Brkn Love Bring the Flavor, Show You How at First Montreal Headlining Gig

Brkn Love with Royal Tusk and The Sunset Drip at Bar Le Ritz PDB / March 8, 2024

"Everyboooody... rock your boooody... everybooooody... Backstreet's back, alright!"

You gotta have stones to choose "Everybody (Backstreet's Back)" by the Backstreet Boys as your intro music, or as my friend put it, "this song is a banger, they better have the goods to back it up". Did Toronto's Brkn Love deliver? We'll come to that in just a bit.
Getting to Bar Le Ritz PDB was a gauntlet of near disasters, so despite my best intentions I missed Montreal's own The Sunset Drip. I normally don't shed a tear over being fashionably late, but having given their Bandcamp a listen, I really wanted to check them out live. Lord knows I love a rock trio, so hopefully I'll get another chance.
Thankfully I did get there in time for Royal Tusk, and I had the strange impression that a sizable chunk of the audience were there mostly for them and not the headliner. That makes sense considering that they've been at it for over a decade and were birthed from the ashes of a previous outfit, an alternative rock band called Ten Second Epic. I could hear that length of career over the course of their set, as some of their songs varied wildly; big fat rock riffs one song, laidback yacht rock melodies the next. Their sound is very polished and their performance was on point, but I need a little more danger in my rock'n'roll, so it's not fully my cup of tea. Nonetheless, if this was the early to mid 2000s, they would have made a fine soundtrack addition to the Tony Hawk video game series, which, if you know, you know is high praise indeed.
Of course, I was really there for the main course, first time headliners Brkn Love. The brainchild of Justin Benlolo, one of the new breed of rock revivalists who were clearly raised on Guitar Hero and Rock Band, Brkn Love is repacking timeless riffs in unexpected new ways. In Brkn Love's case, Benlolo seems to be no stranger to the Just Dance game series as well. His pop sensibility is undeniable and drew me to the band despite myself. I'm extremely picky about dance rock, but their 2022 release Black Box is a gloriously sticky black glitter lollipop that I've found myself coming back to again and again. It's heavy, groovy and bluesy, but as slickly produced as a K-pop track, and just as hooky. I wasn't sure how that glossy production would translate live, but I was more than pleasantly surprised. They managed to sound as tight and as full as they do on record, with just enough live grit to keep things interesting. After their set, my friend and I compared notes. "I like it better than the record, it's heavier and less polished live," she said, while I disagreed: "it sounds just like the record to me, I can't believe they manage to do that live!" 
The show started off extremely strong and I was worried that when Benlolo's mic stopped working a few bars into their second song they'd lose momentum, but they recovered quickly and ripped through an extremely high energy set. While I think Black Box, their second full length, is much stronger overall than their self-titled debut, songs like "Flies in the Honey" and barn burning show closer "Shot Down" definitely hold their own against their newer material. I was happy to hear the bombast of "Dead Weight", easily one of the sexiest, sparkliest songs about depression you'll ever hear, and "Fever Dream" is an undeniable handclapping stomper live, while the Zeppelin-y vamping (and later Sabbath-y riffing) during "Little Black Box" didn't go unnoticed and was greatly appreciated. Less necessary was Benlolo turning lead vocals over to guitarist Kyle Duke for an extremely faithful cover of Green Day's "Basket Case". This was a crowd pleaser and I was probably the only curmudgeon in the audience who didn't want to hear it, just as I was likely the only person who groaned when Cancer Bats ripped into their nth performance of the Beastie Boys' "Sabotage" the next night. I'm coming from a good place though; when I come to your show, I really just want to hear your songs, and though a relatively new band, Brkn Love have enough material to hold a full set up on their own. 
So yes, when your intro music is a Denniz Pop/Max Martin-produced pop juggernaut, you need to be able to bring it, and I can say that Brkn Love rocked my body right that night, and I can't wait until they're (oh my god) back again.
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