It’s always hard to figure out why a band doesn’t come up to Belfast after a Dublin date. This is a question Billy Talent fans north of the border have asked on four occasions but after twelve years of wait, a packed out Limelight was ready to welcome the punk rock four-piece on their Northern Irish debut.
As the lights dimmed down at nine thirty, not a second was spared as guitarist Ian D’Sa took to the stage and kicked things off with the distinct opening notes of “Devil In A Midnight Mass”, an ingenious move to play such a fan favourite right off the bat. With the crowd already in a frenzy, the nostalgic kickback was only reinforced with fellow Billy Talent II track “The Suffering”. Suddenly all those years of absence were slowly being forgiven. Currently touring in support of latest album Afraid of Heights, the band followed up with notable singles; “Big Red Gun” and “Ghost Ship of Cannibal Rats”.
Acknowledging that this was their first time in the city, vocalist Ben Kowalewicz suggested that they’d play a range of material from all their albums. Sticking to his word the band moved through their albums seamlessly with a combination of “Worker Bees”, “Prisoners of Today” and “Saint Veronika”. In the end up the night took on a career spanning set with at least three tracks from each of their five studio albums featuring in a twenty-two song strong setlist. Ambitious numbers to many but in reality, Billy Talent has become accustomed to this type of workload as their demand and popularity simply requires it.
Diving back into the archive, the Canadian quartet offered up a duo of mediocre contributions in “Nothing to Lose” and “The Navy Song”. With tracks like “Line and Sinker”, “The Ex” and “Cut the Curtains” all failing to air, it was a personal moment of disappointment but that didn’t deter the masses in enjoying the trip back to earlier material.
Despite clocking up two consecutive years on the road, the level of activity on stage rivalled that of band fresh out of the studio. A confident and commanding performance was visible from the front three with current Alexisonfire drummer Jordan Hastings doing a fine job behind the kit. It was satisfying to hear that the band were also aware of their long-anticipated arrival in the north with Ben explaining how pleased they all were to finally see Belfast on their tour schedule for the very first time.
The most sentimental and poignant moment of the night came in “Surrender” following “Pins and Needles”, the latter being the opportune moment for an onstage marriage proposal in Dublin the night before. No such romantic gestures were attempted in Belfast though.
With a phenomenal following throughout Europe and a huge adoration in their homeplace of Canada, the growth and maturity of their showmanship could be seen after a few trips around the world. The seamless engagement with the crowd and synchronicity on stage is a fine art and Ian, Ben and Jon know exactly how to capture their audience. It’s a performance that will be as intense in front of a club of 700 or a festival field of 40,000, on this, their second run through Europe this Summer.
Closing out the main bulk of the set, the anthemic “Try Honesty” got the biggest snap of the night with the lyrics “Forgive me father, Why should you bother now?” echoed back to Ben Kowalewicz louder than any microphone could muster. Strangely “Devil On My Shoulder” followed, slightly killing the buzz of what was a moment worthy of closing any show.
As the band thanked the crowd and made their way off stage, minutes later “Viking Death March” kicked off the three-song encore of the night. A nice combo of “Red Flag” and “Fallen Leaves” from what was a Billy Talent II dominated set closed out the proceedings of what felt like a marathon of a performance. It’s incredible that they do this every time they hit the stage.
Having first visited Dublin back in 2006, Northern Irish fans have been sent to the south to get their Billy Talent fix of late but a show like tonight’s reminded BT that they’re always welcome up north too.