If I may, I’d like to begin this review by quoting one of the great art collectives of our generation, Nickelback. Combining the poetic restraint of Keats and the vernacular edge of Ginsberg, lead singer Chad Kroeger once famously said, “We all just wanna be big rockstars, and live in hilltop houses, driving fifteen cars”— Kroeger’s words haunted me on Friday night as I walked home from an evening of music and much, much more at Petit Campus. But let’s backtrack a moment because I need to actually talk about the show first.
As any respectable Catholic would do, I spent the night of Good Friday drinking Four Loko and going to a concert. Playing their first-ever gig in Montreal, Australian indie darlings DMA’s have been getting some serious international buzz recently, including a recent appearance as the musical guest on The Tonight Show.
And for good reason. These young dudes put on a great show. According to an old friend from Sydney (don’t worry Kevin Song, I’m not gonna reveal your identity on the internet), DMA’s are “one of the most sought-after acts” down under, playing “sold out” shows across Sydney, Melbourne and other major Australian cities. Friday night’s show, then, was a strong indication that DMA’s will continue to find success on this continent, too.
Playing songs from their recently released, full-length album Hills End, as well as a selection of tracks from their 2014 EP, the Aussie boys blasted through a setlist that included hits such as Your Low and Laced as well as fan-favourite Delete, which has the sweeping, arena-ready quality of an old Oasis track (Champagne Supernova, anyone?). Self-evident as this observation may be, it also captures the essence of the band.
Indeed, DMA’s wear their 90s Britpop influences on their Adidas tracksuit sleeves. They make no bones about trying to obscure the musical culture that’s brought them into being.
Take lead singer Tommy O’Dell, for example, who is Liam Gallagher reincarnate—Manchester accent and all—when he steps in front of the mic. Or the song Your Low, which (as one savvy Youtube commenter has also noted) sounds an awful-lot like Blur’s hit track Coffee and TV.
DMA’s clear audial and aesthetic allegiance to the 90s UK scene was enough for The Guardian to dub the group “Ausasis” and for the characteristically snobbish Noel Gallagher (of Oasis) to promise he would “boo” the group when he saw them last year (he didn’t).
So yes, DMA’s sound a lot like Oasis, but that’s not a bad thing, is it? It shouldn’t be. Detractors of the group’s sound and style should keep in mind the old adage nothing is original. All artists, in every genre, are products of previous musical traditions. DMA’s just happen to be a little more overt about their sources of inspiration, that’s all.
And what’s more, DMA’s are reviving a sound that’s essentially been dormant ever since Blur’s 1999 barely-Britpop release, 13. In a time where pop music has pushed guitar-led tunes to the periphery, DMA’s evident embrace of the instrument (there are three guitarists and a bassist in their live act) is a welcome, albeit nostalgic, shift in the sonic tide.
I tried to get a pre-show interview with the band to have an intellectual discussion about the meaning of rock ‘n roll, but I’m sure the band was probably too busy, so I didn’t really hear back from them. Well, I actually heard back from one of their managers, who then proceeded to slow-fade me via email (that is, she replied to my enthusiastic messages with shorter and shorter responses).
So in lieu of an actual interview, I just hung out by the bar after the show, casually sipping from my tepid pitcher of Labatt, channeling Lester Bangs, ready at any moment to confidently state, “Don’t worry guys, I’m with the press.”
In no way, shape, or form did anything remotely that cool happen, but by virtue of there simply being no one else left in Petit Campus at midnight– save for me, my roommate, and the band– I finally got the face-time that I was so desperately craving.
When I introduced myself to acoustic guitarist Johnny Took, he seemed very pleased to meet me (perhaps, though, that was the backstage beers talking), and was happy to hear about my so-called Australian-connection (I tried hard, likely too hard, to impress with my knowledge of Sydney suburbs, and stating repeatedly that ‘I love Hugh Jackman and INXS’). Johnny told me that the band was considering relocating to Los Angeles, and also, I think, something about building a studio in Amsterdam (probably the post-show beers speaking on behalf of my memory).
But my resting persona as a calm, cool and detached journalist eroded almost instantaneously into thirsty fanboy as I proceeded to ask hard-hitting questions such as, “What are you guys doing later, Where are you going later tonight,” and “What bar are you going to later tonight?”
Even though I didn’t realize it at the time, my ‘cover’ was totally blown. So after I helped the band load their gear into the van, I walked with the guys to Biftek (the can’t-miss establishment in Montreal’s vibrant nightlife scene) for a night of further serious journalistic inquiry.
Shockingly– somewhere between us entering the bar and me stepping over to the ATM for several minutes to withdraw cash— the boys from DMA’s had vanished forever, rendered mere spectres of the Montreal night. In other words, I had been aggressively ‘ghosted’ by one of the hottest bands in Australia.
And so, as all good pieces of writing do, I conclude by reflecting upon the lyrics of Nickelback. Despite his bleach-blonde Tarzan locks, Chad Kroeger was actually onto something when he said, “We all just wanna be big rockstars.”
On Friday night, I was a rockstar without a guitar, or a band. But also, and perhaps more realistically, I was a journalist without a pen, or a computer…or a coherent set of questions.
* Image of Bar Bifteck from boulevardsaintlaurent.com