Review: iHeartRadio Beach Ball at PNE Ampitheatre
Nothing says bummer quite like the end of the most fun season of all. And with back to school on the horizon and the sun leaving earlier and earlier each night, it’s hard to pretend that summer is soon to be leaving us. But, Labour Day Weekend is always the best excuse to squeeze out the last few good vibes, right? For anyone unsure of the best party going on during the long weekend– iHeartRadio had Vancouver covered with its first annual Beach Ball at PNE Ampitheatre.
With a two day lineup that boasted some of the biggest names in pop and rock, the Top 40-leaning list of performers had the crowd more than appeased, with entertainment that spanned all ends of the spectrum. Truly, there was a little something for everyone with festivities that boasted massive hits across the musical landscape.
Day One was sponsored by Virgin Radio, and the station had no problem filling its day with some massive hitmakers and their respective chart toppers. Early in the day, opening artists like Ralph, Virginia To Vegas, and Shawn Hook got the party started with a plethora of party jams. Virginia To Vegas’ set stood out, with American-born, Toronto-based singer Derik John Baker bringing his gorgeous falsetto to the forefront, juxtaposed with killer beats and twinkling synths. V2V’s set was stellar, bringing singles like “Lights Out” and “Don’t Fight The Music” for a refreshing, fun spin on the indie pop canon.
Later, Shawn Hook even pulled his own opener, Ralph, back onstage to fill in for Vanessa Hudgens on his duet single “Reminding Me”. The Slocan, BC native regaled fans with stories about growing up in the Interior, working a job at the PNE hawking Nicorette gum, and eventually wining a talent competition at the PNE’s Fair years ago. His set featured piano-tinged hits like “Relapse” and “Sound of Your Heart”. Between Hook and V2V, it’s easy to see Canadian content is really moving up in terms of quality and diversity with younger listeners.
The big guns were pulled out soon after, as multi-platinum international superstar Lorde took the stage, fresh off her performance at the MTV VMAs last weekend. Though her VMA performance was visual only due to a vocal issue, it was clear that Lorde has bounced back pretty quickly, as she rattled off single after single in her short but sweet set. Smashes like “Green Light”, “Perfect Places”, and “Team” thrilled the crowd to no end.
A woman standing near me summed it up well when she leaned to her friend and said, “I can’t believe we’re this close to Lorde right now, at The PNE.” Mid-set, Lorde’s tour manager handed her a blue raspberry slushie, which she sipped throughout signature song “Royals”, adding in a level of humanity to the sometimes ethereal persona she carries.
The most disappointing moment of the night came during former One Directioner Liam Payne’s debut. Though his set boasted killer choreography, an immense amount of swagger and undeniable sex appeal, Payne remained onstage for roughly ten minutes, and then vanished within thin air. Performing lead single “Strip That Down” with an onslaught of backup dancers, Payne them moved into his Zedd collaboration “Get Low”.
Moments later, his set ended abruptly. To be fair, Payne’s tenure as a solo artist is very fresh and these are the only songs he’s released. But it would have been nice to see a cover, a new song debuted, or something else to round out his performance. Payne’s short set was well executed and thoroughly entertaining, but a real disappointment to One Directioners in the house who showed up just for his name being on the bill. On the plus side, they’re among the first of Payne’s worldwide fans to see either of these songs performed in a live setting, and that’s something to brag about on the first day of class.
Fans who seemed disappointed in Payne’s brief appearance were cured the moment Canadian songbird Alessia Cara showed up on stage. Cara’s set was definitely the best of the entire show, helped by a slew of brilliant songs, a healthy dose of humility, and emotional connection with her crowd. Performing the majority of material from debut album Know It All, Cara professed how torn she was to be performing a lot of these songs for the last time as tonight was the finale of her album cycle. Making her way through singles like “Here” and “Scars To Your Beautiful”, Cara appeared genuinely moved, particularly when she told the crowd how meaningful the last year has been for her.
Disney fans in the house were appeased when Cara pulled out her version of Moana hit “How Far I’ll Go”, and classic rock connoisseurs seemed to eat up her cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams”. Cara’s set had a lot of beautiful and brilliant moments, and really showcased her poignancy and proficiency as an artist.
Day Two, sponsored by QM FM, was certainly marketed at the adult contemporary crowd, featuring classic rock, lots of slower jams, and legendary acts.
The day started with Alberta native Christian Hudson, who helped early birds get in the mood with his springy pop-rock vibes. Next, Edmonton-based singer-songwriter Ruth B brought the radio hits back to the festival with a short set that included international hit “Lost Boy” and new single “Superficial Love”. Ruth B’s smile and vocal were both infectious and seemed to appeal to all generations in the crowd. Up next, Canadian rock icons The Philosopher Kings brought back a lot of their ’90s and early 2000s hits like “I Am The Man” and “Cry”.
The next-level performances continued as Toronto’s folky-rock star Serena Ryder showed up with her own parade of hits, including the big single “Stompa” and “Fall”. Ryder really was a hit with the crowd, boasting guitar playing and singing that blew people’s expectations out of the water.
Of course, nothing could compare to legendary rockers Blondie showing up for the best performance of the entire day. Singer Debbie Harry, donning a bumblebee headdress, told the crowd that new album Pollinator is all about saving the bees and helping the environment. New material from this record, such as single “Fun” and the Dev Hynes-penned “Long Time” showed the band’s continued ability at crafting killer pop and rock classics. But most of the set stuck to the band’s classic tunes, like opener “One Way or Another”, “Rapture”, and “Call Me”.
Blondie are legendary for a reason. Even 40 years after their debut, they’re still as impressive and relevant as ever. Seeing them pull out all their famous hits in a live setting is an honour, and the PNE crowd ate up every moment. Harry shone bright, still as punk as ever while rattling off a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Rainy Day Women 12 & 35″ and having the crowd chant “Everybody must get stoned.” The crowd sang along to each lyric of Blondie classics like “Atomic” and “Heart of Glass” while Harry darted the stage like a teenager, wearing her modern day superhero cape that read “Quit Fucking The Environment”.
The evening was closed off by sleepy snooze rock group Train, most well-known for blase radio hits like “Drops of Jupiter” and “Hey, Soul Sister”. Somehow, this group has managed to make a career out of these two songs, and seeing them live proved they’re just as boring live as they are on the radio. Next time, more Lorde, Alessia, and Blondie please.