Monday, July 4, 2011

Buffalo News - OLP Hard Rock Summer Concert Series Review

What a bill. What a setting. What a crowd.
Saturday, Niagara Falls hosted venerated Canadian alternative band Our Lady Peace adjacent to the Falls, on the grounds of the Hard Rock Cafe. Thousands turned out to see the band, which has been making a habit of playing our neck of the woods around this time of the season for the past several years.
Shows as part of the Canal Concert Series in Lockport and at the Riviera Theatre in North Tonawanda have already become the stuff of legend.
We can add Saturday’s Falls show to the list. The band simply tore it up. This was the finest show I’ve seen OLP offer in the nearly 20 years it has been coming to the Buffalo area.
Of course, as beautiful as the setting was and as smooth as things progressed throughout the nearly six hours of live music on offer, there was a (small) fly in the ointment. Roughly an hour into OLP’s set, roadies rushed onto the stage, whispered in singer Raine Maida’s ear, and suddenly, everything was on hold. A looming storm —which, by the way, never fully arrived — brought lightning over the Falls, which is a major problem for outdoor gigs powered by megawatt systems.
Happily, after a half an hour or so, the band returned and seemed to kick things into serious acceleration for the remainder of its set, which went well past the evening’s curfew. Incidentally, it didn’t appear that the threat of lousy weather and a potentially canceled show had urged many, if any, to leave.
OLP — singer Maida, guitarist Steven Mazur, bassist Duncan Couts and drummer Jeremy Taggart — rose to prominence in the middle ’90s, peaking in commercial terms with the album “Clumsy.” The Juno-winning group is hardly riding on the strength of its early work, however. It released its most ambitious effort, “Spiritual Machines,” in 2000 and perhaps a career-defining work in 2009’s “Burn Burn Burn.”
The band has always been well-loved in Western New York, and Saturday, it was easy to understand why—with Maida’s yearning-inflected vocals leading the way, OLP brings an arena-sized grandiloquence to the stage. At once smart, visceral and well-structured, the group’s sound brings the heaviness of grunge to bear on harmonic schemes akin to those favored by Muse, the Smashing Pumpkins, and “The Bends”-era Radiohead.
All of this was in evidence Saturday. Perhaps the two songs that most ably display the parameters of the OLP sound were both performed during the show.
“Is Anybody Home?” is an esoteric ballad centered on Maida’s idiosyncratically compelling vocals; the piece moves through dramatically dynamic sections and is a “power ballad” in the nonpejorative sense of the term. Mazur’s guitar work was a delight here, moving with grace between chiming arpeggios and attitude-driven melodic lines.
“Starseed,” played near the finale, is what we might refer to as “classic” OLP — a soaring vocal melody, image-rich lyrics, odd but addictive chorus hook and incredibly tight interplay between the musicians combine to create gloriously anthemic alt-rock. In this department, OLP has few peers.
Saturday’s show had much more than OLP to recommend it. A late addition to the bill was legendary rapper and rocker Darryl “DMC” McDaniels, of the seminal outfit RUN-DMC. DMC is on the road in support of a new album, “The Origins of Block Music,” and backed only by a clearly brilliant DJ, he tore up the Falls stage.
Reprising a collaboration with Sarah McLachlan on the rap-rock hybrid “Just Like Me” — which marries the chorus of Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s in the Cradle” to DMC’s rap and McLachlan’s keening vocal — DMC held the assembled in his tightly clenched fist. He delivered the goods with his own version of RUN-DMC’s gritty “Mary Mary” and did the same with the immortal “It’s Tricky.” DMC’s set felt a little too brief, but it was a real treat.
Local band Agent Me kicked things off with a strong set of its quirky alt-rock originals, and even early on, the crowd was large and into it.
Klear belong in an arena, frankly. Led by vocalist Fred Shafer and guitarist Bruce Wojick, the recently reformed Western New York favorite performed like a headliner, treating enthused fans in its native Niagara Falls to an inspired set of soulful hard rock, peaking with a torrid “It’s All on Me.” (The band will open for Alice Cooper and Anvil at the Harbor later this summer.)
Son of the Sun offered the finest of the three sets I’ve watched the band perform in recent weeks. Introduced by the evening’s emcee, a DJ from 103.3 the Edge, as the “finest band in Western New York at the moment,” Son of the Sun’s set—blending edgy alternative, garage rock and power-pop — backed up such a claim.

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