Standing in the Westin picking up Juno Awards media passes, my phone buzzed. A screenshot from a friend of a tweet saying there was a pop-up Arkells show at a *secret* location, hosted by CBCq and Tom Power. What the hell is that, you ask? Pop-up show? Secret location? Challenge accepted. So, The Great Hunt for The Arkells Pop-Up Secret Show hosted by CBCq began.
As we left the hotel we made a plan. It was 1:30pm, the show was at 4pm. Start the clock.
1:32PM – We narrowed down possible venues for such an event in Ottawa. The tweet said that the first 50 people who emailed CBCq would get access to the show. We knew it would be small.
1:37PM – We hauled ass to the car, snow flying down everywhere, and decided first stop would be at the source. Off to CBC we went. Once we parked and found our way around the the entrance that actually let us in (harder than you’d think, there’s like five doors to that place). The security guards were quick to stop us, we showed them the tweet and I’m pretty sure they thought we were off our rockers. Thankfully, one gentleman didn’t think we were completely loony and offered to help us out by introducing us to the CBC host he was waiting to meet. Amazingly enough, the host he was waiting for also happened to be the moderator from the morning’s panel discussion on Ottawa As A Music City. Though he also had no idea what we were talking about he was nice enough to wish us luck as we left on The Great Hunt for The Arkells Pop-Up Secret Show hosted by CBCq
2:05PM – Next we tried to think logically. CBCq hosted an event at the Bronson Centre the day before. Perhaps they were holding all their gear there for the broadcast. So once again, off we went. We got inside only to have the person behind the desk look at us like we have eight heads. This was becoming a theme. We thought this was a logical choice, but failed to consider the size of the Bronson Centre, and how it could fit many more than 50 people.
2:30PM – Though we didn’t admit defeat, we decided that CBC probably knew a thing or two about keeping secrets. We carried on with our day.
3PM – Out for lunch where I ended up with a full pint of beer in my lap and ate perogies that would later nearly kill me (that’s a story for another time).
3:45PM – *Phone buzz.* What’s the line up outside LIVE on Elgin? We once again hauled ass to the car.
4:05PM – Late for the 4PM start time, we parked, j-walked and carefully knocked on the door of the venue. Security opens the door and quickly starts questioning. We got a quick no, and a door close.
4:07PM – Some parts of this story need to remain a mystery, right?
4:10PM – WE GOT IN! The Great Hunt for The Arkells Pop-Up Secret Show hosted by CBCq was a success!!! We quickly stripped off coats, rigged up cameras with lens, and flew like the wind towards the stage. Arkells were going full tilt, we started shooting. Max flew everywhere through the crowd. He was dancing, throwing his mic stand around, finally just took the glasses straight off my face. Insanity. Private School, Drakes Dad, Happy Birthday, Jackson Five.
4:50PM – Post show CBC Host Tom Power striked up a conversation with us. We hesitantly told him details of The Great Hunt for The Arkells Pop-Up Secret Show hosted by CBCq, unsure of the response we would receive. He got a laugh, seemed impressed, all was fine, the end.
4:55PM– Still losing our shit, we went on with our day. The rest of The Juno Awards awaited us, little did we know there was much more in store for the weekend. Check out the full photo gallery for more of what I got up to throughout Juno Weekend.
Join us next time as I tell the story about how I puke outside Petrocan before meeting another CBC radio host.
JUNOfest kicked off Thursday with a few shows around town, and I decided to make my way to Zaphod’s to check out Operators along with supporting acts Charly Bliss and Potential Red.
Juno fever was in the air, and you could feel the excitement building in the city. The first act to hit the stage was a newer post-punk group in Ottawa called Potential Red. I’d heard about these guys through the grapevine but hadn’t seen them before, and they impressed everyone in attendance with a strong set. There aren’t a lot of Ottawa groups writing songs in the footsteps of late ‘70’s and early ‘80’s post-punk and new wave bands, and these guys do it right.
Right away Potential Red captured the audience’s attention and held on tight as they blasted out heavy bass-driven grooves layered with reverb-laden guitars and flutters of synth throughout their songs. Dare I say that lead singer David Sklubal’s moves on stage were reminiscent of Ian Curtis’, frantically exuding his energy into the crowd and getting the front riled up. I heard some of A Place to Bury Strangers in some of their songs, which I certainly connected with. Sklubal nearly broke the neck of his guitar as he jumped around on stage, just before launching himself into the crowd with reckless abandon. This is definitely a local band to keep an eye on, their live performance is not to be missed.
Next up was Brooklyn, NY grunge-pop band Charly Bliss. The four-piece churned out the kind of power-pop that we all know and love, channeling a sound that many of grew up with in the 90’s. Front-woman Eva Hendricks stole the show with her stage antics, having fun with the set and luring the crowd in with her energy. In all honesty, this is the kind of band I’m skeptical of going in. Having not heard their music before, I felt like they might toy with my emotions and try to pull some nostalgic strings without executing it properly. This happens sometimes. I was admittedly looking for something not to like about Charly Bliss, but one can’t help but fall in love with those catchy hooks, overzealous performance style, and honest songwriting delivered with a bow on top into our eardrums.
The band’s stage chemistry was obvious, and it wasn’t difficult to tell how close they are. They have opened for Veruca Salt, Sleater-Kinney, Tokyo Police Club, PUP, and are currently touring with Operators. Needless to say, catch Charly Bliss at small venues while you can because I have a feeling they’ll be playing bigger clubs any day now.
The headlining act Operators hit the stage as the crowd packed in tight. I would be remiss to leave out that I am a huge fan of Dan Boeckner – he has the Midas touch and all of his projects rule. I’m one of those old Wolf Parade fans that fell in love with Handsome Furs, and then Divine Fits, and then Operators. I’m sure there are a few curmudgeony Wolf Parade die-hards that don’t like the direction he’s gone in, but I for one am excited to see him playing with new toys and collaborating with great musicians such as Devojka and Sam Brown. I had the chance to chat with Boeckner last year, an interesting piece which you can read here.
Analogue synths abound, Operators’ modern take on post-punk has really taken shape over the last few years. This was the best set I have seen them play yet, and the road has surely tightened up their live performance. Boeckner’s comfort in this role is evident, and the smile on his face suggests that he’s loving every second of it. The songs off of Operators’ debut LP Blue Wave translate extremely well live – it’s part 80’s new wave, part dream pop, part dark post-punk – but whatever you call it, it works.
A couple highlights of the set were their performances of “Cold Light” and “True,” each of which electrified the room and got the crowd into a frenzy. Some of their songs had the audience a little unsure of themselves with respect to their dance moves, but the bodies kept flailing nonetheless. Sam Brown’s dialed-in drum beats were mesmerizing – even I got lost in his incessant, fixated rhythms. Devojka’s electronic wizardry provided the high-voltage energy of the set, complimenting both Boeckner and Brown perfectly.
My favourite part of the night was when Operators were cheered back onto the stage for an encore, during which they played a Handsome Furs track “Damage” from 2011’s Polaris-nominated Sound Kapital. I left with a smile, as night one of JUNOfest set a pretty damn good tone for the rest of the festival.