Lovable, local punk rockers deliver satisfying show to thrilled fans
Who: Billy Talent
Where: Budweiser Stage, Toronto
When: Sat., July 8
Vibe: Loyal fans rocking out to their favourite songs
Highlight: Aaron Solowoniuk joining the band to play drums
Next: Multiple festival dates across Canada and the U.S., including July 15 at Rock The Park in London, ON; Aug. 5 at Area 506 Festival in Saint John, NB; Aug. 12 at Burt Block Party in Winnipeg, MB
Rating: NNNNN (out of 5)
It’s a long, sweaty and, most importantly, loud night at Budweiser Stage, where Billy Talent are playing their headlining show. It’s a particularly busy evening in Toronto, and the traffic is more frustrating than usual, what with Beyoncé playing her first night of the North American Renaissance tour just down the road at Rogers Centre at the same time.
It’s a stacked lineup for this special one-off show of the tour — starting with fellow Toronto rockers The OBGMs, Billy Talent’s friends in Cancer Bats (who flew in that morning from London, U.K., just for this show) and the legendary Californian hip hop group Cypress Hill. Billy Talent frontman Ben Kowalewicz later explains that the band grew up listening to Cypress Hill, driving around and smoking weed when they were 17.
Throughout their hour-and-a-half set, Billy Talent waste no time and play all their greatest hits from their decades-long career. Kowalewicz even tricks the audience for a moment by announcing they’ll play a brand new song, sarcastically saying he knows how much everyone likes hearing new songs live for the first time, before guitarist Ian D’Sa launches into the all-too-familiar first notes of Fallen Leaves.
The summer of 2023 is the 20th anniversary of their debut album and the 30th anniversary of the band, which was formed in the suburbs of Mississauga. It’s evident from all the enthusiastic and loud singing from the crowd that many of the audience members have been loyal fans for most of Billy Talent’s career. It’s a nostalgic and triumphant concert for those who grew up hearing Billy Talent on the local radio stations and watching their music videos on MuchMusic. Kowalewicz takes a moment to say how grateful the band is that fans make time to come out to the shows, acknowledging that as we all get older, it’s a real commitment to find parking and get babysitters. Though, it seemed that many parents ended up sharing their love of music with their young children by bringing them to the sold-out show.
As many long-time fans of the band know, Loel Campbell from Winter Sleep has been filling in for original drummer Aaron Solowoniuk, who has been on hiatus from the band due to his symptoms from multiple sclerosis. However, Solowoniuk was able to step in and play drums for two songs during the set: Surrender and Pins and Needles.
The night ends without the charade of an encore, concluding with Viking Death March and Red Flag. It feels like this concert is a culmination of all of Billy Talent’s success so far — a band that has rightfully been cemented as one of the greatest influences of rock music in Canada.