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Matt Mays & Friends Bring “Hell of a Good Time” to Currie Centre

The UNB campus was rocking last Friday evening as Matt Mays, July Talk, and The Beaches put on a three-hour showcase of some of Canada’s finest contemporary rock music.

The bands took over the Currie Centre, which was packed near-to-capacity with eager fans—some of whom crowded the general admission floors while others sat in the bleachers along the perimeter.

Opening the show was Toronto’s The Beaches, making their Maritime debut. The four-piece played tight, crunchy garage rock that evoked early Black Keys or The White Stripes—especially in the drummer’s delightfully hard-hitting style. By the end of their set, all attendees were bobbing their heads in unison with the music—and if people weren’t familiar with them at the start, they certainly seemed to be fans by the end.

Up next, July Talk took over the stage, making their first return to Fredericton since playing the Farmer’s Market last spring. The back-and-forth vocals of singers Leah Fay and Peter Dreimanis kept the crowd hooked as the band tore through tracks off their latest album, Touch, along with earlier hits like “Guns + Ammunition” and “Paper Girl.”

Their set had some personal significance for me, as I last saw them in my very first semester at UNB—and now saw them again in this, my very last semester here. I was pleased (but hardly surprised) to see how seamlessly the newer material has fit into their repertoire alongside the earlier songs. It’s safe to say there has been no “sophomore slump” for them, and I strongly suspect the next time they play the UNB campus, it will be as headliners. They deserve it.

Rounding out the show, of course, was Matt Mays, debuting songs off his latest album Once Upon A Hell Of A Time…, and a hell of a time it was. Armed with a mighty six-piece band—including a killer keyboardist, whose organ solo on one standout track mid-set pierced through the air like a shredding lead guitar—the classic rock vibe was well-embraced by the eager crowd.

A Nova Scotia native, Mays had spoken previously about the joys of playing to a Maritime crowd, and the crowd seemed to live up Mays’ high expectations, enthusiastically rocking out to beloved hits like “Building A Boat” and set-closer “Cocaine Cowgirl,” while his new material—much like July Talk’s—fit in seamlessly alongside older tracks.

Mays expressed fond nostalgia for early gigs at The Cellar, where he jokingly admitted to playing to only two people (the bar staff), and seemed genuinely grateful to be back and playing to such an eager audience—a sentiment repeatedly shared by the two previous bands, too, particularly July Talk, who frequently mentioned how thrilled they were to be playing on the East Coast.

This was the first concert held at the Currie Centre during my stint here at UNB, and it certainly seems to be an underutilized venue: the sound was great, the lights were impressive and it’s a worthy sized-stage for big name acts like these. That said, as I scanned the audience, I got the sense that many in attendance were not students, but people who had come from off-campus, which I worry could be part of the reason events like these don’t happen more often. This feels like a missed opportunity, and I hope more students will embrace and attend on-campus events in the future.

The evening was capped off by a rousing rendition of Bruce Springsteen’s classic “Dancing In The Dark,” in which July Talk and The Beaches returned to the stage to belt out The Boss alongside Mays and his band. The performance was slightly sloppy, sure, but it was also spirited and sincere: exactly what good rock n roll should be.

Photos by Sarah Howden.

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