Yes, believe it or not – Ottawa’s got soul. On a chilly Friday in January, many of us braved the cold and trekked down to Rideau Street in order to congregate at the small, but tried-and-true Café Dekcuf. One thing about this place is that it isn’t a venue that most music patrons in the scene tend to visit often. Maybe it gets a bad rap for whatever reason, being somewhat awkwardly located directly above Mavericks. It’s also pretty chilly and drafty in the winter. However, since I started Showbox nearly four years ago, I can’t think of one bad show I’ve seen there. This night was no exception.
The lot of us were in for a night of funk, soul, and RnB jams. It was also a night of old and new, as soul music veterans Old Stereo and DJ Magnificent (Double Barrel) were also on the bill. Needless to say, the excitement was building. The drinks were flowing, and Magnificent was setting the tone by spinning his most excellent collection of funky 45s.
Slack Bridges is a brand new super group of sorts. Frontman Matt Gilmour (vocals), as with the other three guys in the band, have been involved in Ottawa’s music community for a long time. He has been involved in Ottawa’s punk and hardcore scene for over a decade in various capacities, playing in bands such as HAMILTON, I Refuse, We The Accused, and more recently, Heavy Bedroom.
Garett Barr (bass guitar) is a talented multi-instrumentalist, and previously lent his skills to bands Mackenzie Rhythm Section and Tea for the Voyage. Currently, Barr also plays guitar and ukelele in the rising folk group STEAMERS, and teaches music relentlessly through Big ARTS. Paul Ross (drums) has played in many bands, but more recently played in the long standing indie-rock act, The Gallop.
Marcus Ward (keys) is a seasoned piano player, who has played in The Ethics and currently plays in a ‘yacht-rock’ cover group called PleasureCraft alongside Dave Lauzon of Lauzon Music and Matt Corbiere of Winchester Warm. Chris Elms (guitar) is a master of his craft, and has played in numerous blues and soul acts over the years. In his younger days, he even lent his beat-making and production skills to a few tracks featuring the Tupac-era California rap group The Outlawz.
Needless to say, this band contains some experience.
As the band took their positions on stage, there was excitement and nervousness in there air – no one really knew what to expect. These are great musicians, but who knew where this new direction would take them and what it would sound like? The first measure of the opening track “Beholden” put our anxieties at ease and soothed our minds, bodies, and souls. James’ intricate guitar flares and Barr’s groovy, funk-laden bass lines immediately got the bodies moving on the floor in front of them.
Cue Gilmour’s vocals. Who knew that a guy who cut his teeth in the early 2000’s underground punk and hardcore scenes could belt out soulful, RnB-inspired vocal melodies? Those close to him know that he’s been experimenting with this kind of vocal style for a while now, particularly in his other project Gold Bonds. Slack Bridges is a clear progression for him musically, as he seemed to easily shake off his nerves and explode with vocal energy. His vocals are unique, and he displayed an incredible amount of control as the songs were played live for the first time. Not to mention the sound in Dekcuf was on-point.
Other notable tracks that stood out were “Lion City”, “Smile But It’s Been a While”, and the irresistibly catchy “On My Wings.” One special treat during the set was their cover of “Between the Sheets” by The Isley Brothers, a song which is sampled often but rarely done so well on stage. The night was a success, and Slack Bridges have given us a taste of things to come.
I spoke to Gilmour about his past, and what drove him to form Slack Bridges.
Ottawa’s music community has been my primary binding force through which I’ve met innumerable creative people and learned some great lessons about community building. I’ve been making weird music for a while. With that in mind, I have always thought of music composition in a rather cerebral sense. Studying my fellow artists is how I’ve been inspired to challenge myself, while imitating pop culture is how I learned to have fun.
Soul and R&B music has been no exception. As an adult I had sung R&B ballads at karaoke to get a laugh from my friends, but as a child I grew up singing along to the first two Stevie Wonder and Boyz II Men records I had bought long before I knew the punk tradition existed. After some of my bands dissipated, it made experimenting with soul and R&B music more seriously in Slack Bridges and Gold Bonds a natural frontier for further exploration. I’m enjoying the ride.