact that another former Canadian Idol hopeful in Carly Rae Jepsen was on the bill didn’t hurt, as it brought an equally diverse group of fans (read: younger) to the show. This was a show that had been hotly anticipated for months, and the chorus of squees and applause went up as the lights went down to kick the night off.
In addition to the former Idol hopefuls, the first act on the bill was Francesco Yates who, for me personally, was the biggest surprise of the night. In researching Yates earlier in the week, I went through his EP and handful of tracks on Spotify and thought I had a handle on his style of pop-R&B crooning, however the whirling dervish that appeared on stage quickly eschewed that notion. Dressed head to toe in a white leather suit, Yates bore resemblance to a young Frampton Comes Alive-era Peter Frampton, but channeled the essences of Prince, James Brown and early MJ. As he glided over the stage, his afro bobbing with each note and every dance move, he injected some funky life into the crowd, priming them for the acts to come. While his opening slot was rather scant, the impression he left was indelible.
After a short changeover, the 2007 Canadian Idol 3rd place winner Carly Rae Jepsen took to the stage. Idol was also the platform which afforded her national recognition, but it wasn’t until 2012 and the release of the worldwide smash “Call Me Maybe” that would serve as her true breakthrough. Needless to say, the crowd was somewhat enthusiastic when the BC singer-songwriter made her way on stage with a wave and radiant grin. Jepsen bounded and danced across the stage for a solid 40 minutes, working through material from her most recent release E-mo-tion to the delight of her adoring fans, tracks such as “Boy Problems”, “I Didn’t Just Come Here to Dance” and “Let’s Get Lost”. But the biggest reaction was elicited when she broke out the trio of prerequisites “Run Away With Me”, “I Really Like You” (sans Mr. Hanks), and the aforementioned “Call Me Maybe”. A solid performance that was on par with the studio work, but it was time for the change-over for the headliners of the night.
In looking back through the extensive archive of Hedley footage that lives on YouTube, it was clear that the production that was accompanying the band this time out was easily the most elaborate setup that they’ve employed to date. According to the band, it was all in an attempt to ensure that the fans who found themselves in the furthest corners of the venue would feel as close to the action as those in the front row. It was an impressive set-up, with two towering LCD screens on either side of the stage to help the band achieve their lofty goal. After a rather lengthy intro video montage, which spoofed an odd combination of zombie films and classic TGIF sitcom intros, the band hit the stage with an energetic rendition of the title track “Hello”, and with that we were off and running.
Fairly early into the set, Jacob and company had a killer pop medley which fused together “Sorry” from Mr. Bieber and the much-maligned “Uptown Funk”, both of which were squarely in Hoggard’s vocal wheelhouse. Aside from this slight tangent, the rest of the night was dedicated in large part to the material from the band’s latest album, but the band still wove in cuts from their entire discography, even reaching all the way back to their 2005 eponymous debut for both “Gunnin'” and “Trip”. It was great to hear tracks such as “Invincible” and “Ca-Ching” performed live, but personally I was singing along when Jacob saddled up to the piano and broke into “For The Nights I Can’t Remember”. It was a gem that was as beloved by those in attendance as it was by me, and the added touch of the iPhone fireflies dancing throughout the room just provided the icing on the cake (those fireflies made a handful of other appearances throughout the evening, and each time it was the ideal complement to the performance on stage).
It was approaching the two-hour mark when Jacob Hoggard, Dave Rosin, Chris Crippin and Tommy Mac bid the crowd adieu and made tracks for the refuge of their tour bus, as they hit the road for the next stop on the Hello World Tour. Hedley and Carly Rae were great, but I think the ultimate revelation on the night was Francesco Yates; for an artist who’s barely 20 and has been writing for over half of his life, his stage presence was electric and, to factor in his musicality, he is going to be a force to be reckoned with. His ability to transcend genres was awe-inspiring, and shattered every single expectation I had going in. I’m looking forward to see what’s next in Yates’ career. As I sit and reflect back on the show, the bigger pop-rock pieces are good but, in my opinion, the moment Jacob incorporates the piano for the more subdued fare is when the true Hedley magic occurs.