January 26th, 2018 was an important date for all Anjunabeats fans – the release of the much anticipated “Common Ground” album. To celebrate and promote their fourth studio album, the British progressive trance group Above & Beyond embarked on a massive tour circling North America, running through the remaining winter months right into the spring. Toronto had the privilege of being one of only two Canadian cities on the tour and the pleasure of hosting two shows inside the mega club Rebel on Thursday, February 1st and Friday, February 2nd.
Toronto is only one of three cities to host two back-to-back Common Ground Tour stops (along with San Francisco and Portland) and I was among the many fans to attend both nights, as I impulsively purchased pre-sale tickets to the Thursday show before the Friday show was even announced. The Thursday show had its benefits: shorter entry, security, and coat check lineups, cleaner washrooms, and a marginally smaller crowd. The Friday show was grossly oversold and it was extremely difficult to navigate through the crowd unless you stood at the very back or contributed towards a balcony bottle service booth. There was one key disappointing factor to both shows that I will get out of the way first: the abundance of inconsiderate jerks in the crowd! There was no respect for personal space and bodies were constantly knocked around, meaning drinks being spilled and feet being stepped on. Countless groupings of people simply did not care about how their actions affected their neighbours; it is a shame that the unified “we are all we need” vibes were evidently lacking. This is something to remember, especially at a highly anticipated event such as this – be kind to the people around you! We’re all there for the love of the music, so make sure you extend that love to your fellow humans.
I attempted to find a spot that had a little space to dance with a decent view of the stage while Spencer Brown was warming up the crowd, but this quickly proved difficult. I figured if it’s going to be this packed no matter where I am, I might as well be squashed near the front. Spencer Brown hyped up the crowd nicely with an Anjuna-heavy set and brought up the energy for what was to come. He looked like he was having a great time on the stage, too! You could feel the excitement rise in the crowd as he played – soon Above & Beyond would take over and the crowd could feel it.
It isn’t unusual to see only two members of Above & Beyond on tour while the third member is elsewhere creating new A&B magic. Tony McGuinness and Paavo Siljamäki curated both of the nights; sadly Jono Grant was missed. On Friday night, the Above & Beyond duo opened the show right away with a few new tunes off the new album. The second single featured on “Common Ground,” Tightrope, was played ten minutes into their set. A&B usually rely on the same small collection of vocalists, but Tightrope features the rare new voice of Marty Longstaff. This well-known track lead to lots of hands in the air and cameras recording the dark and beautiful song. Tightrope was tied to a distressing suicidal graphic displayed on the screens of a character standing alone at the top of a tall building. The theme changed abruptly by the boys as they played Thing Called Love next, emphasizing the need for love in the world (as always), and they followed that up with Zoë Johnston’s newest hit with them, My Own Hymn. This string of songs definitely flowed well together thematically.
An unexpected highlight for me was when the classic OceanLab song Sirens Of The Sea was mixed into their set amongst all their new material. A giant “YES” in bold white text was written on screen during 1001 (Is It Love) and Above & Beyond appropriately followed it up with Happiness Amplified featuring vocalist Richard Bedford. This is one of my favourites off the “Common Ground” album and I was lucky enough to hear it at both shows! Tony and Paavo directed the music away from the love feels into Balearic Balls, accompanied by a very creepy, but effective, night vision / x-ray stylized graphic of an abandoned forest scene.
As you all know, Above & Beyond has a knack of creating emotionally moving moments. “For Those Who Have Lost Someone” was written on screen as Sink The Lighthouse began to play. Flickering flames from lighters and bright cell phone flashlights waved in the air in remembrance of those who have passed and for those going through a difficult time. The feels are always real with this group! They continued the night with two massive hits from the lovely vocalist Justine Suissa: Alright Now and Satellite.
Nearing the end of the night, imagery of decrepit homes and buildings flashed on the screen as Northern Soul played. The song is a tribute to the city of Detroit, a once powerful and prestigious city that has sadly decayed over time. We’re All We Need was next in queue, which then lead to the iconic “Push The Button” moment that hardcore Above & Beyond fans had been waiting all night for. Sun & Moon rang through the speakers until the house lights came on and the tune was paused on a single note. Many handmade signs could be seen throughout the crowd, hoping to get picked and brought up on stage to ‘push the button’ that plays the drop. Our writer/editor Amber was captured with her group’s sign held high:
Check out the lucky fans who were picked for each night (Blue Sky Action was Thursday’s “Push The Button” moment) below. Fun fact: one of TeamEDMTOR was picked on Thursday – media maven herself, Shannon (she is in the middle of the first photograph below)!
Above & Beyond wrapped up their set shortly after this exciting moment with Higher Love and a remix of On A Good Day. The colourful album cover brightly glowed on screen while rainbow confetti blasted over the crowd. The phrase “Life Is Made Of Small Moments Like This” stayed written on the screen as the title song Common Ground softly faded out and the house lights dimmed on. As expected, the vast majority of the audience stayed right to the very end of the set, with some staying to witness local DJ Mark Oliver shut down the club. Both nights, Mark Oliver surprised us all by opening and closing for Above & Beyond. This was super exciting because he is the Ink Entertainment resident that everyone knows and loves in Toronto.
Tony and Paavo put on two good Above & Beyond shows for Toronto; they were each two hours in length and heavy on their own discography. Thursday’s show previewed more “Common Ground” tracks, whereas Friday’s show had bigger hits and remixes, with notably less lyrical tracks. It was refreshing to see them mix it up that much for each night! Besides my disappointment of the crowd’s rude behaviour, the music trumped all and I’m glad to have experienced both nights. “Common Ground” is available for purchase in many different formats which can all be found here.
“COMMON GROUND” TRACKLIST:
The Inconsistency Principle
My Own Hymn (ft. Zoë Johnston)
Northern Soul (ft. Richard Bedford)
Naked (ft. Justine Suissa)
Sahara Love (ft. Zoë Johnston)
Happiness Amplified (ft. Richard Bedford)
Is It Love (1001)
Cold Feet (ft. Justine Suissa)
Tightrope (ft. Marty Longstaff)
Alright Now (ft. Justine Suissa)
Bittersweet & Blue (ft. Richard Bedford)
Always (ft. Zoë Johnston)
PARTIAL TRACKLIST for Friday, February 2nd:
SPENCER BROWN – 11PM
Grum – Shout
Richard Grey – Thriller (Full Vocal Club Mix)
Ilan Bluestone ft. Giuseppe De Luca – Frozen Ground (Spencer Brown Remix)
Seven Lions & Jason Ross ft. Paul Meany – Higher Love (Spencer Brown Remix)
ABOVE & BEYOND – 12:30AM
Above & Beyond ft. Marty Longstaff – Tightrope (Above & Beyond Club Mix) (suicide graphic)
Above & Beyond ft. Richard Bedford – Thing Called Love
Above & Beyond ft. Zoë Johnston – My Own Hymn
Faithless – Salva Mea 2.0 (Above & Beyond Remix)
Above & Beyond pres. OceanLab – Sirens Of The Sea
Above & Beyond – 1001 (Is It Love)
Above & Beyond ft. Richard Bedford – Happiness Amplified (Above & Beyond Club Mix)
Above & Beyond – Balearic Balls — creepy x ray forest night vision
Orkidea – Nana (Jerome Isma-Ae Remix)
Above & Beyond ft. Alex Vargas – Sticky Fingers
Ilan Bluestone vs. Above & Beyond – Big Ben vs. Black Room Boy (Ilan Bluestone Mashup)
Above & Beyond ft. Alex Vargas – Sink The Lighthouse (Maor Levi Remix)
Above & Beyond ft. Justine Suissa – Alright Now (Above & Beyond Club Mix)
Above & Beyond pres. OceanLab – Satellite (Ilan Bluestone Remix)
Above & Beyond – Red Rocks
Above & Beyond ft. Justine Suissa – Naked
Above & Beyond ft. Richard Bedford – Northern Soul
Above & Beyond ft. Zoë Johnston – We’re All We Need (Ilan Bluestone Remix)
Above & Beyond ft. Richard Bedford – Sun & Moon (Above & Beyond Club Mix)
Seven Lions & Jason Ross ft. Paul Meany – Higher Love
Above & Beyond pres.OceanLab ft. Justine Suissa vs Gareth Emery – On A Good Day vs. Metropolis
Above & Beyond – Common Ground
ADDITIONAL TRACKS – Thursday, February 1st
Andrew Bayer feat. Alison May – Signs Of The Fall
Above & Beyond feat. Alex Vargas – Blue Sky Action
Above & Beyond ft. Zoë Johnston – Always
Ben Nicky & Luke Bond Remix – Ayla
Ashlyn Doughty – EDM TOR