There are homecoming shows, then there is what transpired at the Rebecca Cohn auditorium this past Friday and Saturday night. Matt Mays and company rolled into town at the tail end of the Howl at the Night tour and proceeded to transform the storied but staid traditional theatre experience into a rollicking Shore Club rocker over the course of 2+ hours. It was a performance that placed Matt front and center for the entire show, but each of his band-mates bore the spotlight at points during the performance to showcase their skills.
The entire tour was a culmination of the Once Upon a Hell of a Time releases, as it brings together the amped-up, raucous rock n’ roll shows that Mays et al. stage at the annual Shore Club stand, and pairs it with an acoustic stripped down component that is well suited to a more staid seated venue such as the Rebecca Cohn. On both nights, the show was crafted much like a great chowder, slowly bringing the heat up as elements are added along the way. As the lights faded, Matt strode on stage and took his place at the inconspicuous grand piano. He welcomed the crowd and got right into the title track of the tour, and when it came time for the chorus, he invited us to howl along with him.
One by one, Matt welcomed: Melissa Payne, Adam Baldwin, Damien Moynihan, Asa Brosius, Serge Sampson, Ryan Stanley and last but certainly not least Leith Fleming-Smith to the stage. As each member joined the party on-stage, they took a seat at their stations and played along. For the first half of the show, we were treated to a quieter more traditional theatre performance with stripped-down, renditions of these well-known songs. Once the climax of “Travellin’” was hit, Matt’s chair was mule-kicked to the back as the band sprung to their feet and we were off to the races.
Being one of the best known musical acts to hail from the Maritimes, the lion’s share of this set were well-known tracks from Mays’ ever-growing catalog, but deeper cuts such as “Spoonful of Sugar”, “The Past” were great additions. Earlier this year Matt released a new single entitled “Let There Be Love”, which is distinctly different than the tunes that preceded and followed it but also fit the bill perfectly.
At times during the performance, Mays was lit with little more than a handheld work light. As more light was introduced, Matt began to spin the light overhead, playfully sparring with Ryan Stanley. As the song wound down, Mays got a bit too relaxed with his rotations and clipped the mic stand, shattering the bulb. It was a slight glitch in an otherwise top-notch performance.
Opening the show was the Toronto based band Skye Wallace, who brought a scrappy pop-infused rock sound to the stage. With a band comprised of all corners of this great nation, it was great to see that the Maritimes had solid representation with both Gina Kennedy (NS, and former on-air personality at the now-defunct Live/Rock 105) and Alfie Vienneau (NB) hailing from these parts. In addition to Wallace herself, the band was rounded out by Devin Lougheed, and Jenna Strautman and the 5-piece act put on a high-energy set that brought together elements, of pop, punk, folk and good ol’ rock n’ roll which charmed the hell out of the Halifax crowd. This is one band I will be looking forward to catching on their next jaunt out east.
There isn’t a limit to the number of times you can catch a Matt Mays show, as each one brings something different to the proceedings. On this night, it was the way that the heat was brought up slowly throughout the show, only to strongly simmer with a fan friendly set-list once the boiling point was reached.
You could see both Mays himself and the band loosen up as the night wore on. While I was covering the show on Friday night, I was there in the front row as a spectator for night 2 as my wife and I celebrated our 13th anniversary (one of our first dates was catching Matt open for Sam Roberts at the “New” Palace). After the Friday and Saturday shows, those 2 performances were so flawless that I was ready for round 3 on Sunday. Until the next show, cheers!