Photographs by Sean Chin.
Every generation has that handful of artists notorious for picturesque feel-good music that will either drive you insane or bring you extraordinary comfort. It’s uncool to publicly like it, but secretly, everyone enjoys feeling like they are the subject of an introspective commercial.
OneRepublic is probably at the top of the repeat offender list; they’re easily accusable of formulaic approaches, with a high-profile track record of wrapping timeless emotions in evocative, triumphant and repetitive pop-rock swirls that seem, at least in the last few years, to make their moniker on quarterly Top 40 charts. It is annoying.
But we overlook all of that, because here’s the thing: they are just so damn good at it.
Besides pleasing their wide audience on their Native tour, which dropped by the Air Canada Center in Toronto this past Friday, OneRepublic also took their criticisms and spun them into a show built on gradual momentum, dynamism and emotion. Spearheaded by lead singer Ryan Tedder, the band highlighted their guilty-pleasure-inducing catalogue in a ninety minute set that seemed to mimic the general process that many who listen to their music go through: testing; reflecting; accepting; and then, unabashedly enjoying.
While their music is frequently used in television dramas and film trailers, OneRepublic doesn’t exactly come off as a theatrical band, which is why it is a pleasant surprise to see their artistry transform in visual mediums. The opening number, “Don’t Look Down”, was performed entirely behind a white banner, their silhouettes projected with dimmed lights for an added effect; later, a video of choir boys singing the chorus in “All the Right Moves” introduced the song; at other points, animals against neon backdrops appeared in the geometric screens decorating the stage. In that first half hour, these components, along with the energy projected by the six band members, were all present and operating, but failed to make a connection with fans. The show fell flat, and fast.
The transformation came by the drop of a hat – literally speaking. Shedding his leather jacket and placing a hat on his head, Tedder led his peers to the center stage to perform a portion of the show amidst the fans, bringing the sense of intimacy omnipresent in OneRepublic’s musicality. It also inadvertently gave Tedder the moment to showcase his individual artist profile. The career-launching “Apologize” became a vocal stand-out of the evening, and covers of Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me” and George Ezra’s “Budapest” found him paying respect to the songwriting community in which he became a prominent figure; Tedder wrote and produced music for Beyonce, Kelly Clarkson and Adele, to name a few.
A film montage showcasing Toronto sights played as OneRepublic shared “Good Life” from their 2009 sophomore effort, Waking Up, which was a clear cue that it was time for the Native tour elements to cataclysmically come together. A potent drop of nostalgia and what can only be described as an internal gooey warmth put everyone in a hand-clapping, dancing frenzy, way past the point of return. It is difficult to believe that any artist can sonically and lyrically capture what moments like that feel like, but OneRepublic can do it, with a heaping pile of mozzarella on top of it all.
A Spanish guitar solo, a rolling lead-in of hits such as “Counting Stars”, “I Lived” and “Love Runs Out” and Tedder’s jogs into the audience to sing and take selfies were enough to drag the ACC masses into a deep joyful pit. Tedder only fueled the experience by complementing Lights, who opened the evening with a half hour energetic, well-rounded set. Amidst reminiscent comments of living in Toronto and songs such as “Siberia”, “Banner” and “Drive My Soul”, her performance was lost in the stadium, but bounced back due to her bubbly nature.
Tedder too fondly recalled gradually moving up in Toronto venues, going from crowds of less than 300 to the Kool Haus, the Molson Canadian Amphitheatre, and now this stadium. “Play the Horseshoe? Okay,” he responded to a fan who called out the famed Queen Street West venue. While the notion is certainly fun to entertain, with the promise of a new album on the way, it is unlikely.
Besides, the boys seem to be aiming for bigger, bolder creative extensions; at least, that is what their closing performance of “Lose Myself”, which drew on the Alesso-remix to shift to an EDM-show atmosphere, complete with sporadic strobes, multi-coloured tribal drums and intensive visuals of the band members in the backdrop. Regardless of their methodology, fans will likely latch onto anything the Colorado boys send our way. In this day and age, positivity can be hard thing to come by. If OneRepublic leaves you with a smile, then forget about the clichés. Just give into them. It’s worth it.