James Blonde: License to Thrill

JamesBlonde

Stepping into last week’s Warehouse show felt like stepping into a time machine. In one of the most memorable lineups the venue has hosted in recent memory, nostalgia for classic, experimental rock merged with modern songwriting sensibilities to create something that sounded distinctly ahead of its time.

Opening the evening were Rick’s Reptiles, a relatively new local rock act who brought a surprisingly fresh take to older, experimental rock. They breathed life into the prog rock of the late 70s with originals that reminded me of acts like Frank Zappa or yes. Alongside this, though, were a few songs that veered into more mainstream classic rock territory, though even that felt fresh and energetic. Tempos and time signatures were played with, haunting soundscapes became hard-rocking riffs at the drop of a hat and the mood of the set changed on a dime. Rick’s Reptiles have clearly worked hard at cultivating a specific style and they’ve done a great job of grounding their entire performance in that.

One of my favourite moments of their set was a cover of Pink Floyd’s “Young Lust.” I appreciated this because “Young Lust” isn’t one of Pink Floyd’s greatest hits; it’s a relatively obscure track from The Wall and was never even released as a single. Rick’s Reptiles didn’t pick this cover for the name recognition, they picked it because it fit their setlist and I really appreciate that. Rick’s Reptiles have a lot of potential and I hope to see them playing the area more often.

Second on the bill were The Bandicoots, a rock act hailing from Hamilton. One look at the band’s Facebook page will tell you that they’re leaning into a retro vibe, with 70s typefaces and colour schemes. Their music, however, has a more modern vibe and most vividly recalls the English indie rock scene, in particular, Alex Turner and the Arctic Monkeys. Their set was awash with splashy, almost surf-rock guitar tone and smooth grooves that made Warehouse feel more like a speakeasy than a concert venue. The performance was well received and I was particularly fond of their closing song, but I couldn’t help but feel that the band’s potential wasn’t being shown off here. When I say The Bandicoots were reminiscent of the Arctic Monkeys, I’m understating it a little. At times, they felt like an Arctic Monkeys cover band, which I found a little off-putting. Their last song was exciting and performed with a lot of energy, but the rest of the show wasn’t quite up to that level. They were fun, but when they left the stage I couldn’t help but feel I was missing something.

Every time I’ve seen James Blonde over the last few months they’ve been bigger and better. Even so, this performance at Warehouse felt like a quantum leap. Now working with a personal lighting rig and technician, their shows boast a level of production that feels light years above anything else in the area. It matches the huge, stadium-ready sound of the trio, filled with soaring guitar work, infectious grooves, slick baselines and great interplay between loud and quiet moments. James Blonde played three new songs, each of which blew the roof off of Warehouse and felt right at home amongst the classics with which they have made their name.

Their older catalogue feels fresh too. A few have been reworked a little, some with more mysterious intros, others with new instrumental sections and improved upon vocal harmonies. It might seem like a small addition but it makes a world of difference and says a great deal about how ambitious the band are. It’s a common move of famous bands to rework intros to their older classics and play on the anticipation, leaving fans to guess for a moment what’s coming next. The fact that James Blonde can pull this off with their original songs is a testament to how loved they are. That they were willing to try proves just how much love they have for what they do. It really feels like they’re on the verge of breaking through to another level. They’re playing shows that could pack much larger venues, they’re just waiting for those venues to open up to them.

A whole new era of James Blonde might be upon us, but they’re still the fun-loving goofs that made themselves so popular. They still have great banter in between songs. Guitarist Steph Mercier’s ludicrous dance moves (both on stage and while running around the entire venue) are still impossible to understand. The fantastic covers of The Darkness’ “I Believe in a Thing Called Love” and AC/DC’s “Back in Black” that finished the evening were just as fun as they’ve ever been, especially with the inclusion of Mercier and Phil Taylor’s falsetto vocals. They started with a perfect formula, but they’ve somehow made it even more captivating and I can’t wait to see what they get up to next.

 

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