[This is from Ottawa correspondent Ross MacDonald. – AC]
On Monday 4 April, Ottawa hosted its first full-arena rock concert in over two years. And the crowd wasn’t eased back into live music, they were thrust back into it, being treated to three high-energy punk bands: Montreal-based NOBRO opened up for Ottawa favorites Rise Against and Billy Talent.
As the arena was still filling up NOBRO took the stage, playing hard and fast. They are reminiscent of the punk bands of the 70s and 80s, but at the same time unique with polished instrumentation. Lead singer Kathryn McCaughey may be small in stature, but she is big on presence and vocals. Kathryn was loving the evening as she climbed up on the monitor speakers and got the audience to help her sing the chorus to their song ‘Eat Slay Chardonnay’.
As the lights went down just before Rise Against took the stage, the screens onstage played media clips of the suffering of refugees around the world, most notably the recent tragedies in Syria and Ukraine. It was a sobering preamble as the band took the stage and opened up with their hit Prayer of the Refugee. This is what punk is all about, using powerful music to help bring attention to social issues and Rise Against are experts at it.
At one point in the show, lead singer Tim McIlrath specifically addressed that: “We talk a lot about change, a lot about awareness, we talk about a revolution. But not a revolution that has any racism, xenophobia, or nationalism!” all to great cheers from the crowd.
Tim took a moment to dedicate their song ‘Re-Education (Through Labor)’ “to the people of Ukraine who are suffering in a fight for freedom and a fight for democracy.”
Rise Against are renowned for multiple tempo changes mid-song, and drummer Brandon Barnes makes these quick changes seamlessly from ‘Audience of One’ to their new hit ‘Nowhere Generation’. And sometimes it is about the notes that aren’t played, like in their finale ‘Savior’ with the big pause just before the final chorus explodes; the audience was blown away.
In true punk fashion Billy Talent has taken the opportunity to support those in need. Drummer Aaron Solowoniuk is leading a charity campaign to give much-needed food and money to local food banks at every stop in their tour.
A portion of ticket sales was donated to the Ottawa Foodbank and all fans were asked to bring non-perishable food items where volunteers collected them.
Just before Billy Talent took the stage, Aaron came out to thank everyone who donated to the Ottawa Food bank and also thank all the volunteers who collected the food items.
And moments later the band came out swinging with ‘Devil In A Midnight Mass’. It seems like lead singer Ben Kowalewicz has two speeds: fast and overdrive. However, on several occasions between songs, Ben just paused and explained that after a two-year absence he had to take in the return to packed arenas. Throughout the show everyone in the arena was standing and jumping up and down, the seating area was literally bouncing up and down to the beat.
Ian D’Sa is perhaps the hardest working guitarist in the business. Not only is he picking face-melting riffs while at the same time strumming the rhythm and providing backing vocals and melodies. Plus he gave a little nod to the people of Ukraine with a small blue and yellow heart on his Strat.
Billy Talent did slow things down for one song; their latest hit is a tribute to the late Tragically Hip singer Gord Downie in the melancholy song ‘The Wolf’. Just before the song started Ben shouted “This one’s for Gord!” And the last line of the song finishes with an homage to a pair of Hip songs: “With courage and grace you waved goodbye”.
The penultimate song was ‘This Is How It Goes’ from their 2001 ‘Try Honesty’ EP. It was introduced by Ben as “dedicated to all the fans who have been there from the very beginning.”
The finale song of the night was Billy Talent’s smash hit ‘Devil On My Shoulder’ and of course the fans helped out: in the chorus Ben led and the crowd replied screaming “over and over!”
It was unanimous, everyone at the arena loved the show that all three bands put on.
Kathryn McCaughey – lead vocals, bass
Karolane Carbonneau – lead guitar
Sarah Dion – drums, bass
Lisandre Bourdages – keyboards, percussion, drums
Tim McIlrath – lead vocals, rhythm guitar
Joe Principe – bass, backing vocals
Brandon Barnes – drums, percussion
Zach Blair – lead guitar, backing vocals
Ben Kowalewicz – lead vocals
Ian D’Sa – guitar, vocals, keyboards
Jonathan Gallant – bass guitar, backing vocals
Aaron Solowoniuk – drums (currently on hiatus), spearheading charity
Loel Campbell – drums