Canadian alt-rock band July Talk concluded their Remember Never Before Tour at House of Blues Dallas last Monday. Cool blue light engulfed the room as fans filed in, checking out the merch by the door, claiming a spot closest to the barricade, or ordering drinks at the bar. Friends embraced, vinyl were bought, and Liquid Death and Twisted Teas were sipped in anticipation for the rest of the night.
DARKBIRD made their first appearance during sound check. “Don’t mind the next few minutes,” lead singer Kelly Barnes said, “we’re warming up. [This is] behind the scenes SHIT. It’s a beautiful thing.” The band immediately went into a song, and Kelly’s voice grabbed the audience’s attention almost instantly. With how easily Kelly made the stage her own, combined with the sounds from the rest of the ensemble, it was like hook, line, and sinker.
“I’ve been teased” was my +1’s immediate reply as DARKBIRD left the stage. If that was just the warm up, we were reeled in and excited to watch this opener’s actual set.
Kelly Barnes showcased a myriad of moves on stage, from high-voltage jumps to stylized pivots, dramatic leans in all directions, and even jumping atop the nearby speaker to get closer to the audience during their last song. Even the strings were swaying along, and the keyboardist was tapping his foot to the beat. Kelly knew her way around an XLR cable, holding it gently like a ribbon, direction like a lasso, and with precision as to not twist or tangle her or her bandmates up in it as she traveled across the stage. DARKBIRD gave it their all for the audience, and it really showed. I’ll be surprised if they don’t headline a tour next year given the presence they had on the stage, and the impression they left on the audience. My top picks of the songs played were “Heartbeat,” “Bad Self,” & “Get Back Here.”
Big band jazz prevailed throughout the venue speakers as we were getting closer to July Talk taking stage. It took me by surprise at first, but the playlist worked wonderfully with their keyboard that radiated ‘40s jazz bar energy. In the meantime, I couldn’t help but feel content in the moment with the crowd’s hearty warm dialogue, jovial inflections, and glowing faces. The drapes, floral patterns on the wall, and laid back atmosphere of the Cambridge Room gave the night the same energy as an intimate house show.
July Talk made their way on stage, with lead singers Peter Dreimanis and Leah Fay adorning black and white outfits, a color scheme that was signature of their brand for many years. The choice was initially a visual metaphor for their contrasting vocal styles, so seeing it was a nice callback to their early days. They’ve recently entered a new era of more expression and less creative restriction, which is covered more in-depth in our interview with Peter and Leah coming out later this week. July Talk jumped straight into the night with “Picturing Love,” the opening track from their album Touch. “Now I Know” fit wonderfully as a follow-up, as both heavily deal with themes of finding and then falling in love, and “Lola + Joseph” was the perfect boost of energy to then transition into two songs from their newest EP. Of the two, their performance of “After This” was especially emotionally impactful live, especially when Peter was looking out into the crowd chanting “After this / I will be / Something else / Instead of me.”
Even though Tanya Tagaq wasn’t on tour with them this round, the lack of throat singing in “Beck + Call” was made up for by the chemistry of Peter, Leah, and guitarist Ian Docherty on stage. Like with “Lola + Joseph,” Peter and Leah treated the song like a dialogue, with an engaging back-and-forth to not just hear, but also watch. It was so satisfying to see moves reminiscent of the song’s music video on stage, as well as Peter’s chaotic but controlled gyrating of his mic by its XLR cable. The energy of that track’s close was quickly matched and then surpassed by one of their most popular songs, “Guns + Ammunition.”
The lights dimmed after “I Am Water” and we were taken to a gentle, nostalgic trip with “I’ve Rationed Well,” a song from their first album that recently celebrated 10 years. Leah not only walked off-stage for this one, but went straight to the barricade and sat atop it for the whole song, trusting the crowd to spot her if she were to lose balance. Her and Peter kept eye contact throughout, and it felt like we were glimpsing into a memory at times with how quiet and small the room felt with all eyes on them. Leah interacted with the crowd a bit before coming back on stage—even balancing a can on her head—and then they continued on with this softness and tempo with “Touch.”
I consider July Talk to be one of the more popular bands in my rotation, so the fact that this felt like one of the most intimate concert experiences I’ve had is wild to reflect on. These songs come from so many experiences, realizations, and conversations, and the band had no reservations in sharing such a wide range of emotions on-stage. This display had me see “Headsick” in a whole new light, and the memory of Peter beating his chest and looking out at the crowd at “I watched a stranger **** the love of my life” will be ingrained in my memory for a long time.
Of their newest tracks, my favorite has been “Certain Father,” which was even more impressive live and showcased both drummers phenomenally. Leah’s inner dancer came out as the night went on, which had a smooth flow at times and bold force at others—a perfect mix of ballet and hard-rocker. Peter and Leah thanked their manager Jess, as well as the rest of the band on-stage, and closed their set with a song from each of their albums thus far: “Identical Love,” “Summer Dress,” and “Push + Pull.”
For the encore, we were treated to something extremely special: an unreleased song from their upcoming album. It was a last-minute idea, spurred by the realization that this was their last night of the tour. It was a ballad of sorts, but that’s all I’m gonna say, because they told us not to tell Austin, Los Angeles, or the other locations from the tour that we were given this. Y’all won’t have to wait too long to hear it though, because Remember Never Before is coming January 20th.
They closed the night with one of their very first songs, “The Garden,” with Peter encouraging the crowd to sing-along. What took me for a real loop is that they blended the song with “On the Road Again” by Willie Nelson. Combined with the venue playing “We’ll Meet Again” by Johnny Cash once July Talk left the stage for the last time, the entire send off gave me a good laugh.
July Talk not only sounds as phenomenal live as they do on record, but they far surpass it. Now, when I listen to their tracks in the car or at home, it’s still a wonderful time, but I can’t help but feel like the recordings are dampened in comparison. Perhaps it has to do with how so many of the songs work as a conversation, a shared moment between persons, that witnessing those dialogues live gives an entirely new depth to their duets. From the shirt pulls, leaning over the keys like it’s a late night jazz bar, fleeting glances, playfulness, and memorable eye contact not only with each other but with the crowd, I’ve never felt so connected with a band than through how they performed for and with us that night.
Many of July Talk’s tracks follow a “this” + “that” naming style, so as a fun exercise I wanted to play with how I would describe the night in that fashion. Here’s what I came up with:
Fierce + Gentle
Soft + Explosive
Shaking + Caress
Hope + Love
With the culmination of that night’s performance and being lucky enough to interview Leah and Peter earlier that day, I am hooked more than ever before, and can’t wait for their next US tour. But until then, we’ve got Remember Never Before to look forward to in the new year.