Show no match for Aberdeen

Fans head to street party after Metric, skip Billy Talent

Metric’s Emily Haines got the crowd going at the Homecoming show, but Billy Talent was no match for Aberdeen Street.
Metric’s Emily Haines got the crowd going at the Homecoming show, but Billy Talent was no match for Aberdeen Street.
Ben Kowalewicz of Billy Talent attempts to lure the crowd back to the show.
Ben Kowalewicz of Billy Talent attempts to lure the crowd back to the show.

Concert Review: 2005 Homecoming Concert w/Billy Talent, Metric and Strippers Union Local 518 @ the Miller Hall parking lot

Saturday night, for the second time this month, the Miller Hall parking lot was transformed into a rock arena. For the concert’s organizers it was all about spectacle—“HOMECOMING ROCKS QUEEN’S ALUMNI AND STUDENTS” was projected in white letters onto two nearby buildings, while a chain of balloons arched over the Union Street entrance.

Every campus organization was on hand to make sure the show ran smoothly. The StuCons were particularly prolific as they milled about, keeping a close eye on alumni and students mingling in the beer tent and rowdy frosh by the stage. They didn’t really have anything to worry about—no one was going to risk his or her admission to a free Billy Talent/Metric show.

Perhaps you’re wondering why the show was free. After all, the organizers could have easily charged 20 bucks a ticket and made a bundle. But in an effort to curb the Aberdeen mayhem of Homecoming weekend—i.e. drunken party-goers wandering into traffic, the broken bottles and other abandoned garbage, the loud parties continuing long into the night and, scariest of all, the general lack of control over the whole thing—the administration chose to take preventive action.

In the past, this has meant distractions like last year’s “Crash the Ceildh”—a.k.a. “Go hang out in JDUC!”—which utterly bombed. This year it meant a free outdoor concert.

The top question on the organizers’ minds was whether a concert would actually have an impact on the Saturday evening rowdiness. A big-name show is not a cheap event to put on, especially when there is no revenue. They had to get a sizable number of drunks and potential drunks off the streets or it would be back to the drawing board for next year. Well, if the organizers were worried about bodies being in the Miller Parking Lot, rest assured the lot was packed.

Whether those bodies would otherwise have been at Aberdeen is a different question altogether. Results of some crowd-surveying: the frosh couldn’t care less about Aberdeen. They’re too young to drink and too new to party. To them, a free Billy Talent show is on par with discovering a river of chocolate. The alumni, on the other hand, were very conflicted about where they wanted to be. I didn’t stick around these middle-aged folk long enough to hear whether they thought that the crunchy screams of Billy Talent’s “Try Honesty” was worth it, though, so their reaction remains unknown. And the upper-years? They were a mixed bag. Some said they only came for Metric so they could leave before midnight and still have plenty of time to party. Others stuck around for the whole thing.

Of course, when I say the whole thing, I’m excluding Strippers Union Local 518, the evening’s openers. Even the most serene Buddhist wouldn’t trade the insanity of a kegger for this Rob Baker project. Not only did rock fans have to put up with the summer assault of “Give Up and Go Away” on local rock radio, we also had to hear it performed as—supposedly—the best song of a set. No matter how boring that single is, their other material is much worse live. This under-rehearsed roots-rock belongs on the side stage of a folk festival, not at a concert for MuchMusic-friendly teens. It took a cover of The Odds’ “Someone Who’s Cool” to stir up any reaction in the sparse crowd. I spent the set hoping the Strippers would heed the advice spelled out in their single’s title, but I had no such luck. After 40 minutes of scrappy jams, they left the stage. Obviously, indie rock fans had anticipated a lacklustre performance by the Strippers and waited to file in during the half-hour setup before Metric, bringing the crowd to a hefty size.

At this point the sky was pitch black, which was a perfect setting for Metric to slink onstage in their hipster duds. The foursome started softly and slowly but quickly intensified the drums, bass and guitar, laying math-rock grooves while singer Emily Haines bounced between her synthesizer and microphone. Haines worked the crowd with head-banging and leg-kicks, with her shaggy-haired charisma warming the audience response. The crowd pogoed to the anthems “Succexy” and “Combat Baby” from Metric’s 2003 release Old World Underground, Where Are You Now?

Even the slow-burning “Calculation Theme” drew a cheer from fans who recognized the opening synth notes. Metric also performed many songs from their sophomore album, Live It Out, scheduled to hit stores today. Perhaps the non-headlining timeslot was used to test newer material, but the crowd didn’t receive it as affectionately as the older songs. But give them time—the new material was ethereal, experimental, and rich. Metric finished their set just before midnight, roughly the same time that the street parties were kicking into gear.

Any hope of culling the upper-year partiers away from the streets was lost as much of the crowd dissipated. The only people who remained were frosh and upper-years who probably weren’t planning on drinking anyway.

For those who stuck around, Billy Talent did not disappoint. Fresh from the road, they applied their hard-earned stage experience to the material from their self-titled 2003 MuchMusic success.

While Metric hid behind dark clothes and long bangs, Billy Talent ripped their shirts off and screamed about how much they hate their parents. Guitarist Ian D’Sa and bassist Jonathan Gallant shouted their vocals so viciously it was hard to tell whether they were trying to back up singer Ben Kowalewicz or overpower him. Kowalewicz was even more volatile, shredding his vocal chords in a shrill but well-enunciated lyrical attack on everything from George W. Bush to snobby hipsters.

True, it was annoying to watch kids complain about Metric’s synth-pop and then bounce to rock-fisted teen angst, but you have to admit: what Billy Talent does, they do well. Rarely has a band sounded so ferociously creepy without being sadistic.

They might scream and swear but these are good, clean kids. And as Kowalewicz said between songs, “As Canadians we understand respect. If we see another person down, we pick them up.”

Metric wasn’t the only band with new material. Billy Talent proudly announced their imminent return to the studio before showcasing a few new tracks. By the sounds of it, we have plenty to look forward to. The new songs capture the angst just as convincingly as the older material.

By 1:15 a.m., the band wrapped up a three-song encore and left the stage for good, leaving plenty of time for partiers to head to Aberdeen, where the festivities were still in full swing.

So was this costly diversion worth the money? Nobody complained about the free concert, but it certainly didn’t keep anyone away from Aberdeen.

My suggestions: schedule a band that the upper-years and alumni will want to see as the final act of the evening. Also, keep the concert going at least as long as the Aberdeen party.

Even at 1:30 a.m., half the crowd went straight from the concert to the keggers with plenty of time left to party. The only way a concert will draw people from the streets is if it’s a popular band performing onstage that can genuinely compete with the Aberdeen festivities.

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