Prince Edward Island is a perfect summer destination to grab some great grub and hang out by the ocean. It’s only fitting that Big Red Festival kicked off with a performance featuring the breezy guitar licks of Bahamas, also the name of a great getaway island. Afie Jurvanen, known as Bahamas, has a new album coming out August 19. Naturally his setlist featured a number of new songs from Bahamas is Afie mixed in with old favourites including “Already Yours”, “Caught Me Thinking” and set closer “Lost In The Light”. Jurvanen seemed happy to be performing on the island and talked about wanting to come back to play a non-festival show in the near future. Early on in his set, a fan threw a hat on stage. Instead of being offended by a projectile, he picked up the hat, read the label that said “Made in P.E.I” with approval and wore the hate for the next song. Jurvanen was playful describing his music, not afraid to make fun of himself. He retold a story of recently working with an intimidating body builder who asked him what sort of music he made. Before Jurvanen could answer, the building body declared he was playing “light rock”. A slight insult, but something Jurvanen found funny and referenced multiple times throughout his set. He complimented the crowd on actively listening instead of talking like what can happen at festivals, especially during the first act.
Next up, the Town Heroes took the stage in the beer tent. The duo from Cape Breton featuring Mike Ryan and Bruce Gillis started to raise the energy level of the festival after a chill “light rock” set from Bahamas. Guitarist Mike Ryan told the crowd to stay hydrated on the hot day, mentioning his mother was a nurse so he had to remind everybody. The duo had their song “New York City” featured in the opening montage of a Hockey Night In Canada Playoff game this past spring and were excited to share that tidbit of information before performing it. Ironically, Bruce Gillis was wearing a shirt with a CTV logo.
Matt Mays and his band kept the rock and roll coming on the main stage. There were three things I found weird about the set. First, the flowing long surfer hair Mays has sported for the past few years is gone. Instead he has a neatly trimmed beard and hair combo. Second, Mays dedicated Dartmouth, Nova Scotia anthem”City of Lakes” to “anybody from the dirty D”. Lots of people raised their hands claiming to be from Dartmouth. Now I have no statistical proof to back up this statement, but I’m pretty sure the majority of the crowd wasn’t from Dartmouth, even if a lot of people raised their hands when Mays asked who was from there. Thirdly, it’s hard to not get choked up when hearing Mays sing the line about losing a friend during “City of Lakes”. It’s still weird seeing the band without the late Jay Smith.
July Talk are quickly winning over crowds across Canada including National Post concert reviewer Ben Kaplan who called them “my new favourite band” after seeing them perform at TURF recently. While the band is a five piece, all eyes are on singer Leah Fay and guitarist/vocalist Peter Dreimanis. You never know what will happen between the two is they flirt, taunt and assault each other. Early in the set, Fay took a swig of water then spit it all over Dreimanis, soaking his shirt that was becoming increasingly wet from sweat. Fay also won the crowd over by wearing a crop top with P.E.I. written across the front and declaring “P.E.I’s got the best air in the world.” Before playing single “Guns & Ammunition”, Dreimanis introduced it as a new song, tricking drummer Danny Miles who started to put down his shaker, thinking the band was going off script. Miles was further teased by Fay who asked him to take off his shirt, which he did.
July Talk’s set overlapped with Seattle’s Death Cab For Cutie who opened with the slow burner “I Will Possess Your Heart” from Narrow Stairs. The song starts off with an instrumental intro for a few minutes before vocals come in. Watching people scurry over from all over the festival grounds to the main stage once they realized Death Cab had started was like watching ants react to sugary juice from a popsicle drip near an anthill. In terms of energy, it was like turning everything down a couple notches from the rock and roll of both Matt Mays, The Town Heroes and July Talk from earlier in the day.
Lastly, the Killers took to the main stage. They started the set by blasting “Blitzkreig Bop” by the Ramones, a fitting intro and tribute to Tommy Ramone who passed away the day before. The band then took stage, opening with”Mr. Brightside” from 2004’s Hot Fuss. A few songs in, lead singer Brandon Flowers gave the crowd the choice of a cover of “I Think We’re Alone Now” by Tommy James & The Shondells or “Bad Moon Rising” by Clearance Creedwater Rival. The crowd cheered loudest for the CCR cover, a no-brainer really considering Saturday’s supermoon. It was the first time the Las Vegas band had been to P.E.I., but Flowers was aware of his bearings, mentioning Charlottetown and Prince Edward Island multiple times, seemingly enjoying the challenge of pleasing a new audience.
Check out Mixtape’s gallery of photos of Matt Mays, July Talk and Death Cab For Cutie.