It was a surprisingly cold October night as if the dozens of people waiting to get into the Opera House needed another reminder that summer was over. That’s the beauty of concerts though; you see the passion in the fans’ hearts as they are willing to wait, and sometimes freeze, in line just to ensure a better experience watching their favourite bands. On October 9th, Four Year Strong played their second Toronto show of 2015 at The Opera House, and with a new album recently released, it was sure to be one hell of a night.
The first act was Elder Brother; a pop-punk band signed to Pure Noise Records. I honestly didn’t expect much, but, along with most of the audience, I was surprised to see a single musician sitting up on the stage. As his greeting to Toronto rang through the venue, he encouraged everyone to come a little closer to the stage. He started to strum a clean electric guitar, and his voice attracted about twenty people to the front. After he had played his first song, he introduced himself as Dan Rose of Elder Brother, and humbly explained that the rest of the band couldn’t make it on the tour. He played a few more songs, some originals, some covers; each one sounding as beautifully emotional as the last, and between songs he thanked the audience for showing up early to check out the opening acts. The highlight of his set had to have been his cover of “Good Good Things” by The Descendants. To take a song from such a legendary punk rock band, and introduce a whole new feel to the song that better suits the melancholy lyrics was something Dan did effortlessly. It properly showcased his talents as a musician and truly made me wish he had a solo album.
Next up was Superheaven, a rock band from Pennsylvania that sounded like it came straight out of the 90s grunge scene. Each band member (aside from the drummer) had long, flowing hair, and their crunchy guitars matched the lead singer’s raspy voice. One thing that caught my attention was the bassist. He was the most active on stage (it’s always nice to see a bassist who isn’t the slowest-moving member), and was clearly into the music. Also, his bass tone was so distorted and fuzzy at times that it sounded more like a third, low-end guitar than a bass, which was just the push needed for the sound to be as full as possible. Aside from a couple level issues in the mix, the only problem I had with their set is that the band sometimes took up to two minutes between songs just to tune their instruments. Of course, it’s important to keep your instruments in tune, but to take that long in doing so without any engagement with the crowd during that time makes them lose interest. That being said, it was a solid set, and Superheaven proved themselves to be more memorable in performance than in musical material.
Continuing the theme of ‘let’s-make-every-opening-band-heavier-than-the-last,’ hardcore band, Defeater, made their presence clear. As the guitarists’ dissonant, distorted chords rang out of their Orange amplifiers, the crowd was already hyped up and ready to move for the first time that night. As the lead vocalist made his way, front and centre, you could tell the band was already feeding off the crowd’s energy. By their last song, “Red, White, and Blues,” the whole crowd was moving, and a fair amount of crowd surfers and stage divers introduced themselves. Defeater wasn’t too memorable for people that weren’t already familiar with them, but they were a treat for the ‘Hardcore’ fans. (See what I did there?)
The audience was more than ready for Four Year Strong at this point, but I don’t think anyone was expecting the show to start the way it did. A creepy-sounding backing track played while a man wearing a zebra print leotard and a white mask crept and crawled on stage holding a red balloon. After about thirty-seconds, he popped the balloon on an audience member’s head, and then he left, shortly followed by the band taking the stage. It was utterly pointless, but memorable; undoubtedly the biggest WTF moment of the night. Four Year Strong opened with the second track off their newest album, “We All Float Down Here.” The crowd was already jumping, and moshing by the breakdown. The band followed it up with “What The Hell Is A Gigawatt?” another one of their heaviest songs. It was a good transition from the heaviness of the previous band, and the fans were loving every second of it. They certainly took advantage of the thing that makes The Opera House one of my favourite venues: no barricades. The crowd was welcomed up on stage to do whatever they wanted: dance, stage dive, some people even took selfies with the band as they were playing (which, as much as I hate people that use their phones during shows, was a cool opportunity to have).
There was a variety of songs from their three good albums, as well as a couple tracks from their newest EP. The night ended with a two-song encore: “Maniac” one of my personal favourite songs, and “Wasting Time,” an easy crowd pleaser. “Maniac” left me almost disappointed with the crowd. Everyone seemed to stop caring about the song after the first chorus; even during the breakdown/outro, people weren’t as into it as the band was. A bit surprising considering this was a crowd that chanted “Four Year Strong! Four Year Strong!” just minutes prior.
There was a minor problem with the amount of people allowed on stage, however, and it mainly lied with the fact that only about a quarter of the crowd was pushed up to the front. After that swarm was an enormous gap meant for any mosh pit of any kind, and a proper pit never really happened that night despite the fact that there was so much space. Also, the lack of people crowded near the very front meant one of two things: either crowd surfers couldn’t find space to be carried, or they would fall almost instantly after stage diving. The other problem I had with the crowd was that they didn’t seem decisive on how to react to the music. There was a lot of uncertainty on whether people should have been happily jumping up and down to the major-key breakdowns, or whether to mosh and headband aggressively. This caused some unwanted conflicts. It’s a fine line, but I suppose that’s easy-core for you. Regardless, these minor crowd issues didn’t stop everyone from enjoying themselves, or the excellent set that Four Year Strong played.
All in all, it was still an incredible night; one that I was more than happy to be a part of. The bands were diverse, yet surprisingly cohesive. The only complaints were about the crowd. They were passionate about the music, but at the wrong moments. It seemed like they were connected to the bands, but at the same time completely disconnected from the music. Despite that, I thoroughly enjoyed myself, and will definitely be catching these guys again!
Written by Mathieu Perrier
Photography by Danielle Kenedy
*edited by Danielle Kenedy