I walked into The High Watt on Thursday night expecting to hear some fairly straight-forward rock music from Toronto-based July Talk and their cohorts and leave feeling rather indifferent. And for the first couple of hours, it seemed like I would be proven correct.
First up was Bearing Torches, a Nashville band who made their affection for Bruce Springsteen, Journey and other arena-rock groups fairly obvious through their music. Despite not sounding like anything more than the sum of their influences, their performance was passionate and fiery.
Next was the Toronto pop-punk group Little Junior, a group who refused to break from their childish personas. Their sense of humor was highly reminiscent of Dude Ranch-era blink-182, complete with the nasally vocals, bleached hair, and unusual outfits (e.g. ironic denim overalls). The band even made a rather catchy hook out of the cliche childhood mantra “I know you are, but what am I?” Little Junior didn’t take themselves too seriously which was refreshing and made for one of the more enjoyable performances of the night and had people singing along to their closing number “Crybaby.”
The penultimate band of the night was another local group called Mona, who brought a familiar Southern alternative rock sound. Another band that failed to create an identity that’s unique from their contemporaries and predecessors, Mona made up for this blasé sound with their live performance. Clearly a crowd favorite, the band had everyone singing along, and singer Nick Brown even briefly disappeared behind the stage only to reappear to numerous cheers right in the middle of the crowd during “Shooting the Moon.”
It was at this point that I began to grow weary of the lack of unique ideas. I dreaded standing around for another “back-to-the-glory-days” rock band, and I looked forward to the end of the night so that I could go study for my Friday morning exam.
And then July Talk took the stage.
As soon as the band took the stage I could tell that there was something unique happening. Opening with “Picturing Love,” a song that on Spotify sounds like a straightforward blues-rock track, I quickly learned that the secret to July Talk lies in their live shows. Backed by an incredibly tight band, co-vocalists Peter Dreimanis and Leah Fay were the stars of the show, demonstrating incredible amounts of swagger, chemistry and energy.
Between tons of sensual dancing, swaying, caressing, and at times licking of fingers, the duo made it very clear why they are such an enjoyable act to watch: they’re weird. Whether it’s due to alcohol or illegal substances or just a natural lack of inhibitions, these two refused to care what anyone thought of their strange onstage antics, and in doing so reminded me of what makes rock music so great. At times manic, ominous, or seductive (often all three), July Talk translate their music into something so palpable that it’s more spectacle than concert. The danceable grooves on songs like “Push+Pull” and ominous piano leads found on tracks such as “Strange Habit” arouse Fay and Dreimanis to move, shake, gyrate, and perform any other number of motions. Not only this, but they invite their audience to share in their weirdness, often walking through the crowd, embracing audience members and singing mere inches from their faces. The Dreimanis’ gravelly baritone vocals perfectly play off of Fay’s sultry yet angelic voice, and the unusual song structures and lyrical perspectives (listen to “Gentleman”) are the perfect backdrop to this unapologetically sexual, strange and stimulating spectacle.
If there are two things that I’ve learned from this show, it’s that 1. I need to be less cynical and 2. if July Talk comes to town, go see them.