NOTE to self; cell phone reception is extremely weak when riding a B.C. ferry. After several dropped calls I finally connect, once again, with East Coast rock and roller Matt Mays. There’s a certain familiarity on the other end of the phone, a place we’ve both been before.
Mays will sail into Thunder Bay with Skye Wallace at NV Music Hall on Wednesday. It’s been about eight years since he’s hit the Lakehead, which is quite frankly ridiculous.
“It’s been too long,” he explains. “I’m also looking forward to having a Persian.”
Mays has steadily worked up to this career moment; a properly executed cross-country, coast to coast tour totalling 19 dates. By the time the tour bus rolls into Thunder Bay, the deadly squad of Damien Moynihan, Ryan Stanley, Melissa Payne, Serge Samson, Leith Fleming-Smith, Adam Baldwin and Asa Brosius will be ready to shake the Sleeping Giant.
Mays reflected on decades of past gigs played in Thunder Bay.
“We’ve had a good time every time and always have fun after the show. There’s good people to hang with, it’s always been a good vibe,” he said.
The Howl at the Night Tour combines both acoustic and electric variations of the Matt Mays concert experience for the first time. Each song is carefully crafted and placed in a set which builds on a steady momentum as different players join each other on stage throughout the evening, resulting in a full rock and roll on-slot.
“I don’t like using backing tracks, I like to play it all live,” said Mays. “They’re all my friends, I didn’t want to leave anyone behind, and we’ve filled the bus with as many as we could fit.”
One can appreciate the woody, mellow and sincere side of the acoustic songs but also let loose to the plugged in rock and roll frenetic energy.
“For me it’s about the challenge of perfecting eight people’s parts, but the band has stood up to the plate. It’s weird not having half the band on stage for a good chunk of the show. It’s such a different show for us. We’re in great shape. I guess I shouldn’t lack faith, it was me I was more worried about,” Mays says with a laugh.
An original blue print not yet experienced in today’s Canadian music landscape. Leave it to Mays to survive El Torpedo, surf a sonic wave then lead the wolf pack, howling.
“I feel like it’s a special tour we’re on and it’s going to be the favourite tour of my life,” he said. “It’s a special thing with this band and I’m proud of it.”
You’d be hard pressed to find a night where Mays wasn’t exemplifying perfect pitch. After 16 years of attending his shows in virtually every formation (stripped down and stepped up) and on every planet possible (in theatres and bars, small towns and big cities, at radio stations, in the U.S., on Canada Day) and road tripping to places better left to smart phone navigation, this sounds like a tour that’s quickly becoming one for the history books, every single night.
This buildable, layered show format will satisfy live music fans alike. Not only is the musicianship top-notch, the custom built light show will be executed by a lighting technician whom Mays calls, “the best in the biz.”
The latest single from Mays is a tune called Let there be Love, available on seven-inch vinyl at the merch table. As with his album Once upon A Hell of a Time, both electric and acoustic versions are available. “It’s about finding the courage to love yourself blindly and learning to accept this self-love trustingly,” says Mays.
The song is laced with an obvious 1980s pop sensibility yet maintains a layer of crunchy rock guitars.
“I find a lot of things over-produced. Change is good. I like all genres of music so I can’t justify sticking to only one genre, there are so many things to experiment with,” he said.
Fresh off a Tom Petty tribute night at hip Queen St. W. clothing store 18 Waits, Mays is also a Juno Award winner who dominated legendary Toronto, live music venue Massey Hall last year with his magical and captivating performance, garnering a well-deserved standing ovation.
Joining Mays on the tour is opening act Skye Wallace, a trained singer with East Coast roots. Wallace combines influences from 1990s riot girls and grunge with a vocal range both sultry and powerful. She’s partial to rock, punk and folk and has been inspired by every corner of the country.
Matt Mays with Skye Wallace play NV Concert Hall on Wednesday.
(Angie Valente is a freelance journalist based in Thunder Bay.)
This story was originally published Oct. 26, 2019.