When the initial press release announced Metric’s Art of Doubt tour, July Talk was initially the sole opener on the bill. As the Eastern Canada leg of the tour neared, Murray A. Lightburn (better known as The Dears front-man) was added. All three of the acts have been (or are) long-time darlings of the Canadian indie-rock scene: Metric formed in ’98 but only released their debut album in 2003, July Talk has two albums under its belt, having formed back in 2012, and The Dears formed back in 1995, and released their debut in 2000. It was a treat to have this trio of Canuck acts back on a Halifax stage after an extended absence.
The Scotiabank Centre’s concert bowl set-up was sparsely populated, with people continuing to fill the venue when the lights went down and a sharply dressed Murray A. Lightburn walked on stage carrying little more than his guitar. As an opening act, Lightburn’s airy, retrospective songs were certainly not a jolt to the collective group, instead they were more of a gentle jostling of the senses (think of waking up to a brewing pot of coffee). There was little in the way of banter, as he got right down to business and treated the Halifax crowd to a tightly packed 7-song set, which focused largely on his recent solo album Hear Me Out, but also included The Dears’ “Ticket to Immortality” and “There Goes My Outfit”. This was a set that would be perfectly suited to a room like the Carleton, where you could drink in these songs in a more intimate setting.
Then it was time for Toronto-based July Talk to take to the stage, complete with an oversized moon backdrop, and an inflatable moon suspended above the back corner of the stage. Peter, Leah, Ian, Danny, and Josh have always understood the importance of trekking East to play the Maritime stages, much like legendary Canadian acts such as Blue Rodeo, and the Tragically Hip. Having grown their own legend by playing The Carleton (and befriending local legend Mike Campbell) and rooms such as the Marquee, it is a testament to their talent and craft that they find themselves back on the Scotiabank Centre stage. Their previous show in Halifax found the band playing alongside The Beaches (another rock band on the rise) and Matt Mays, on the very same stage the band found themselves on this Thursday evening.
After an acknowledgement that the band was playing on Mi’kmaq lands, July Talk launched into a set comprised largely of well-known and beloved songs, many of which have received ample airplay across the country. While the idea that July Talk only has a pair of full-length LPs under their belt seems a bit hard to believe, you then have to consider the number of times the band has traversed this vast nation to share their music with a growing legion of fans. There is even a core group of fans who have dubbed themselves July Talk Superfans, some of whom have been to 40+ shows (one of whom was attending her 49th JT show in Halifax and would make Moncton’s show #50). That bond between band and fans is apparent at every show where Leah will make her way off stage and out to the crowd, to interact with the inflatable moon, to share some vocal duties, or just to shake some hands like a seasoned politician.
On this night the band was as sharp (and as loud) as they have ever been, and in among their well-known material, they wove in a handful of new songs such as “The News”, “Pay For It”, “Still the Sacred Can Fall” and “Pretender”, which are sure to become set staples as they are road tested and included on the band’s forthcoming album. It was a treat to see that searing intimacy between Peter and Leah return, as it had been lacking in the past couple of July Talk shows here; that playful energy just adds to the entire experience of their live show. While the focus may get squarely placed on that dynamic duo, Danny Miles, Ian Docherty and Josh Warburton round out the July Talk sound.
Much like any other July Talk show I’ve been to (and there have been a few), the question then becomes “How can anyone follow that?!”. Fortunately, as a longtime headlining act, Metric has more than their share of experience of following up potent supporting acts such as July Talk. Emily Haines and her bandmates in Metric are no strangers to the East Coast, having most recently played here as part of the 2016 TD Halifax Jazz Festival.
Metric may not exactly be a household name to many, but if you flip on a rock radio station in this country, it’s not long before you hear one of the band’s songs such as “Youth Without Youth”, “Stadium Love”, or “Combat Baby”, and that is just a sampling of well-known Metric songs that are staples of radio playlists in Canada, and a handful of the songs that didn’t make the cut for Thursday night’s show in Halifax. It was a set that was firmly focused on the band’s most recent album Art of Doubt, as roughly a third of it pulled from the 2018 release, including the latest single “Risk”, “Dark Saturday”, “Now or Never Now”, and “Dressed to Suppress”. It’s an album well suited to an arena stage show, as the songs are massive rock tunes awash in guitars and synth.
The remainder of the set pulled from the band’s deep discography, going all the way back to their debut record Old World Underground, Where Are You Now? with “Dead Disco”, also the well-known pair of cuts “Synthetica” and “Breathing Underwater” from 2012’s Synthetica. Then they dusted off the great “Black Sheep”, a cut from the Scott Pilgrim vs. The World soundtrack circa 2010. This is another one of those Metric tunes that is still garnering steady radio airplay, as it is inherently catchy and will lodge itself in your ear for hours at a time. In addition to this collection of tunes, Metric paid homage to their 2009 release Fantasies with a handful of cuts, such as “Help I’m Alive”, “Twilight Galaxy”, “Gold Guns Girls” and “Gimme Sympathy”.
It was a set chock full of instantly recognizable songs, many of which are still getting love from rock radio. Emily Haines was busy getting those steps in, as she bounded across the stage effortlessly to engage the fans on either side of the arena, pausing only at times to take up residence at her dual keyboard setup. The energetic set was awash in the neon colours beaming from the elaborate light board backing the stage. The board was a perfect fit for these synthy, electronica-based tunes and elevated the set, and kept the crowd enthralled throughout the 15 songs and subsequent 5 song encore. Hopefully we don’t see Metric stay away as long this time before they return to the East Coast, it was great way to cap off a fantastic night of Canadian indie rock.