Photographs by Randall Vasquez.
No, the world as we know it didn’t end on January 20th, although we are definitely entering uncertain times with the inauguration of Donald Trump as US President.
While I try to keep my music enthusiasm and politics as far away from each other as possible, it’s tough not to bring up what’s going on with the States’ beyond controversial new commander in chief, as it affects EVERYONE, even the first show of a tour by two of Canada’s best-loved music groups.
I am of course referring to Hollerado and Sam Roberts Band, who in spite of the gathering stormclouds brought ample energy and buoyancy to Toronto’s REBEL (formally bemoaned as Sound Academy).
The unsaid message taken away was to look towards Canada for inspiration, understanding and togetherness. The current operator of the @POTUS Twitter handle may end up unintentionally producing the best protest songs heard since the sixties, but the Great White North already has a mountain range of artists who are able to channel people’s emotions into reassuring, feel-good vibes that make you believe everything is going to be alright…at least for a few hours.
Hollerado seemed to come out of the gate gloomier than I’ve been accustomed to them in the past. Not to lay the political imagery on even thicker, but I can’t help pointing out that the revamped REBEL nightclub is bathed in red lights reminiscent of a certain “Make America Great Again” baseball cap. Thankfully, it didn’t take long for the Manotick Ontario natives’ playfully aggressive attitudes to rise to the forefront, complete with confetti cannons and bad onstage jokes between band members.
Under a banner featuring a crudely-drawn hand giving the peace sign, Hollerado let their infectious pop-rock do most of the talking, mixing old favourites “Americanarama”, “Juliette” and the ultimate song about forgiveness “So It Goes” with new material from their eagerly anticipated third full-length album. To paraphrase lead signer Menno Versteeg, stay positive and celebrate what we have here in Canada, rather than concentrate on the messed up situation south of the border.
Poetic and prophetic is pretty much how I would describe Sam Roberts Band’s entire headlining set. The world-worn Montrealer has a nice guy reputation for being soft-spoken, akin to Leonard Cohen or a Canuck version of Springsteen; just don’t dare accuse him of having mellowed with age. Latest collective effort TerraForm may have been recorded in wintery remote, Eastern Ontario solidarity, but the tracks burst alive with warm feelings about humanity persevering and the all-importantness of hope. What a novel concept.
Actually, anyone with a passing interest in Sam Roberts Band would tell you their entire catalogue is replete with musical motivation to be better, whether it’s “We’re All in This Together”, “Chasing the Light”, “Fixed to Ruin”, “Bridge to Nowhere”, I could go on and on. Oh, and I can confidently report back that Roberts’ five-man team is still extremely capable of tearing it up with the best of ’em. Not to confuse their brand of CanCon-friendly rock with say Iggy and the Stooges, but the addition of a live sax player brings a certain amount of life-giving awesomeness. Nothing like sweating out one’s frustrations over what’s making news on a January night.
I don’t know what’s going to happen these next few days, let alone the next four years. I don’t know if Trump’s speech was plagiarized from Bane in The Dark Knight Rises. What I DO know is as long as level-headed, sensitive, bravely articulate voices such as Sam Roberts continue fighting the good fight, there is a chance of silencing the loudmouthed, angry hateful ones. TerraForm may very well be the surprise soundtrack we all need, right now. If not, Sam Roberts Band puts on a hell of a show, one Canadians and Americans alike will enjoy seeing.