AWOLNATION @ The Phoenix Concert Theatre

After a 3-year wait, electro-indie pioneers AWOLNATION have returned with the new album Here Come the Runts, and Toronto was lucky enough to be the very first city on the supporting tour.  An absolutely wild show at The Phoenix Concert Theatre on February 10th made for a very appropriate kick-off party, with fellow noisemakers Irontom and Nothing But Thieves.

Irontom are an up and coming group of ingénues who thrive on knotty bass riffs and a youthful, animated stage presence. They’re like AWOLNATION’s younger cousin, complete with a devil-may-care attitude that can be heard in songs like “Minista” and “Be Bold Like Elijah”.

Following them were the similarly riff-driven Nothing But Thieves, whose lead singer Conor Mason and his impressive vocal range lit up the stage as they tore through their smash hits “Trip Switch” and “Wake Up Call”, along with a whole host of new songs from latest album Broken Machine. The fast and furious “Amsterdam” riled up the crowd in a big way, as did most recent single “Sorry”.

It’s not at all hyperbolic to say that AWOLNATION are one of the most influential bands of the 2010’s. If you recall the halcyon days of 2010 you’ll realize that modern rock was caught in a loose, directionless void that wouldn’t gel until the spring of 2011 when “Sail” came onto the scene. It wasn’t so much of a direct influence sonically as it was behaviourally. “Sail” redefined what “rock” meant in the new millennium and broke down borders between nearly every genre imaginable. Prior to the song’s release, acts that were primarily synthesizer-based were relegated to the fringe; now they’re the norm. Bands are experimenting with every style of music imaginable, and scoring huge radio hits with these styles.

AWOLNATION’s latest record switches things up again. Frontman Aaron Bruno showed a penchant for raucous, frenetic arrangements on the first record and got wild on sophomore offering Run, and now has redefined himself as some sort of elder statesmen of modern rock. His amalgamation of danceable indie-pop and heavy rock has been tempered with a soulful, very guitar-centred core that finds Bruno emulating a classic rock sound on many tracks like “Seven Sticks of Dynamite”. The “organic” reinvention was hammered home with the stage adorned with wood paneling and various fake ferns and other potted plants.

That said, there was no shortage of the sound that Bruno built his base on. “Miracle Man” and “Jealous Buffoon” are both rooted in pop, with the former incorporating hardcore into its fold and the latter couching its central guitar riff in a melody that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on 1950s radio. Most recent single “Passion” also is equal parts hardcore breakdown and falsetto earworms, with no less than four distinct hooks strung together in one tidy package.

Of course the hits were present. “Not Your Fault”, “Hollow Moon (Bad Wolf)”, “Kill Your Heroes”, and “Sail” all made an appearance, albeit in much louder, more unhinged forms. Looks like AWOLNATION’s bold experimentation paid off yet again.

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