TALK's Messy Live Show Went Out of Orbit

Calgary Stampede, July 14

Photo: Em Medland-Marchen

BY Em Medland-MarchenPublished Jul 16, 2023

There's nothing that draws a crowd in this decade quite like TikTok. That proved true once again with TALK, the Ottawa native who rose to overnight TikTok fame during the pandemic with the viral hit "Run Away to Mars." While the TALK-mania has been relatively recent ("Run Away to Mars" started trending on the platform just over a year ago), Nicholas Durocher has since amassed a platform of over 707k followers on TikTok and 206k followers on Instagram — a sizeable audience that speaks to the swarm of youths who came out in droves to watch him perform on Friday night at the Calgary Stampede.

What they were served was unexpected. This Friday night's performance was such a stark contrast to TALK's meticulously cultivated internet persona that it too seemed out of this world.

Joined onstage by two guitarists and a drummer all clad in matching beige coveralls, TALK's contrastingly fabulous lime green overalls, decaled with his signature star, stood out. The performance started off strong as TALK launched into "History," a yet to be released song. Durocher's voice was tired, but confident — most likely a little strained from his first ever tour, which has seen him jetsetting all over North America, and soon, Europe. But throughout the song, TALK seemed distracted, taking long moments to break from singing to point out things he liked about the audience's outfits.

TALK sipped from a red solo cup and addressed the crowd in elongated, messy monologues. "Now I'm finally here," he said, still seeming surprised by his newfound fame. "And the only place that I want to be… the goddamn Calgary Stampede."

It was a nice sentiment, but the words seemed hollow as the performance increasingly slipped toward the bizarre and his hostility toward the crowd heightened.

"I'm doing this thing at my shows called the Croc kick," TALK announced, taking a few steps away from the mic for leverage. "You ready?" With a swift kick his Croc whipped through the air, and photographers in the pit ducked as it was launched in their direction. An audience member managed to catch the Croc, but there was muffled confusion from the crowd as the forced viral moment failed to resonate IRL.

TALK's backing band did their best to fill in for missed high notes and a lack of control from Durocher with extended guitar solos during "Train" from the 2021 EP Talk to Me. It's clear that there was talent up on stage, with TALK's lead guitarist taking the cake as he shredded enthusiastically between choruses. Durocher showed his gratitude by repeatedly grinding up on him from behind, and at one point licked his face from neck to forehead to elicit scattered cheers from the crowd. The guitarist seemed to take it in stride, but it was an unusual choice for an on-stage antic, one that signalled the performance's descent into mess.

After the song concluded, TALK again took a moment to point out the star an audience member that couldn't be older than 10 had painted over their left eye. "I like that," he said, pointing. "I would have one too, I'm just too lazy."

Dedicating "Hollywood" to his mom, Durocher dove headfirst into the track's anthemic chorus. But his voice, completely fried by this point, couldn't sustain the scream-sing style of vocalisation that had made him so popular on TikTok. Toward the end of the song, he turned the mic to the audience for help with singalongs. But the song was either too new or too unrecognisable for anyone to sing back, and the mic hit dead air while the backing track awkwardly chugged along.

Durocher concluded the song with a well-prepared and surprisingly loud belch straight into the mic. It was an antic he would repeat multiple times throughout the set.

20 minutes in, the band had already played through TALK's limited hits — 2023's "Afraid of the Dark" had been checked off, along with a few EP tracks and a new song or two. After running out of original material, TALK proceeded with the cover song portion of the set, rounded out with extended band jams intended to battle the clock. Durocher struggled through a cover of Bon Jovi's "Wanted Dead or Alive," much to the delight of the yoked out chads who were drawn to the stage by the backing band's unparalleled rock 'n' roll shredding. A spray tanned Dad threw up the horns as TALK settled into an extended karaoke session, something you might expect to see at a dive bar post-midnight on a Sunday rather than the showy Coca-Cola stage. Durocher doubled-down, throwing the middle finger up to the crowd while his guitarist stone-faced him on stage.

"When I was a kid," Durocher announced, "I kind of sucked at school. And I would dream of being in one place… the school of rock." Surprisingly, Durocher had the most energy to give for the Jack Black impression that would conclude the set. It was an impressively dedicated performance, complete with cries of "fuck!" and high kicks and Tenacious D style growls. 

Somewhere in the mess, TALK played "Run Away to Mars." But it wasn't a performance so much as an opportunity for the band's marketing manager to gather Instagram fodder. TALK held the mic to the crowd, once again relying on them to sing the words as the now irritatingly persistent backing track rang out. 

On recordings, TALK hits all the right notes: Durocher's sound is a perfect blend of pop that dips a toe into other complimentary genres like pop-punk and radio country. Complete with anthemic, devastating lyricism, it reminds one of the angsty morose heartbreak of something like Dashboard Confessional, though far more bold and attention demanding. It's clear that the music perfectly punctuates Gen Z's longing for the early aughts, and even younger generations seem to love the TikTok star's unabashed honesty. But when artists are thrust into the limelight from viral frame, they either step up to the demands of a big stage or let their inexperience take hold. TALK's unfortunate and bizarre Stampede display falls firmly in the latter category.

The 15 second earworms of hits "Run Away to Mars" and "A Little Bit Happy" are perfect for platforms like TikTok, where addictive sound bites can be endlessly remixed, repurposed and repackaged. But what happens when the TikTok is 40 minutes long and you can't scroll past? 

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