MUSIC: Ears wide open

Unending curiosity regarding the content of the evening’s set list was likely at the forefront of a Snow Patrol fan’s mind on their way to the band’s Sept. 12 Metropolis performance. In 2004, the Irish heartthrobs relased The Final Straw Stateside and it was among the 30 best sellers in the U.K. that year and one of the best records of its generation. It was – and still is- a breath of fresh air in the ever-tiring, over-burdened realm of indie-rock songwriting. Cut to the present and the 2006 release of Eyes Open, a significantly less impressive studio effort that plays to the crowd – and to every pop-rock radio station this side of Istanbul. The burning question of the night: “Will they pull out the tried-and-true Final Straw material to appease the crowd, or will they impress upon their loving masses the strength of their newer songs?”

They elected to do what any band of Snow Patrol’s stature ought to do. They pulled off both.

After some off-setting technical difficulties early in the show, the band slid into a more comfortable rhythm, displaying a much stronger command of the stage than in live recordings from two or three years ago. The five-man touring lineup, which has only been in effect for the past year, gave the band room to move and to do their more epic arrangements justice onstage. Old favourites “Chocolate” and the momentous “Somewhere a Clock is Ticking” – which singer/guitarist Gary Lightbody dedicated to all the hard-working, emerging Montreal groups of recent years – were performed with all the depth and texture that were present on the album versions, infused with the more emotive dynamics of what was inarguably a stellar live performance. The audience ate the songs up like Biftek popcorn.

“To those of you who are here for the first time: welcome,” quipped Lightbody early in the show. “You’ll find it’s very much like the Borg. You will all be assimilated.”

By then, much of the audience could feel the allegorical nanotechnology running through their veins. Surprising to most of them, however, were the rather staggering renditions of newer songs that even some die-hard Snow Patrol fans had dismissed as fluff. Rather than leap right into “Hands Open,” the first U.S. single from Eyes Open (which, incidentally, was not heard throughout the entire evening), the band elected to play lesser known, smaller marvels like “Chasing Cars” and “Open Your Eyes.” Granted, none of these songs achieve the grandeur, or the sheer majesty of the Final Straw years, but the band truly committed to the songs onstage, embracing them with as much overt passion and dedication as they did any other song on their set list, which, aside from being truly admirable in and of itself, taught the audience a good lesson. Any band good enough to produce a record like Final Straw ought not be underestimated while still in their prime.

L.A. quintet Augustana opened the show with a bang, echoing Dylan and the Wallflowers in a smouldering set that not only transcended their merely average debut, All the Stars and Boulevards, but practically upstaged the headliners of the evening. Be on the lookout for their return.

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