Photographs by Katrina Wong Shue
It was an emotional evening as thousands of fans packed the Air Canada Centre to welcome home Billy Talent. This was the second hometown stop for the Afraid of Heights tour, but the first return to the ACC since 2013.
I find that it’s really hard for opening bands, because they take the stage two hours before the headliner, with not everyone in their seats and essentially warm up the crowd. The Dirty Nil did not let the incoming crowd dampen their spirits. The Dundas, Ontario natives played their hearts out. With only one album under their belts, they performed with so much passion and energy proving that they will take Canadian rock by storm in the near future. Speaking of taking Canadian rock by storm, the next act was Monster Truck who has been rocking stages since 2009. The seasoned vets from Hamilton, Ontario carried the energy from the Dirty Nil, and had everyone rocking out. There was a brief moment on stage when the band lost power but lead singer and bassist Jon Harvey did his very best to keep the conversation flowing. After closing their set with “The Lion” off of their first studio album Furiosity, it was time for Billy Talent to take the stage.
I’ve been to many concerts over my lifetime covering most of the genres out there, and I can easily say that rock concerts hit the hardest. From the second the lights dimmed and beam of red lights unveiled Billy Talent the crowd was on their feet, and the pit was ready to mosh. The band did an amazing job captivating an audience that was losing their minds for them. One of the coolest things about Billy Talent, is the fact that they have been around for over 14 years, their show brought people from all ages and walks of life together under the same roof. Lead singer Ben Kowalewicz made it known that they didn’t care what race, sexual orientation or gender you identified with, we are all human and loved by the band the same.
It was incredible to see how much Billy Talent really truly loved their fans, and seeing Ben get emotional numerous times throughout the night really got to me. The last thing I expected was to go to a rock concert and cry, but alas, that is what happened. What personally got to me was hearing “Nothing To Lose” from their debut album Billy Talent, performed live. That song got me through a lot in elementary school, and that was something Kowalewicz talked about. Even after its release fans tell him all the time how much the song means to them, and for some fans it even saved their lives.
Aaaron Solowoniuk surprised the fans for two songs, and the tears kept coming. Last year Aaron announced that he would not be playing the drums for the bands’ fifth studio album due to an MS relapse. Fans gave the drummer a standing ovation after he played the drums for “Pins and Needles” and “Surrender”. If you think that was the last emotional occurrence of the evening you would be incorrect. Monster Truck guitarist Jeremy Widerman joined Billy Talent on stage for a tribute to Gord Downie. Collectively the audience sang “Natural Disaster” in honour of the Canadian legend.
The last surprise of the night was something nobody in the building was ready for. After Billy Talent closed out their set with fan favourite “Red Flag” the anticipation began to build for the encore. However fans were not expecting Alexisonfire to take the stage instead. The crowd went insane, seeing all five member of the band emerge from the shadows of the darkly lit stage. They performed, “This Could Be Anywhere in the World”, “Boiled Frogs” and “Young Cardinals” and I’m not sure everyone wrapped their collective minds around what had actually happened. It was something that everyone in the arena will remember for the rest of their lives.
Closing out the night with “Fallen Leaves”, “Try Honesty” and “Viking Death March”, the band thanked the fans again for everything they did to get them to this moment. They said that if they could make it in this world, we could too. It was easily one of the best shows I have been to in a long time. Any fan of the band has to go to their show, once in their lifetime.