Arboretum Festival: Constantines Shine on the Final Day
Photo by Jeff Watkins
Constantines capped off an amazing week of shows Saturday night on the final day of Arboretum 2014.
The band from Guelph recently reunited after a four-year hiatus and they were as tight as ever. There was so much energy in crowd for the set, and exploding out the gates, they could not have played a better set. Playing “Nighttime/Anytime (It’s Alright)” and “Young Offenders” so early in the set and back-to-back was incredible. The crowd was singing at the top of their lungs all the way through, and even brought sparklers which lead singer and guitarist, Bry Webb, took notice of. “Sweet sparklers guys, that’s next level.”
Arboretum organizer Rolf Klausener introduced them as mentors and major influences and that night they could do no wrong. They played rocking versions of “Soon Enough,” “Shower of Stones” and “Young Lions,” just to name a few. The magic moment of the set came when they paused just before the last drop in “Shine a Light” and all put their arms in the air. The crowd matched them while hooting and hollering, until Constantines kicked it back into gear. The band really looked like they were having a good time, and Webb confirmed it, “It’s fun to play these songs again, I love the Constantines.” Ottawa does as well Bry, come back anytime!
Ottawa veterans Fiftymen playing Arboretum 2014. Photo: Jeff Watkins
Saturday was full of great bands showcasing very diverse genres and sounds. Setting the stage for Constantines was an Ottawa institution, the Fiftymen. The guys have been making catchy toe-tapping blues and country music for over a decade. It was great of Arboretum to show off a different side of the local scene to the many people from out of town, as well as a refresher to us locals. The Fiftymen recognized the importance of opening for the Constantines as the lead singer mentioned several times how honoured and excited he was.
Chad VanGaalen wowing the crowd in Ottawa at Arboretum 2014. Photo: Jeff Watkins
With shrieking sax loops and noisy guitar, Chad VanGaalen began. The only thing that might be more strange than Chad, which was difficult to beat on this night, was his headless Steinberger electric guitar. I had never seen anything like it and it fit in just right with the psychedelic folk sounds the band was creating. The large crowd in attendance were loving it as the three-piece played a lot of songs off this year’s Polaris Music Prize long list pick Shrink Dust. But this set was not just about the music, it was about VanGaalen’s banter between songs. Such advise as “Canada is a pretty good place to take vacation… don’t shit in the river though, that’s bad for Canada.” Or when he talked about the amazing work the En Masse art collective was doing as they created a mural, “Have you seen the stuff going on over there, it’s pretty trippy. Save some room for me guys.” There was also a really cool moment when he invited multi-instrumentalist Julie Fader on stage to sing a few songs with him.
Giant Hand playing the Hammock Sessions presented by Ottawa Showbox at Arboretum 2014. Photo: Jeff Watkins
Thourghout the day Ottawa Showbox had the pleasure of presenting secret shows between three of the main stage sets. Dubbed the Hammock Sessions, Sarah Bradley of Fevers, Andy Swan, Giant Hand and Bucko all dazzled the crowd, as they relaxed off to the side by a large hammock. Bradley played some beautiful soulful solo songs on keys. Andy Swan popped in to play a New Orleans R&B classic “Iko Iko.” Giant Hand, an Ottawa ex-pat returned home and delivered a melting set of wonderfully powerful folk music. Lastly, before Fiftymen took the stage, Bucko, a performer with muscular-dystrophy took us to another plane with his electro music. Bucko would not settle to just play for those who came to see him, so he took his show on the road and did a loop of the festival grounds without missing a beat.
Steve Adamyk Band rocking Arboretum 2014. Photo: Jeff Watkins
Taking the crowd in a completely different direction again was Ottawa’s garage/power-pop masters Steve Adamyk Band. Playing as a three-piece this time, Davey Quesnelle took over the bass, the boys made ample use of the space on stage. Not only did they play a high energy up-tempo set full of songs ranging from new tracks such as “Careless” and classics like “Katacomb” and “Not For Long,” but Steve and Davey also entertained with their antics. They would walk over to each other and gives one a peck on the cheek or instead spit at the other and throw an empty beer cup their way. Between all that they told stories of past tours and set the stage for a most excellent evening.
Lowell getting people moving at Arboretum 2014. Photo: Jeff Watkins
Under the sweltering afternoon sun Lowell hit us with some super catchy energized synth pop. It was infused with punk attitude reminiscent of Sleigh Bells. She performed with so much enthusiasm running and dancing all over the stage, getting into the crowd to dance and just having a riot. Songs like “I Like You Money,” “Cloud 69” and “Bells” were infectious and I could not help but stare and bob along, even without knowing any of the songs. She wanted to make sure you remembered who she was and caught herself sounding quite mean, while kidding around. “L-O-W-E-L-L, Lowell. If you forget the name you’re illiterate… Wow, I’m sorry that was so mean I didn’t mean it,” she said with a shy smile. Looking forward to the release of their new material in September, this band was a lot of fun.
Zavh Bines, bass player for Weaves, getting his groove on at Arboretum 2014. Photo: Jeff Watkins
Another amazing discovery at Arboretum 2014 was Weaves. The Toronto band self-described as spazzcore was really cool. The music sometimes sounded like it could fit in the hardcore/punk scene while at other times it was extremely dance-like and fun. The guitarist also created some of the most original sounds out of his guitar that I have ever heard, including yelling into his guitar and playing heavily distorted slide guitar. My mind was blown on a few occasions during their set.
Pony Girl getting this started on the last day of Arboretum 2014. Photo: Jeff Watkins
Ottawa’s art rockers Pony Girl got the whole day started. The locals put their incredible talent as musicians on display under the afternoon sun. If you have ever had a chance to hear Pony Girl you know that they are extremely tight and musically gifted, pushing creativity and never shying away from more technical musicianship. It is also quite rare that you have a chance to see a clarinet solo and Pony Girl certainly don’t mind treating you to one or two. Their set featured songs off the wonderful Show Me Your Fears, as well as a few new songs. The new song, which was introduced as “this one is about porn mainly,” may just be their best work yet. A new album is definitely in the works folks!
Arboretum Festival: Kevin Drew, Hilotrons, & The Yips
Photo by Jeff Watkins
The weekend portion of this year’s Arboretum Arts Festival took place in Waller Park at Arts Court, and there was even more going on than last year. Walking in, one was overcome with alluring sensory experiences. The setup was fairly similar to last year’s edition but with more art installations, a backyard BBQ, a myriad of food options, and visibly more folks excited about coming together to celebrate the occasion.
Eric and I both made an observation that was very heartwarming and exciting at the same time: the majority of people out at the festival were ones which we had not seen at shows before. This is a big deal. That means more people are hearing about these little pockets of Ottawa and involving themselves. Hell, a lot of them even brought their kids and they were dancing. You know that something is going right at Arboretum Festival when you see newly-bipedal children dancing their diapers off to punk rockers like Steve Adamyk Band (with ear protection, of course).
Jon Schofield & Jon Bennett of The Yips. (Photo: Jeff Watkins)
After old friends and new friends shared a few laughs and consumed a few local brews, Ottawa’s own The Yips took the stage. It was Halloween in the summer, with rave ghosts out in full force getting some sun. I only got there near the end of their set, which was a bummer because they are still one of my favourite bands all around in town. Their crunchy and unforgiving sound is aggressive to a point, and then pulls back at key points. Zach and Jonny’s guitars thrive off of each other, unfurling a mysterious and piercing equilibrium that many bands can only dream of. Kurt’s ferocious bass works in the same way as Jon Bennett’s drumming – potent, unrelentless, and absorbing. Let’s all have a séance!
Mike Dubue of Hilotrons. (Photo: Jeff Watkins)
Hilotrons were next and impressed everyone at the festival immediately. I am not as familiar with Hilotrons as most Ottawa-born music-lovers, mostly because I moved here after they released some of their biggest albums. I quickly discovered that Mike Dubue is a pretty incredible songwriter and composer, albeit an eternally mysterious character. In any case, he really let loose at Arboretum and was definitely in his element. This time around Hilotrons were composed of a few other familiar faces in the scene – Adam Saikaley on keys, guitarist Alex Moxon, as well as Phillippe Charbonneau and Pascal Delaquis drumming. Honestly, I cannot believe how these guys play in so many bands and know how to play so many instruments! Along with Dubue, this Hilotrons incarnation had people moving around lots with permanent smiles on their faces. The set was diverse in sound, ranging from eclectic experimental noises to a full-out dub/reggae banger. Some bands sound the same throughout their whole career, and part of Hilotrons’s appeal is never knowing what is coming next. A choice addition to the evening and a perfect prelude to Kevin Drew.
Kevin Drew, the main man behind the beloved Canadian art-rock music collective Broken Social Scene, was the headliner of the night. The mood was set and glimmering lights were everywhere, with a cool breeze making the night that much more enjoyable. Before the band came on, Arboretum co-founder and artistic director Rolf Klausener introduced the band by telling a nice story about how Kevin Drew helped to disseminate The Acorn‘s first record to all the cool kids.
For those expecting the explosiveness and immensity of what BSS puts forth, Kevin Drew isn’t trying to fool anyone into jumping on his bandwagon. I liked this album because it sounds like Kevin Drew – slightly twisted with inescapable arrangements and songwriting that bleeds the words “fuck you, this is what I am.” However, Darlings is not as audibly dense and does not contain any hidden messages. With song titles like “Good Sex,” “Body Butter,” and “Mexican Aftershow Party,” Drew doesn’t try to obscure his intentions with the album in any way. It’s an album about developing strong bonds and connections, with people, with music.
On stage, Drew was joined by some familiar collaborators like Ohad Benchetrit of Years and also BSS, and Dean Stone of Apostle of Hustle. Also joining him was Charles Spearin, with whom he started KC Accidental that inevitably led to the genesis of BSS. Almost immediately, the energy was flowing from the stage as they played “You In Your Were,” a song that boasts Leslie Feist’s vocals on the record (having her join Drew on stage was just dream, of course, but one has to dream).
Drew paused momentarily to express how great he thought the festival was, and admired his surroundings. I should also mention that he would return with BSS in the future, a promise that all of us here in Ottawa will hold him to, I’m sure.
Kevin Drew. (Photo: Jeff Watkins)
During “Mexican Aftershow Party,” a group of happy dancers from the happy moshpit busted out some sparklers and lit them, creating a really beautiful view for the rest of us. We were also treated to Ohad’s version of “Sea of Love” by Phil Phillips, a rendition that demonstrated just how talented he is and completely left the crowd in awe. Drew also reached into the past to play other incredible compositions such as “Anorexic He-Man” from his pre-Y2K KC Accidental days.
The set only grew stronger as it went on. Nearing the end, he played stripped-down versions of the BSS tracks “Lover’s Spit” off 2002’s You Forgot it in People (which he conceded included lyrics alluding to masturbation) and “Superconnected” from their 2005 self-titled release.The renditions were surreal, almost as if we were getting a private show and hearing songs played like this for the first time. The crowd was belting out the words and melody, and while perfection was far off, Drew seemed to really enjoy having everyone join in. They ended prematurely and realized that they still needed to play for half an hour, so they teased us with a bit of Queen before launching into an all-out stage jam. Yes, they made up an incredible untitled song just for us Ottawans. Deal with it! The night ended with the smooth and sexy song “It’s Cool,” and we all released ourselves from the grip of an alluring Friday night at Arboretum Arts Festival.
Just remember. We as a community have an obligation to hold Kevin Drew to his word. Broken Social Scene at ARB 2015, okay?
Arboretum Festival: The Hammock Sessions (Secret Shows) – Saturday, August 23
As you may have noticed on the Arboretum Arts Festival Schedule, we’re presenting a few “secret shows” today at the grounds. Well, the cat’s out of the bag. The “Hammock Sessions” will take place this afternoon/evening by, yes, the hammock.
We’re really excited to be part of this festival, and have a hand-picked lineup of incredibly talented musicians right from the heart of Ottawa’s music community. The sessions will be short sets that take place between the main stage acts starting at 5:15 p.m. Here’s the low-down on the artists, come hang out with us!
5:15 p.m. – Sarah Bradley (of FEVERS)
Multiple award-winner Sarah Bradley has earned her stripes as one of the most prominent voices in Ottawa as lead vocalist and synth/piano in FEVERS. Her pop sensibilities guide her solo endeavours as well, with R&B influences also manifesting themselves in her music.
6:15 p.m. – GIANT HAND
Kirk Ramsay, a.k.a. Giant Hand, has built a repertoire of honest and emotive songs that has turned heads across the country. His simple, humble method is a distant echo of Bright Eyes, but the end result is a completely original and profound body of work.
6:15 p.m. – Andy Swan
Andy Swan has set himself apart with his deep-rooted country/folk music, piquing with his instant classic in 2007’s Ottawa (which included the help from Arboretum Festival’s Creative Director Rolf Klausener on bass). He has been a much-loved part of the Kelp Records family, and has proven himself an integral addition to Ottawa’s talented music community over the years.
7:45 – Bucko
Chris Binkowski, who goes by the stage name Bucko, is a phenom of sorts. While some would think an artist with muscular dystrophy may be limited, Bucko defies all preconceptions by offering an impressive electro/experimental show with lights and all. You may have seen him at Nuit Blanche and Chinatown Remixed over the last few years, and Arboretum-goers will have the chance to see what this man has to offer when he closes out the Hammock Sessions around 7:45 tonight. Check out his initiative Accessibility for Humanity.
Arboretum Festival: Ought, Fresh Snow, Blue Angel and Freelove Fenner @ House of TARG
Photo by Jeff Watkins
From a church at the last show to a pinball and pierogi-filled punk basement venue, Arboretum brought the weird with Ought and more at House of TARG.
Montréal’s Ought channelled the ghosts of 80s New Wave and post-punk past to deliver a great set Thursday night. The four-piece sounded great and were thrilled to be there, constantly mentioning how awesome the bill was. Sometimes sounding like bands of the Gang of Four variety (and I say that as a compliment) Ought had my head bobbing along all show. The songs that really stuck were “The Weather Song,” which really had me travelling back decades to the New Wave era, “More Than Any Other Day,” which the singer talks more than he sings and it completely captivated me, and lastly “Habit” with the grabbing lyrics and vocals that reminded me of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. Glad I stuck around late to check these guys out, they did not hit the stage until around 1 a.m.
Fresh Snow delivering a “soundgasm” at House of TARG in Ottawa during Arboretum 2014. Photo by Jeff Watkins
Blowing us all away before Ought was the soundgasm that is Fresh Snow. From Toronto, the organized auditory chaos that this four-piece creates is incredible. There is no singer, but don’t think this is your grand-mother’s instrumental music. From twisting pedal knobs with a stir of just the right madness to slamming guitar strings with a closed fist as the momentum of the song mounts, Fresh Snow transported us to another musical state. The set had my ears constantly asking for more, even in the distorted craze of their finale. As they walked off stage they left their guitars on, with one hanging on an amp, strings facing in on the amp and the other guitar and bass face down on the pedals, just to keep our ears ringing. Their performance last year at Ottawa Explosion was one of the shows of the year and they certainly did not disappoint this time around.
Blue Angel haunting the crowd at House of TARG in Ottawa during Arboretum 2014. Photo by Jeff Watkins
The girls from Blue Angel took the stage in black cult-like robes and masks that reminded of geisha, but with a single tear on each. It was really trippy to watch the set without seeing their lips move, especially on the “You Me,” where each member sings or screams at some point of the song. There is something very unsettling of hearing a sound but not really seeing the source. They played a set that featured older songs, such as one of my favourites “Don’t Want Need To” and a bunch of new tracks I had never heard. I am really impressed with how far this band has come from the wall of noise and yells I first saw at Babylon earlier this year. They sounded great, a lot crisper and really had me hooked. And in random news, they exited the stage to the sound of bagpipes.
Freelove Fenner playing House of TARG in Ottawa during Arboretum 2014. Photo by Jeff Watkins
Getting the night going was Freelove Fenner. The three-piece was the lightest of the bands on the bill, but that is not to say they did not fit in. They had just the right amount of weird and cool guitar. The sound emanating from the guitar on “Mary” was one that tickled my ears just right. Another track that really had me going was “Vicky,” also a girl’s name, maybe a pattern is forming here. Lead singer and bassist, Caitlin Loney, commented on the hot sweaty atmosphere that is TARG. “C’est chaud ici. My hair is getting all puffy, how do you guys keep it straight?” I recommend losing most of it…
Another great night at Arboretum which set the stage for a ruckus weekend!
Arboretum Festival: Julie Doiron and the Wooden Stars, Evening Hymns & Bosveld
Julie Doiron and the Wooden Stars capped off an awe-inspiring lineup at St. Albans Church last night, which also featured wonderful sets from Evening Hymns and Bosveld.
Arboretum had the pleasure of presenting Julie Doiron and the Wooden Stars perform the album they released 15 years ago. The album, which you can stream here, is full of emotional ups and downs which resonated powerfully in the great acoustics of St. Albans Church. They did not perform the album from start to finish, but I am pretty sure they played every song and it was great. The soothing and honest voice of Doiron was complemented excellently by the musical stylings of Michael Feuerstack, Josh Latour, Andrew McCormack, & Julien Beillard.
There is something kind of cool knowing all the songs that will be played but just not the order, as Doiron put it “you don’t want to be too rehearsed.” The song that really impressed was “The Best Thing for Me” which has great lyrics and has even better unorthodox messy guitar solos which were so fun live. Another great track was “Au Contraire” — c’est toujours bien d’entendre une chanson avec des paroles francophones.
After playing “The Second Time,” Doiron took off her guitar to prepare herself for the final song, one where she simply sings. People misinterpreted this jest and began to leave. “Look at that, I took off my guitar and everyone was like bye,” said Doiron with a smile. They sure missed out, as the band played the final song off the album, “Sweeter” which features great back and forth vocals between Doiron and the guitarist. Doiron and the band tried to leave the stage afterwards as it was getting rather late, but they just could not resist the standing ovation by the sellout crowd. They played a Wooden Stars’ original “Outlaws,” followed by Doiron’s “Will You Still Love Me in December.” A perfectly chilling end to an amazingly hot night at Arboretum.
Evening Hymns at St. Albans Church in Ottawa during Arboretum Festival 2014.
Before the reunion could take place, Evening Hymns took the stage. There was something so fitting about a band so named to play in a church. The set was full of new songs, they actually opened with three of them in a row. Lead singer and guitarist, Jonas Bonnetta, cracked jokes between most songs and seemed to be having a great time. Commenting on the sweat-inducing heat in the church, “everyone who complained about the cold weather, you are eating your words now. Or am I the only one feeling the heat right now, is it a religious thing? Because I see a lot of you in sweaters.” This was their first show with their new drummer, Ottawa boy Pat Johnson. There is a very noticeable dichotomy between their new music and older pieces. New songs like “Hiss at Mirrors” are upbeat, feature three vocals and are more rocking, whereas the older music is much heavier emotionally and a little slower paced. It all makes for a beautiful mix.
Bonnetta provided one of the most memorable live music experiences as he shed tears while the band performed “You and Jake.” The song is off of the bands powerful and moving album Spectral Dusk, which is an album about Bonnetta losing his father to a very rare blood disease. It was one of the most emotional and human moments in music I have ever witnessed.
Bosveld at St. Albans Church in Ottawa during Arboretum Festival 2014.
Opening the festivities was Ottawa’s very own Bosveld. The band looked in great shape, playing their homecoming show and last stop on their bike tour which took them as far as Hamilton, ON. They toured as a duo, and have often played as such in Ottawa, but on this night they were a quartet and it was magical. The four-piece gives the dreamy trance even more depth. Seeing them perform in the house of the Lord only adds to the reverie. Bosveld are the most whimsical band in Ottawa and they are only getting better. They played some songs off of their Catalysts Mixtape and some off their upcoming LP Veldbrand, set to released by the end of this year or the start of the next.
Ottawa Explosion Weekend Day 4: A Marathon of Awesome Music!
The Saturday of Ottawa Explosion Weekend is an annual marathon of amazing music. The music starts at 12:30 and goes past 2 a.m. I am no runner, but if all marathons were this awesome I would certain take it up.
By the time I made it down, the all-female trio Old and Weird from Halifax were setting up. They had a very interesting sound and what was really cool was how often they switched instruments. Each member played a few songs on the drums throughout the set, which I had never seen before. So they did in fact “Show Me Something” I had never seen before. They also performed a pretty cool song about Kurt Cobain (video above).
Next up was Ottawa’s Grime Kings. Fresh off their Stanley cup victory, ok sorry that is a very lame joke. If you were ever concerned about the future of music in the capital, look no further for hope than this band. They are making strange, progressive and experimental music and I am not sure if they are all even of legal drinking age yet. They are somewhat disorganized at times and have a hard time with tuning (self-proclaimed) but I really like what they are doing musically. Oh and boys, you don’t just tease a crowd and say you are going to play a John Mayer cover and not deliver, you owe us. Hahaha.
One of the many new discoveries of the festival for myself was the most excellent Idle Bloom from Nashville. They have a psych-pop sound with a female lead and two female backing vocals which all work tremendously well together. They opened with the very cute and heartfelt song “Day You Were Born,” and played a great set from there. I am very glad they made the long trip to Ottawa.
It was now time for the Dirt cult records showcase. Kicking it off was Feral Trash from Moncton, New Brunswick. The lead singer/guitarist seemed to be fighting through an illness as he had to look away after almost every verse or chorus to cough, but it didn’t hold them back. They played fast catchy music with no big filler between songs. There is no better example of this than their great track “Dead Weight” (in video above). It is so good and such a sweet sing-a-long song.
As Monty Python would say, now for something completely different. Noisy Ottawa rock duo Big Dick followed up. Like or hate their name, the band plays a perfect mix of heavy music with catchy moments excellent for crowd participation. I am a sucker for their track “Medic.” Drummer, Dave Secretary, introduced a song by saying “This one is new so it’s going to be awful.” The song actually kicked ass and I am now anticipating another amazing release by the duo. Favourite moment of the set was when they hit the first chord of the very rocking “Colours” and Davey’s face lit up and he quickly joined them on vocals.
One of the things about Ottawa Explosion is you discover so many amazing bands which is awesome, but you also run the risk of falling in love with a band that may never return to Ottawa. Sometimes though you discover a band and they blow you away so much you make the effort to never miss them when they swing by. For me that is Needles//Pins, who absolutely killed it last year. They played a great mix of new and old, songs like “Best Friend,” “Pulse,” “I Don’t Mind” and “I Heart Your Drugs” which all blew me away. But it was also great to hear their new songs, which fit in great with their set. Trust me, see them, buy their stuff, just don’t miss out on Needles//Pins you will not be disappointed; they are one of Canada’s finest. Thank you Vancouver for giving us such a great talent.
Up next was the explosion of the festival. With the band running late and the crowd looking restless Emmanuel took the mic to announce the unfortunate news, “I am sorry to tell everyone New Swears won’t be playing as they were rushed to the hospital. They tried to repel down the building to the show and fell.” As the crowd laughed, he assured us “They are all dead it’s not funny.” But then thanks to a Ottawa Explosion Weekend miracle the boys covered in bandages, dirt and wearing hospital garbs crawled onto the stage. The always crazy, destructive, costumed, high energy local garage punk band really got the party going. As they began their set, organizers started throwing inflatable beach toys (including a shark, mats, beach balls, flamingos, etc) into the crowd. The place was whipped into a frenzy of dancing, singing, crowd surfing and moshing. New Swears gave us a taste of their new album set to be released later this summer, playing a couple of tracks off it. They also found time to play all the favourites including, “Two Darts,” “See You In Hull,” and “Paradise.” With time running out on their set and probably needing to be hooked back up to the IV, they closed with a rambunctious cover of Bob Segar’s classic “Old Time Rock N’ Roll.”
After New Swears it was time for the Dirtnap Records Showcase. My buddy Matias covered the hoyl cow knock my socks off showcase, which included Voicemail, Sonic Avenues, Steve Adamyk Band and The Marked Men, read it here. I then made my way to Avant-Garde for some more great bands. First up was locals Dead Weights. Their set was such a party. A smaller venue and so many of my friends packed in singing every word. We also got to see the first, and probably last, crowd surfer in the bar’s history during the line “I’ll pick you up” from their song “Fall Down,” thanks JS. The boys played a great set with many of my favourites from their new album Dead Ends and Closed Doors, such as “Barely Breath” and “Friends First.” It was also sweet to see the guys from Montreal’s Panic Attack join them for the last song.
Joining Dead Weights on stage was the perfect segue, as Panic Attack was up next. This was the case of another great band that I missed at Pouzza and got to see at explosion, it’s nice how that works out. They are freaking great and played a really solid set. Their 90’s era punk rock sound had me feeling nostalgic and it was a lot of fun.
Next was one of the bands that traveled the furthest for the festival, Latex Squad all the way from Hamburg,Germany. The lead singer/bassist was so very happy to be here. “I can’t believe I’m actually in Canada.” Funny enough they then played a song with the chorus “I hate everything about you.” They later joked that they were the “Ramstein of northern Germany.” They played really fun 70’s style garage punk. I really liked their track “Cyborg of Love.” It was also very cool to see the drummer sporting the new White Wires shirt.
I ducked into Ritual next door to catch some of METZ and sadly missed Dagger Eyes, next time. Closing down Avant Guarde was Asile. Their set was heavy, fast, hard, thrashy and in French, not the regular end of night act for the bar. I loved it.
As the set ended I quickly hustled over back to SAW to catch the end of the Crusades set. The band is packed with heavy hitters in the Ottawa punk scene, including festival organizer Emmanuel on guitar and lead singer/guitarist of The Creeps, Skottie on bass. I only got to see a few songs, but funny enough the lead singer of Panic Attack joined them on stage for a song, making his third appearance of the night. Busy guy.
Well there you have it, a lot of words about an absolutely amazing day! Ottawa Explosion Weekend is just the best time of the year.
Ottawa Explosion Weekend Day 4 – Boyhood, Odonis Odonis & METZ @ Ritual
And the good times just kept on rolling. As the day that included unreal sets from New Swears, TV Freaks, The Abandos, Steve Adamyk Band, Voicemail, The Marked Men, and more left everyone at Ottawa Explosion ravaged and overcome with amazement, the night continued with OXW events all around the city… You can read about the earlier portion of day 4 here. With shows scattered around the city at places like House of Targ, Club SAW, Mugshots, and Cafe Deckuf, many of us made the decision to get the shit kicked out of us even further (in a good way) around the corner at Ritual Nightclub.
Projections during Boyhood at Ritual for OXW
First up was Ottawa’s Boyhood, an interesting addition to the lineup but one that ended up working really well. I was unsure if Boyhood was going to capture the audience’s attention – although I knew I’d be loving their set as per usual, it wasn’t clear whether the METZ fans would dig the lo-fi and experimental dreaminess of their songs, and the laxness lead singer Caylie Runciman on stage. My fears were quelled immediately as they began. They played some songs – new and old – and seduced the anxious and excited crowd within minutes. I guess that’s one of the many appealing qualities Boyhood has – the ability to negate any line that may be drawn between genres and play music that they wrote on their own terms. Music that even gets older punks dancing, which is a feat on its own. Having listened to their new record bits n’ bobs a few times, I can say that Boyhood is an enigmatic, unyielding, and tremendously talented group that evolves with each release they put out. There was also a really neat overhead projector (grade 3 style) show during their set, which involved food dye, a few glass bowls, and water. A definite must-see band here in Ottawa for anyone who hasn’t heard or seen them yet.
One of my favourite new bands I discovered at OXW was a Toronto noise-rock band called Odonis Odonis. They’ve been together since 2010 and are signed to Canadian label Buzz Records along with HSY, Weaves, and a few other really wicked bands. They were heavy, technical, and completely unorthodox. The way they used effects to supplement their really well-written songs is captivating, and I couldn’t help but just move erratically to what I was experiencing. I won’t say too much more other than that they kind of scared me in a really weird and good way. Just watch the video for “Order in the Court.”
Last up was probably the biggest addition to the Explosion lineup this year, Toronto’s METZ. Originally from Ottawa, the band made the move to Toronto in 2009/2010 and garnered an army of supporters and took off. They have since been signed by Sub Pop Records and released a critically-acclaimed s/t record. Not bad. I saw these guys last year at Babylon, and it was one of the best shows I saw last year. I guarantee my neighbour fucking hates me for buying this vinyl and blaring it all the time, because, really – how else are you going to listen to METZ?
Their live set was the critical mass we had all been waiting for at Ottawa Explosion. It was the actual explosion part of the festival. Not that the other bands weren’t incredible and intense, but METZ is on another level. I chatted with bassist Chris Slorach before the show, and he was an incredibly nice guy… but the minute they hit the stage it was utter chaos. The moshpit was insanity, crowdsurfers were flying everywhere, and the poor security guard didn’t stand a chance. Especially when lead singer Alex Edkins yelled “If you’re going to stage dive, now is the time!” They played songs like “Wasted” and “Headache” and really got the crowd in a frenzy. Emmanuel Sayer, the organizer of OXW, even joined them on stage to cover The Damned (video below), which was really cool. Apart from set itself, a memorable point was seeing Sammy J. Scorpian of New Swears crowdsurf onto the stage and literally get dragged off to the sidestage by his collar by security, who were quickly told that he was not to be dragged any further. Of course, Sammy got right back in there and kept the party going. METZ ended with “Wet Blanket” and it was pandemonium in there.
A perfect way to end the busiest day of the festival yet. Even though we all knew we’d wake up with bruises and maybe even a few wounds, we could enjoy the rest of the festival knowing that it was worth it.
Ottawa Explosion Weekend Day Three: The White Wires, The Creeps, Robots!Everywhere!!, Jon Creeden and more
Day three of Ottawa Explosion Weekend was absolutely insane! Got started at 6 pm with acoustic punk, later included an amazing The White Wires set and The Creeps stirred the place into a frenzy inside.
One of the best acoustic acts going, period, is Jon Creeden. He writes great tunes that just urge you to sing a long the entire set. And what is even better is he was still all smiles and upbeat despite getting a $90 parking ticket while loading. He played a bunch of songs we all knew like “Swept Away” and a sweet combination of “Dominos” and “The Captain.” But the highlight for me was the three new songs he wrote about Ottawa that he played in the middle of his set. One was about Jean-Sebastien, one about Robot!House!! and another for SCUM House on Gladstone (RIP). Looking forward to getting my hands on those recordings whenever they are pressed.
Up next was the one-man party explosion Robots!Everywhere!! One thing I truly love from Robots! sets is how he gives a little story or teaches you dance moves before every song… both are always hilarious. He rocked us with great tracks like “$400,” “Best Friends,” “Taco Party,” “Sports Off,” and a new song. He taught us awesome choreography for “Drunk at Work” and got into some aerobics by convincing everyone to run on the spot during the chorus of “Building Materials.” He then showed everyone what Ottawa Explosion is all about by moving his mic in the crowd having all of us surround him as he played the Ottawa Explosion theme song. We then all had a massive sweaty group hug.
Outtacontroler from Halifax got things kicked off once we all moved outside back to the front of Club SAW. They played some pretty darn sweet garage rock. I was really digging it but my stomach was yelling at me to eat, so I had to duck out. This hunger also caused me to miss The Famines…but that almost feels appropriate.
I did return just in time to catch Vancouver’s Tough Age. They kept the kind of garage punk vibe going, and I was not complaining. I freaking loved the lead singer’s voice, it just had that perfect ring to it. “We’re Both to Blame” and “Heart of Juliet Jones” (the first two songs off their most excellent album) were my favourites from their set.
Next up was Protomartyr, such a cool band name I may add. The lead singer looked like a drunk business man after a hard week of work with his suit on and stumbling, but they were great. I truly enjoyed their set, most notably the second song the boys from Detroit played called “Scum.”
It was now time for local favourites The White Wires. The band pretty much plays two shows a year as their members are all doing different things, including Allie rocking out of California now as Peach Kelly Pop. Ian and Allie were ready to go, but bass player Luke was nowhere to be found… so Emmanuel jumped on the bass for the first song. It will probably go down as one of the coolest moments in Ottawa’s punk folklore. Their set was unreal and jam packed with all the hits. “Let’s Go to the Beach,” “All Night Long,” and “Roxanne” stuck out for me from the set and so did every song they played, actually. The crowd was going nuts charging the mic to sing along, moshing, crowd surfing and just having a riot.
It was time to move inside, and after the amazing The White Wires set, the bar was placed pretty high for the next few acts. They did not disappoint. Dig It Up from Montreal are simply put, awesome. They blasted through their set at warp speed. The singer spent almost as much time in the crowd as he did on stage and he was hands down the most energetic and entertaining frontman of the festival so far. I am so glad I caught their set as I missed it at Pouzza Fest.
Another Ottawa band that just doesn’t play enough are The Creeps. The crowd inside agreed as they screamed along and crowd surfing non-stop. Their music is upbeat and fun, while their lyrics are creepy and stalker-ish, a wonderful combination. They played many great songs and I was happy to hear one of my favourites “Follow You Home.” Emmanuel was up front as always and got up on stage to sing some, it is so great to see the organizers having a blast at their own festival.
With so many great acts done there was still one question… who was the secret band closing out the night? The answer, The Marked Men side project Radioactivity. At this point I was feeling rather exhausted so checked out four or five songs and had to pack it in. The band was great and set the stage for Saturday.
Ottawa Explosion Weekend Day 4 – New Swears, TV Freaks, Steve Adamyk Bank + more
You’d think that after three days of non-stop live music, partying, moshing, and general disregard for our overall health, the crowd at Ottawa Explosion would thin out a bit as the days wore on. It was just the opposite. Saturday saw more people and more music than any other day so far, and the atmosphere was full of excitement and anticipation. We were all ready for one hell of a night, with events scattered around the city.
My day started with one of my local faves New Swears. For those who aren’t as familiar with Ottawa bands, New Swears are the funnest, most ridiculous, self-destructive group of guys in the entire region. Maybe even the province. Maybe even the country. Their late afternoon set kicked off in the same fashion as always – countless floatation devices and blow-up pool toys, bodies flying everywhere, and some great tunes coming from the four guys up front wearing ripped up hospital gowns (and ripped up underwear) with bandages all over their body. Some songs that got people going mental were “Rather Be Dead,” “See You In Hull,” and their bad ass new single “No Fun” which will appear on their new record coming out in late summer before their European tour. Ending with their own version of “Old Time Rock and Roll,” which ended with multiple crowdsurfing bodies colliding and half the band on the ground in a pile of dirty, sweaty human flesh. The tone was set and it was pretty much everything you could ask for from the same guys that snowboarded down their stairwell with snow they brought in from their yard.
New Swears at OXW 2014
After, there were a couple of sets happening around the corner at Vertigo Records, so I headed that way and crammed in with all the others. Philly punk rockers The Abandos were first up, and they played quite a few of songs that were short and sweet. They ran into a few problems with feedback, which is completely understandable since the bands were essentially playing in the crowd due to limited space. Their music was fast, frantic, and full of energy. Lead vocalist Street Kyle’s ultra-fast and ultra-aggressive vocals really stood out and I dug the crunchy reverb he had coming from his guitar. The songs got heavier and heavier as the set went on, and they surely garnered some new fans.
The Abandos @ Vertigo Records, OXW 2014
Between sets I went and got a sub and mixed a little bourbon+ Coca Cola concoction, thinking I was really smart. I returned to the venue only to realize it was filled to capacity. I was locked out with a few other poor bastards, watching Ming Wu dance his little heart out to TV Freaks up front inside. But we made the best of it, and there was only a thin pane of glass separating us on the street from the band. Hailing from Hamilton, ON, they were super heavy and fun to watch on stage. Their music reminds me of the good ol’ days of punk rock, and their live show is one that I think Iggy Pop would get a kick out of. Even a homeless gentleman came up and had the time of his life watching the band from outside, and received a fist pump from the drummer on the other side of the glass.
After the Vertigo sets, things kept on going over at Club SAW. One of my most anticipated lineups of the festival was the Dirtnap Records showcase. I pretty much love everything bands on this label put out, so we were all in for a treat. First up was Voicemail, which is fronted by Ian Manhire of The White Wires. With WW only playing a few shows a year, it’s so great to see Ian on stage doing his own thing with Voicemail. Their tunes are straight-up fun garage music, with the same spirit as WW minus the surfiness. They ended on a great note with a cover of ELO’s “Don’t Bring Me Down.”
Next up was Montreal’s Sonic Avenues, a band I discovered recently and absolutely fell in love with. I can’t get enough of their garage punk-pop sound, and their set did not disappoint. The high point of their set was when they played the song “Automatic” from their latest record Mistakes, whipping the crowd into a frenzy that lasted the rest of their set. My favourite track off this new album is “New Vogues,” which sounded even better live. Do not miss these guys when they come to town!
Another one of my local faves is Steve Adamyk Band, and these Explosion veterans took over the SAW courtyard next. During Sonic Avenues’s and SAB’s sets, a legion of sweaty, hungover people were up front belting every word of their songs. The guys from Needles//Pins, amongst many others, were joining the band in singing such catchy punk tunes like “Wait For Your Number,” “Speed It Up,” “Katakombs,” and a few new tracks like “Careless” off their new album Dial Tone to be released July 1. Guitarist Davey Quesnel ripped it up the whole set, and with years of band experience under his belt, his technique was infallible up there. His balance, however, was not – Davey took a pretty big spill over the monitor at one point, but he got up and shook it off like nothing happened. An internet high five to Davey for that one. Even Adamyk’s former Sedatives bandmate and Ottawa Explosion organizer Emmanuel Sayer was singing his heart out and loving the shit out of life as the band played.
Steve Adamyk Band at OXW 2014
A bummer was that I only caught the first few songs of The Marked Men, who came from Texas to play Explosion this year. Probably the most anticipated band of the festival, The Marked Men had the crowd in the palms of their hands from the first stroke of the guitar. These guys have been around since 2002, and although they haven’t released a record since 2009, they showed no signs of slowing down. They ripped through songs, and the energy exuding from the band on stage seemed to demand an equally strong reaction from the crowd. Below is a video of the band performing the song “On The Outside” at Explosion this year shot by Chris Cook of Finderskeepers.
Many of us went to Ritual Nightclub for METZ afterwards, but there were also events happening Avant Garde, House of Targ, Cafe Dekcuf, Mugshots, and Club SAW (inside). By the end of the Dirtnap showcase, there was no denying that this was not only the best night so far, but that this was the strongest year of the festival yet.
Ottawa Explosion Weekend Day 2: Stand GT, Tropical Dripps, ZEX, Tweens and more
Ottawa Explosion Weekend, day two–saw many great bands rock Club SAW once again.
Tropical Dripps got us started with their surf rock and beach party atmosphere. There were beach balls, Jean-Sebastien crowdsurfing on an inflatable beach mattress, a bunch of people dancing while wearing tropical shirts, and great tunes. Oh yeah, there was also the first “nudity” of the festival (not the last of the day) thanks to shirtless bass player Kurt.
Ketamines were up next with their old school punk rock vibe. They reminded me of the kind of stuff you would have heard New York in the 80’s, it was great. Kind of a New York Dolls feel, but with the bonus of someone on keys. The lead singer was a great showman, which is always a plus.
Looking rather exhausted but without any signs of fatigue Pretty Pretty from Ohio came on. They were a super fun pop punk act with dual vocals. The crowd was loving it and dancing up a storm. What was really cool is that the drummer Jerry is not normally in the band but was filling in and did a kick ass job. Songs “Talking to the Walls” and “Family Matters” really stuck out for me.
Jerry returned to the stage to play with Tweens, who blew me away. They had me hooked from the very first song. I just loved their energy and really enjoyed their new song “Serotonin.” Tweens also had us all laughing as they introduced one of their sad songs by saying “get out your rain coats, here come the tears.”
The most surreal moment of the night was getting to see The Stand GT. Never thought I would ever get to see them play as there last show was 13 years ago in 2001. They were excellent and you could have sworn they never took a break. They looked like they were having so much fun getting back on stage which is great to see from a band whose first release was in the late 80’s.
It was now time to move inside to get ZEX-ed. One of Ottawa’s newest acts ZEX were most excellent. This was my first time seeing the band and I was quite excited. I missed the beginning but walked in to see the lead singer in a white leather bondage gear which did not cover very much (not something you see every day, well maybe some of you do.) I really dig the band’s sound, energy and stage presence. And I could not help but yell the lyrics to their great tune “Savage City” at the top of my lungs.
The last band of the evening for me was Vacation, as I had to head out and go see some friends. This was the third band Jerry drummed for in the night and he once again killed it. As I have mentioned in several other posts, it always blows my mind to watch a drummer also be lead vocals. I don’t know what is in the water in Ohio but the state certainly produces awesome punk rock between Pretty Pretty, Tweens and Vacation.
Well day two is in the books which means the actual weekend portion is about to begin! I am so ridiculously stocked for Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Let’s keep the Explosion rolling.