*photos and review by Drew Nihill
Over the years Hamilton has been know for a lot things. Steel. The Tiger-Cats. Homeless People. Dirt. But those who live here know it’s also a haven for artists, entrepreneurs, and musicians. The latter is becoming less of a secret, as the city has seen an explosion of success lately churning out the Arkells, Monster Truck, and The Dirty Nil. Hell, Gord Downie himself, professed Hamilton to be Canada’s best music town. Maybe that’s why September’s SuperCrawl has grown into the area’s ultimate music and art festival. On the heels of last year’s record attendance, at more than 200,000 people, the guys at Sonic Unyon decided to add to SuperCrawl’s repertoire and kick off the party 3 months early with Homefield. Hosted at none other than the Ti-Cats home turf, Tim Horton’s Field. The CFL football stadium would feature Billy Talent, Danko Jones, and Hamilton’s own, Teenage Head.
Billy Talent was the headliner, no doubt about it. Danko Jones would do a fine job. But I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the damn near heroic effort of Canadian legends, Teenage Head. The godfather’s of punk rock took the stage, the sun still beating down, and showed everyone why bands like Billy Talent even exist today. Seemingly undaunted by the overwhelmingly younger crowd, the band danced and rocked their way through a set of new and old songs. With every power chord they earned a new fan. Teenage members of the crowd would disappear up the steps to the concourse, only to return with Teenage Head t-shirts. For 45 minutes in downtown Hamilton it was 1982 again. Frankie Venom would be proud.
By the time 9:30 came around, the sun had set. The air had cooled. And the crowd’s chants of “Billy, Billy!” had turned to a roar. Guitarist Ian D’Sa and bassist Jonathan Gallant hit the stage already playing as the quartet launched into their standard opener, “Devil in a Midnight Mass”. Drenched in red light the band continued its assault. Without missing a beat, it was on to “This Suffering”. The crowd moshed and surfed its way through a high tempo first half. Peppered with songs new and old, the band dipped into it’s first album as lead singer, Ben Kowalewicz, yelled “this is an old one, but it still pisses me off!”, playing “The Ex”; an anthem for all those scorned by love. The show would not be without it’s soft or tender moments either. Joining the band on stage for “Surrender” was founding drummer, Aaron Solowoniuk. Aaron has been absent from Billy Talent’s recent tour, and even the most recent recording, as he continues his valiant battle against multiple sclerosis. Kowalewicz took time to acknowledge, “it’s at times like this you find out who your true friends are”, thanking friend and Alexisonfire drummer, Jordan Hastings, for filling in.
If you attended Billy Talent’s Toronto show, you know the band honored Gord Downie (who is battling health issues of his own) by playing The Tragically Hip’s “Nautical Disaster”. Saturday would offer fans another moment to remember as they honored the early 90’s (music’s best time) and Chris Cornell, with Soundgarden’s “Burden In my Hand”. Shortly after, the night took a weird, and temporarily worrying turn. Thoughts could not help but turn to the tragedy of last week’s Manchester bombing as the band was abruptly taken off stage and the crowd was ordered to evacuate due to a “fire alarm”. The panic was short lived though as frontman, Kowalewicz, bellowed “get the fuck back in here, it’s a false alarm”. Finding the humour in the situation and, no doubt to calm fears, he added “ironically this next song is called Surprise, Surprise”, and “if you’re going to pull the fire alarm, don’t do it during our show”. Continuing to pound out more hits, like “Afraid of Heights” and “Devil on My Shoulder”, the rest of the night went off without a hitch. Closing out the set was a rousing rendition of “Red Flag” that had every member of the audience singing along. Pushing the 11:00 curfew, there was only time for a quick breather as they came right back out with arguably the band’s biggest hit, “Fallen Leaves.” Debut single “Try Honesty was next”, before smash hit “Viking Death March” closed out the night to the sadness of fans, but the relief of people living across the street.
Danko Jones had the unenviable task of going on before Billy Talent, but after Teenage Head. However, they would not disappoint. Fuelled by the release of their new album, Wild Cat, Jones would seize the opportunity to introduce fans to new material. After opening with “I Gotta Rock”, a thundering and heavy set was highlighted by “Full of Regret”, “Cadillac” and “Lovercall” before being closed out by “Gonna Be a Fight Tonight”.