I arrived at MTelus only ten minutes late for the opener – early, for me – but there was a lineup down the block almost as far as Foufounes Électriques. It ended up being less than ten minutes long, but in the meantime, I Googled Joywave and silently kicked myself for not arriving a little earlier. Turns out, though they’re not super well known in Canada (a fact the lead singer mentioned enough times to make me think they’re a little sore about it), they’ve toured with some big names, and some of my favourites: The Killers, Metric, Bleachers, MisterWives, and Bishop Briggs. Walking into a packed house, I get to hear their hello and welcome and the introduction of a song off their upcoming album, Possession, plus a general nod to hipster/concert culture: if you didn’t know about us, don’t worry – you’re still getting in on the ground floor. Phew!
The sound is electronic, and I can hear influences of Daft Punk, though their style is less structured. The band is dressed in bizarre matching outfits that seem beyond-fashion, but that probably photograph very well – they’ve got yellow shirts with grey or reflective stripes, almost like a crossing guard, navy Adidas track pants with yellow stripes, and glittery, silver, elfin flats.
The vocalist, Daniel Armbruster, was originally a member of Big Data, and the sound of this band isn’t so different from the former. He’s great on the mic, with a slightly odd sense of humour that borders on grim, and seems intent on announcing anything typically Canadian, shouting that he loves hockey. All of this totally distracts me from their outfits, and then he shouts, in a tone that’s almost sarcastic but really is just super upbeat, “Here’s the Boom Boom song! We hope you like it!” It’s really called “Tongues,” and it’s their most popular song on Spotify, and we do like it. But just as the entire audience is jumping and clapping, just as the beat is supposed to drop, they stop, Arbuster says “Gotcha!” and the band completely changes track to a rock-metal song. It all gives me major Freddy Mercury feels. The audience isn’t sure they’re feeling this abrupt change of pace, but a smaller group close to the front of the stage gets into it and eventually, the clapping starts up again. It’s not, as he claimed in his gotcha-moment, “the greatest song ever written.” It’s not Bohemian Rhapsody or Stairway to Heaven. But I can see that’s what was meant to happen. Arbuster’s goofy humour is endearing and Joywave’s songs have a Tarantino-Esque vibe, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they inserted one of his quotes into their songs, like Fun Lovin’ Criminals famously did with “Scooby Snacks.”
Anyway, regardless of my lukewarm opinion, it’s undeniable that they did a fantastic job heating up the crowd, and we’re more than ready to party with Bastille.
A little background on our headliner, courtesy of The Only Source You’ll Ever Need: since their 2010 debut, Bastille has been busy. They’ve been featured on tons of video games and TV shows (notably, “Pompeii” and “Send Them Off!” on the FIFA and First Touch soundtracks, and “Oblivion,” on Vampire Diaries Season 4, Episode 9, which I re-watched in the name of research). They’ve also done loads of collaborations with the likes of Craig David, James Arthur, Lizzo, Haim, Skunk Anansie, and Marshmello. Their mash-up of Snap’s “Rhythm is a Dancer” and Corona’s “The Rhythm of the Night” debuted in second place on the UK Singles Chart, and they’ve even covered Green Day’s “Basketcase” – a dangerous feat they totally pull off. But it’s worth mentioning here that the band is named Bastille because lead vocalist Dan Smith’s birthday falls on Bastille Day, and the group was originally intended as a solo project. I say that here, because at times… it feels as though it still is a solo effort.
They open with “Quarter Past Midnight,” and the lyrics are on a giant screen behind them. It’s clear right away that Smith is a showman – he uses the entire stage, which is full of curious props, like a smaller stage made to look like a clock that sometimes spins, a TV set that occasionally shows images, a flight of stairs that will surely come into play at some point, and that gorgeous full LED screen behind them with visuals that give hints to the song’s title or meaning. It creates a mood that feels similar to The Chainsmokers style, which is young, fun, and engaging. But Smith is the only one who uses the set. It’s his show, and his show feels like being at a party with the best MC ever. Smith takes the audience through a late evening and early morning, including classic party moments, like “Another Place,” which is about that point in the night where you have a one night stand, “but because we’re Bastille,” Smith quips, “we still manage to make it sound like the most fucking depressing things in the world.”
Here’s a case in point about the solo-aspect of it all: for “Two Evils,” Smith is accompanied only by a guitarist, and the rest of stage is blacked out – the other band members are either off stage or crouched down behind their instruments. That said, the visual is poignant: Smith sits under a single spotlight atop the set of stairs, made to look like a fire escape with a moon behind him and a city all lit up – though as you look closer you realize it’s slowly burning.
The best moment of the night is surely during “Flaws,” which Smith sings roaming through the entire theatre, high-fiving the audience, climbing up onto the balcony railings and walking back and forth through rows of fans. MTelus is not a small venue – it’s a hike! When he gets back on stage, there’s a couch brought out for him to sing the next song, “Those Nights,” a well-deserved repose.
Bastille has incredible range. I don’t want to pigeonhole them by saying they make pop music, though it undoubtedly is that, but it’s also punk, sometimes R&B, almost always dance, and as theatrical as a musical with songs like “Doom Days” that tell a story. Because of this, they remind me of Say Anything and I consider it modern-day emo. They have a lot of what I love so much about Motion City Soundtrack… and excuse me while I go listen to some good emo I love: Yellowcard, Mae, Relient K, Mayday Parade… (I found this playlist and ended up in a punk deep-dive.) Bastille is fresh and definitely electronic, but it’s melodramatic and the fun beats nearly drown out the personal stuff, something I always loved about the punk/emo scene.
I personally prefer when a band chooses not to fake-leave before the encore, so I’m happy Bastille isn’t shy about admitting they’re too lazy to play this old game. Smith tells us to “ignore the depressing lyrics, just enjoy the noise,” which could be the band’s tagline.
They finished the night off with “Pompeii,” but I’d rather talk about their second-to-last song.
“A Million Pieces” is a party anthem, reminding me of The Chainsmokers and partying in Paris before hashtag politics; it’s a battle cry about the ever-present political conversation. It used to be said that one should never talk about politics at the dinner table, yet with the seemingly sudden (for those of us who could be considered pre-millennial) ubiquity of social media, politics are part of nearly every conversation. It makes us believe things are worse than ever, though that’s really not the case (listen to Bill Nye on Jonathan Van Ness’s podcast around the 44 minute mark ) – but the urgency of progress (or, for the conservative side, the urgency of traditionalism) is shoved down our throats at every turn. Bastille is this progressive rock band that recognizes this, and gives us something else to do: just live. It’s a refreshing reminder that it’s okay to not be political in every moment, that some of us (me!) really need to hear. This song exemplifies what Bastille is trying to do on every track – be honest without bumming you out. Remind you that what’s happening in each moment is just as important as the last and the next. And thankfully, it doesn’t seem like their popularity is declining. I feel lucky to have seen them at MTelus – I don’t know if they’ll be able to avoid the Bell Centre next time around.
- 1. Quarter Past Midnight
- 2. Send Them Off!
- 3. Things We Lost in the Fire
- 4. Another Place
- 5. The Waves
- 6. Two Evils
- 7. Happier
- 8. Bad Decisions
- 9. Flaws
- 10. Those Nights
- 11. 4AM
- 12. Bad Blood
- 13. Doom Days
- 14. Blame
- 15. Joy
- 16. Good Grief
- 17. Of the Night
- 18. Million Pieces
- 19. Pompeii
Review – Carrie-Ann Kloda
Photos – Eric Brisson