There are plenty of bands that can consider themselves frequent fliers in the Maritimes, but few of those acts can call Halifax a secondary home. July Talk is one of those bands that has cultivated a special relationship with the Maritimes, and Halifax in particular. Just over a decade ago that the band made its first stop in the city as a fledgling band. Mike Campbell in particular took notice, and embraced the band with open arms, having them play their early Halifax shows in his room at The Carleton. It didn’t take long for the band to pack that room to the gills, and it didn’t take long for the then five-piece rock outfit to outgrow The Carleton.
In the years since those early days, July Talk has been turning heads at some of the largest venues in town, having played the Alderney Landing stage for Canada Day 2014, and played the Forum MPC as part of (the now defunct) Halifax Pop Explosion, even taking to the Scotiabank Centre stage alongside the Beaches, and hometown hero Matt Mays. They followed up that Scotiabank Centre appearance with another supporting slot the following year supporting Metric, again at the Scotiabank Centre. Unfortunately, the band’s annual visit to Halifax was put on hold for a couple of years, that is until April 14th, 2023 when the band brought their Remember Never Before tour back to town, with up-and-coming artist Nyssa in the supporting slot.
Having a well-established familiarity with July Talk, my drive into the show was spent spinning some tunes from Nyssa. My initial thoughts listening to her material were favourable, which grew the excitement and anticipation for the show ahead. The studio recordings were polished and showcased the Toronto indie-rock singer’s vocal similarities to Florence Welch. Needlessly to say, when the red spandex-clad performer, rocking a Joan Jett-esque hairstyle made her way on stage with little more than a laptop, my interest was piqued further. The indie-rock tunes definitely bore similarities to St. Vincent and Karen O, but that modern indie-electro-rock sound was drenched in 80’s era neon pop, making for an alluring, cutting-edge sound. From the opening track, it was clear that Nyssa was earning herself a legion of new fans, and my initial impressions not only matched up, but they were also well exceeded. Nyssa was a definite highlight, and many of those in attendance (me included) will be looking ahead to her next visit to Halifax.
There was a buzz in the room, as the July Talk drought was about to be broken. The band made it as far as Truro in 2022 to headline the closing night of Rock the Hub, so the anticipation in the room was palpable. Leah, Peter, Danny, Josh, Ian and Dani have been on the road in support of their 4th full-length studio album, and the setlist was loaded with cuts from Remember Never Before including the electric “Certain Father”, “Hold” and the driving “When You Stop”, all of which translate well from studio to stage. The setlist focused on the new album, but those July Talk prerequisites were all represented including “Guns + Ammunition”, “Summer Dress”, “Picturing Love” and “Beck + Call”.
It was a set that was tailored to the casual fan, but when it came time to close the night out, those longtime fans were treated to certified banger “The Garden” and the oldest July Talk song “Come Down Champion”. Peter informed the crowd that it was the first time it had been played in Halifax, which was a little mindblowing. During the show Peter revealed another astonishing fact; Halifax was supposed to play host to the first post-pandemic July Talk show. A show that ended up being scuttled due to the lingering restrictions that were in place.
It may have been far too long since the band was here, but besides adding the talented Dani Nash (who was most recently here as part of Sarah Harmer’s band) to its ranks, July Talk has not lost a step. Those early shows played up the stark stylistic contrast between the two lead vocalists, but in recent years those sharp corners have been smoothed out and allow the band’s blues-rock sound to evolve and adapt, taking on shades of industrial and electro-pop at times. All the while returning to that intense tangible tension between Peter and Leah, from their playful physicality to their harmonious sound.
On this night, the band made their first stop at the Light House Arts Centre, and proceeded to put on one of the band’s best Halifax shows and left it all on the stage. The band touched on their entire discography, even including a pair of cuts from its “Pandemic Record” Pray For It, even making room to bring Nyssa onstage to take the lead on the David Bowie classic “Suffragette City” with her perfectly suited vocals. At the end of the night, you could tell that the relationship between this band and this city is a special one, and it won’t be long before they find themselves headlining the Scotiabank Centre.