It’s hard to believe that it has been almost two weeks since July Talk staged a two-night takeover of the Marquee Ballroom. The dust has long since settled, and the temporary tinnitus should have resolved itself for the legion of Haligoons in attendance (never leave home without those trusty earplugs), but the memories created on the first of two nights are still reverberating. While the band may hail from Toronto, for all intents and purposes they are honorary Haligoons, as they tend to hang around town when they’re here.
The great thing about July Talk’s two-night stand, was the fact that they brought along one of the band’s OGs Eamon McGrath to open the show up. If I’m putting all my cards on the table (and my heart on my sleeve), I recall hearing Eamon’s name mentioned at another July Talk show (possibly the band’s Canada Day performance in Dartmouth) but hadn’t explored his catalogue. It wasn’t until the night of the show that I queued his work on Spotify and hit play. From the opening chords, it was quickly apparent that this talented singer-songwriter bore distinct similarities to both Matt Mays and Adam Baldwin (with the shades of Springsteen dialed back), but at the same time there were elements of Frank Turner and Northcote in his sound also.
When the lights dropped, and Eamon and his bandmates hit the stage, I think they caught the room off guard with their potency. It was a masterful showing from an artist who has been touring and crafting his sound for the past decade. The set showcased those nods to Mays and Baldwin, as well as post-hardcore peers Turner and Northcote, but then the band kicked things up a notch and eschewed that folky storyteller fare for some full-on punk rock fury. It was a set that garnered McGrath an entirely new legion of fans, and set an aggressively high bar for the night’s headliners to match.
As the changeover took place, the realization set in that this band that has regularly visited this city, and played to some fairly-large crowds such as the aforementioned Canada Day show in Dartmouth, and last year’s Backlot Bash (and in some of the more intimate rooms such as the Carleton), are only touring on their sophomore full-length release. It’s clear that the dreaded Jinx was nowhere to be found, as Touch is every bit as energetic and engaging as the band’s scintillating self-titled debut. For the uninitiated, the band’s signature sound is crafted from the sweetly delicate vocals of the darling Leah Fay, and contrasted perfectly with the coarse and brutish baritone of front-man Peter Dreimanis. (I think @showerthotbot best described the band’s sound as “If Elmo and Cookie Monster started a band, it would sound like July Talk.”)
Considering the band has two albums under their belt, and the backdrop is the cover art for Touch, it would be inconceivable (INCONCEIVABLE!) to think the band wouldn’t focus on their latest release. The set list incorporated the 10 tracks from Touch (including “Picturing Love”, “Push + Pull” and “Lola + Joseph”); the obligatory “Guns + Ammunition” made the cut, in addition to fan favourites such as “Summer Dress”, “Paper Girl” and “Headsick”. It was a solid show, the band sounded great as always. For a band that has played up the charged sexual tension between Peter and Leah, it seemed to be dialed back during the performance. The interaction between the two seemed limited, which may explain the feeling that something was missing. It could be the familiarity with the material, but in speaking with some fellow concert-goers, their sentiment of “It was a July Talk show” sort of rang true. It was good, but something prevented it from hitting that sweet spot that would make the show great.
I could easily write that this was the best July Talk show I’ve been privy to, but that wouldn’t be true. The set-up was unique in the fact that the band opted to suspend a pair of Edison bulbs overhead to illuminate the crowd at points throughout the show. Leah Fay showcased her lithe movements and exceptional body control as she slinked along the guardrail in the same way one would traipse across a tightrope, but that wasn’t her only foray into the masses, as she crowd surfed out towards the marquee bar during the show, as the band continued to play from the stage. There were these interesting moments throughout the night, but that nagging feeling still lingered, something was missing. Either that, or the fact was that Eamon McGrath’s electric opening set placed a watermark that just couldn’t be exceeded. Either way, July Talk sounded excellent, Eamon McGrath earned himself a new legion of fans, and the Haligoons were treated to the first of two nights of excellent Canadian rock music.