iHeartRadio Canada’s FIRST Jingle Ball
@ The Air Canada Centre, Toronto
November 25, 2016
An historical moment in Canadian Music performances!
When the approval for the media accreditation came across my desk a few days ago, I nearly spat out my sip of Oban’s 14 year old single malt scotch whisky in shock! I couldn’t believe my luck and I was giddy with excitement at the prospect of attending this event with notable headliners, after having read the hyped announcements and advertisements for months beforehand. After a year and a half at The Spill Magazine, my first “A” lister event! It was time to put on my big boy pants. To establish the context / perspective of this inaugural Canadian event, iHeartRadio’s Jingle Ball has been around since 2000, with locations only in the US market. iHeartRadio is a streaming radio platform (app) who is owned by Clear Channel. With that large amount of registered users at their disposal, this puts them in direct competition with Spotify, Apple and Amazon (to name a few). This is the first Jingle Ball event in Canada ever, so I was curious to see how this would play out, being a four hour event.
I took the Go Train to the ACC and reached there at 5:40pm, 20 minutes before they let those who had bought tickets in. I have to admit, my excitement was amplified as I was the first non ACC working person in the arena. After picking up my personally enveloped ticket (a nice touch!) from the Gate 2 Media desk, I was then escorted to my seat, which was pretty cool (no one else other than media types were allowed into the ACC before 6pm for this event). I got to walk around for a bit in an empty arena while the rabid masses were behind locked doors outside. As I continued to walk around, it was funny to watch the faces of the ACC workers and security, wondering who I was, and why I wasn’t in a worker’s uniform as they asked me to verify (5 times I told them I was a concert reviewer with the media) if I had a ticket. Tight security, which is a good thing.
Kardinal Offishall (iHeartRadio personality / Canadian rapper / producer) was a more than worthy MC / hype man on the mic throughout this event as he started the night off promptly at 7pm, after 15 minutes of warming the crowd up with DJ Starting from Scratch (iheartRadio DJ). DJ SFS did an admirable job keeping the masses entertained with his selection of musical turntable treats during the pre warm-up period before the show started (crowd panning “hug cams” and “dance cams” on the Jumbotron were entertaining). The first artist to hit the stage, out of the mahogany, darkness was Anerican rapper / mix tapist Kent Jones, repping a Troy Tulowitzki Blue Jays jersey. He waxed poetic while arousing the crowd with his known tunes “Alright” and “Don’t Mind”. There was good energy here to start the show, but the subdued fans knew what was yet to come and were waiting patiently. Next up was Serena Ryder’s folk, indie rock group. This was the exact moment where I started to feel the full power of the speakers in the ACC soundscape as the songs from her set reverbed through me, even as I sat in Section 102, which had some of the furthest seats away from the stage. Incredible. A highly enjoyable set, even if Serena just stood there nonchalantly and played her tunes which included “Stompa”, “Got Your Number” and “What I Wouldn’t Do”. Proper respect (or “props” as the older generation would say) to her band for extending the energy in their performance.
For some, the event would take a sharp turn in the opposite direction as rap veteran, Ahmad Balshe AKA Belly (his stage name is gleaned from the word “rebellious”), made his way to the platform to unleash his profanity laced lyrics during mixtape songs like “Might Not” (a The Weeknd collab) and “Ballerina”. As he patrolled the stage, I could see the frowning reaction from certain adults in the crowd that the Canadian Juno Award winner didn’t endear himself to some in the crowd. This was further exasperated as he stated on the mic that he couldn’t care less if it’s an all ages concert, and for everyone to just enjoy themselves regardless of his expletives. In his defense, if you’re an adult (who gets offended easily by swearing) and you’re bringing kids to this type of event, then you should do your due diligence beforehand and know who the acts are and what the content of their lyrics are. This can be paralleled with the thousands of child / teenage fans / (and a few music reviewers), who would later cheer on The Weeknd, regardless of his polarizing lyrics with unquestionably inappropriate child / teenage content (I would know, I reviewed his second album last year). People, if you allow your kids to listen to The Weeknd, then you should have no problem with Belly’s lyrics on this night. You can’t argue that fact, you can’t have it both ways, and if you do, you’re extremely hypocritical. In this day and age of finding song lyrics through online search engines, you can educate yourself of the track lyrics that your kids / teens are listening to (and I’m a parent of 3 kids). And have an open mind. There won’t be any surprises after that, and you’ll begin to understand 21st century, subversive pop lyrics. Yeah, this is what is being listened to these days in modern pop music. Deal with it.
In an attempt to get the show back to a decent censor level of modicum, Niall Horan (of the band One Direction) made a special guest appearance solo debut, much to the delight of the screaming masses. He played his new song “This Town” with an acoustic guitar that was followed by a heartfelt apology to his fans for such a short time on stage, and that he would return to Canada in the future, as the teen fan girls tried to drown out his utterances with their continued high pitched caterwauling. Moving on to the young and emerging R&B star, Alessia Cara had a rough start to her set, with her ear piece clearly not being in synch with the sound levels of her band. She was struggling to stay in tune with her opener, “I’m Yours” as she pranced around, but things got figured out soon after as she belted more tunes to the delight of the crowd, from her catalogue that ended with “Here”.
The energy of the crowd hit a pyretic, penultimate pitch when Vancouver pop rock group Hedley continued the tireless wave of fan enthusiasm with a high voltage, 5 song, 30 minute set, as lead singer Jacob Hoggard didn’t even break a sweat as he jumped and danced on the stage with reckless abandon. With a wide, Chesire-like grin on his face, it was flat out contagious. The band rocked a set that included “Anything”, “Hello”, “Crazy for you”, “Can’t Slow Down” and “Lose Control” which riled up their diehards fans, and would have impressed the casual, or even the uninformed who made the trek to the ACC. The night continued with American EDM (electronic dance music) duo, The Chainsmokers (Andrew Taggart and Alex Pall) who quickly shed their frivolity and channelled their ardour into an electronic 5 song set which drove the crowd insane with the turntable action and light show, while dropping the bass. Playing usual faves like “Closer” and “Don’t Let Me Down”, The Chainsmokers surprised their more savy music fans with mixing in the Red Hot Chilli Peppers’ “Under The Bridge” and Coldplay’s “Yellow”, a welcomed addition to their sometimes pedestrian electronic tracks.
This led to the much awaited, highly anticipated, headliner of the night: Albel Tesfaye (AKA:The Weeknd) and his Starboy jacket. He had just released his third album the night before, and yes, you guessed it, titled “Starboy”. To the roar of the frenzied crowd (with a healthy amount of Starboy t-shirts seen), Tesfaye’s falsetto, Michael Jackson-esque intense, emotional vocals gave the sense that he had stripped down his music to its core feelings in front of his fanbase. For the last hour of the event, he gracefully worked his way through the motions while respecting his pop roots with “The Hills”, “Acquainted”, “Can’t Feel My Face” and “Earned It”. He then exhibited one of the night’s more grandiose gestures as Tesfaye discharged some material off his new album such as “False Alarm” and “I Feel It Coming” which should become chart toppers in the near future. During his animated and vibrant movements coupled with a visually stunning triangular lighting pattern, he gave a shout out thanks to the fans that had supported him, stating that it was one of the reasons why he came to sing tonight. Tesfaye sang (to great fanfare) the eponymous “Starboy”, and as the song finished with instrumentals, he walked offstage, thus abruptly ending the show. On his chart topping track “Starboy”, he vocally warbles “made your whole year in a week too, yah.” Not so during this performance, as I’m sure he made someone’s whole life on this one night.
This was an ambitious Friday night with a plethora of contrasting musical genres (and an interesting lack of a red carpet for a significant event), as the nearly packed arena of around 19,800 spectators, sported a diverse variety of fans who sang / rapped along / lost their shit to every word or melody of every artist that played tonight. One of the great things about this all ages event (as I enjoyed a few Heineken tall boys) was that there was respectful behaviour the whole night (even in the Virgin Mobile fan pits), and asshats were nowhere to be found (although to some, Belly blurred the lines of decency tonight). Eager fans relished the time together, while dancing out of their seats or in the aisles as a wealth of cellphones/ handheld cameras were pulled out to take pics, record, or Snapchat the undeniable musical talent that was unfolding before their eyes. Fantastic light show sequences were created throughout the night, giving the fans a heightened, visually stimulating experience to keep their ADHD in check. Some would say that the only momentum breaking moments throughout this event were the self promoting pre-taped commercials (with fan recognizable guest music celebs) along with live local media / radio personalities, or advertising for iHeartRadio Canada (they didn’t let you forget, 90 million app users!!!) on the ACC Jumbotron (the WHOLE night at the bottom of this was an iHeartRadio live ticker Twitter feed from users posting about the event online) or plugging the Grey Cup. Unless you’re an adult who has had their head in the sand, this blatant commercialization was to be expected since this was a televised, CORPORATE event (and not a concert, even in the loosest definition). After having taken over the MuchMusic Video Awards, iHeartRadio is just beginning to flex its muscles and they’re here to stay. That being said, it didn’t take away from the song material that was uber received by those fans in attendance.
20 – 30 years from now (if I’m still alive with my faculties intact), this landmark affair will be forever etched in my brain due to the historical significance of this semi well-oiled performance. The instrumentals were played with a high sense of precision, as the bottomless well of energy (from most of the artists) translated onto the stage. Using one of Toronto’s largest venues, it was an awesome and invigorating way to start the weekend (no pun intended) for everyone involved as each musical act showed solid love to their unreserved, spirited fans. And to think, they’re planning on making this an annual event in Canada, as fans will need to salivate impatiently for next year’s impressive line up to materialize.
(I’d like to thank Bell Media for approving the media accreditation for this event. As well, I’d like to extend a further thank you to The Spill Magazine’s Arvin Kashyap and Stephen Lussier for forwarding my accreditation request. It was a great historical night that I, and those fans in attendance, will never forget.)
– Chris X
(Photography by Chris X)