I’ve been looking forward to reviewing this show for months. I reviewed Lennon Stella’s headlining show at l’Astral back in March, and though I missed her at Osheaga, I’ll be honest – it was mainly because of her that I asked to review this show. No insult to The Chainsmokers – I actually saw (and met!) Alex Pall and Drew Taggart a few years ago (and thus I will refer to them by their first names throughout, cause we “know” each other), and I love their music, but I’m not much for stadium shows. The best part of a show where you can’t get up close to the artist is the production value, and their last show mainly leaned on an LED screen that had a countdown clock and relied heavily on a running theme of Drew and Alex “texting” one another throughout the show. And then there’s 5 Seconds of Summer, the band I was disappointed to discover does not feature Jared Leto. Up until the day before the show, I hadn’t listened to a single one of their songs. I just want to give you a feel for how I went into this show because it’s very different from how I felt at the end. I was there to see Lennon Stella, to hear The Chainsmokers and compare them to themselves, and I was happy I’d have somewhere to sit and take notes all night.
Stella performed in front of the set up for the bands following her, all their gear covered in black sheets, and with only thirty minutes allotted for her set. She packed it full of every song she has released, and one she hasn’t (and that I frustratingly cannot locate) with the compelling sing-a-long lyrics, “That’s how I know that your love is gone/That’s how I know I’m really moving on/‘Cause I don’t feel guilty kissing other people.” Other than that, there were no surprises or theatrics, but there was a piano (heart eyes emoji!) brought out for “Like Everybody Else,” one of my favourites. Her voice is so special, and her songwriting style so varied and unique, she had no trouble captivating the audience, though throughout her set and even through the next artist’s, people were still coming in and finding their seats. She seemed unfazed. At the end, she thanked the audience for showing up early – after all, she went on at 7pm and the headliner wasn’t playing until 9:30pm – but it’s clear she’s not an unknown based on the audience’s vocalizing and the little flashlights blazing throughout her performance.
There was a short break before 5 Seconds Of Summer (known widely as 5SOS) came out. Not much changed – the set up for The Chainsmokers stayed put, and a drumkit was rolled out. The stage had a huge catwalk to it, but 5SOS didn’t use it, and though there was tons of rigging and a metal sphere hanging high up, it seemed like it was up to the band to entertain the crowd without the use of props. It wasn’t hard for them – this is a band that has toured extensively since 2012, where they gained recognition opening for One Direction. Now those fans have grown up and stayed true to this emo-pop band that feels to me like a cross between Good Charlotte and Panic! At The Disco. They haven’t been to Montreal in five years, but it’s clear from the reception they received that they haven’t lost their following.
What I like most about 5SOS is that they’re really collaborative. Each member had his moment to shine. Bassist Calum Hood filled in for lead vocalist Luke Hemmings on a few songs, drummer Ashton Irwin got a huge solo (that he murdered, in the best way) to rile up the crowd for the band’s favourite song, “Waste the Night”, and lead guitarist Michael Clifford playfully engaged the audience and the other band members. The vibe I get really clearly is that these guys love performing together. Hemmings is mostly the frontman, chatting up the audience in French, and shouting “Let’s fucking dance!” Every cell phone in the audience lit up for “Ghost of You,” and the fans sang every word of “Amnesia.”
The easy transitions from song to song made their confidence playing live evident. It was effortless and that made it enjoyable to watch, even if I had no fucking clue what to expect only 48 hours before. They played a snippet of Blink 182’s “What’s My Age Again?” after showing the audience a clip of Mark Hoppus giving them permission on the condition that they “don’t fuck it up.” After that, knowing there wasn’t time for the faux-finale, Hemmings gave a five-song warning, and they really rocked out for the final section, giving it everything on audience favourites “Jet Black Heart” and “Youngblood.”
I spent the intermission fiddling around with Instagram, trying to post videos to my story. When I got back to my seat in time for the headliner, I was down to 10% battery and I sent what I thought might be my last text (so dramatic!) to my husband: “My phone is dying!!! OMG, how am I going to take notes?!” I was left with no choice; I was just going to have to enjoy the show. Now, here is my apology: I don’t have a setlist for you. But it was an epic show, I soaked it all in, and I even managed to use my dying phone to get a few videos to remember it by.
I remember that they started with “Takeaway,” because Lennon Stella joined them on stage for it. Drew started hyping the crowd immediately with an athletic performance, jumping and running up and down a catwalk that seemed specifically designed for him to do what I can only describe as parkour. Stadium shows always have some predictability to them, a feeling of being ultra-rehearsed (and there were many moments where I was glad they did, for safety reasons), and this show was not devoid of cheese. There were those song intros he clearly uses at every show, and announcing a song they’ve “never played before so please put up your phones to make me feel better” before playing a slow one everyone knows – but it wasn’t overwhelming the way I found it was two years ago, when I felt too old to enjoy the show. It felt more like a party or a rave. In fact, looking down at the pit, I figured there were a lot of people getting high on party drugs tonight (cue that mature feeling again). I think The Chainsmokers knew that – they’re not shy about their own usage and the songs definitely hearken a rave – and after that nice slow one, after they had everyone feeling good and mellow, they hit the crowd with a heavier electronic beat. I spent the whole show out of my seat and dancing, and that’s all I saw around me.
They played all the hits: “Paris,” “Closer,” and “Something Just Like This,” with Drew singing Chris Martin’s part to perfection. It’s actually nuts how talented he is – his vocal range is crazy, his style impossible to pin down, and he is a fearless performer. For “Everybody Hates Me,” he climbed a short ladder to an elevated stage that ascended and then tilted (scary!) so he could be eye-level with the fans in the cheap seats. I was wowed, and I totally forgot about the giant steel sphere until it descended and Drew stepped inside it before it lifted off again to climb around it like a jungle gym (parkour!) for “Sick Boy.”
At some point during the show, two dudes on motorbikes rolled out and down the catwalk, and it seemed awkward (especially as they attempted to turn around) and totally meaningless. Sometime later, the steel ball descended once more, and the boys on bikes come back out with a third, and then they all got in the big steel ball and raced around and nobody died. It was all very exciting. Next, two women join them in the ball, but mostly just stood still. I guess if you know a bit about riding a motorbike inside a giant steel ball you would know that it’s super cool to have two ladies stand still in there as an added obstacle, but to me, it just seemed like gratuitous objectification.
And I don’t want to rag on these guys, because I genuinely enjoyed the show, but Drew using the stage all night for his parkour-stylings and doing his best Spiderman impression inside the giant dangling steel ball made it that much more obvious that Alex is an introvert – he didn’t leave his booth once; in fact, he barely looked up. But hey, a person can be super talented and also not want to get a ton of attention.
Just one more awkward moment, though, for the record: 5SOS came out to play “Who Do You Love” alongside The Chainsmokers (they even rolled the drummer back out on his movable stage) and it started out well. Partway through the song, though, it became clear that Luke Hemmings mic was not working properly. I didn’t know the song well enough to hear the discrepancy, but from the way he was looking around, acting frustrated, and communicating with his bandmates, I could tell there was something wrong. Only Drew’s voice was coming through strong, up until the last ten seconds of the song, when Hemmings’ mic kicked back in. It’s always frustrating for the performers when this sort of thing happens, but I relish those moments. It’s a reminder that sometimes things don’t work out the way you wanted them to, but most people around you won’t notice or care about the “oops,” so it’s not worth beating yourself up over.
Long story shorter than usual… A stadium show, for me, is typically about production value, and we got it in spades last Wednesday night with these three vastly different artists who put on a four-hour show and nailed it. The Chainsmokers made sure they were undoubtedly the stars, what with the jumping and the floating stage and the motorbikes and the steel ball (and I didn’t even mention the drum solo when Matt McGuire rose out of the stage like a phoenix). If you’re in another city and on the fence about buying a ticket, go for it. None of these artists will disappoint.
LENNON STELLA SETLIST
4. Cause I Don’t Feel Guilty Kissing Other People
5. Like Everybody Else
8. La Di Da
5 SECONDS OF SUMMER SETLIST
1. She Looks So Perfect
5. If Walls Could Talk
6. Talk Fast
7. Moving Along
8. Ghost Of You
10. Waste the Night
11. Why Won’t You love Me
12. What’s My Age Again
13. Jet Black Heart
14. Meet You There
16. Want You Back
Review – Carrie-Ann Kloda
Photos – Eric Brisson