When the cold Ottawa winds start nipping around this time of year, there’s no better way to escape frozen realities of the north than going to a loud and sweaty show. That was certainly the case on Friday night, but the weather didn’t prevent people from coming out in droves to check out a special show at The Brass Monkey on Ottawa’s west side. Hailing from Brampton, The Flatliners headlined the night and played their groundbreaking 2007 album The Great Awake front-to-back. They were joined by A Wilhelm Scream (AWS) from New Bedford, MA, who also played their album Career Suicide from start to finish, never missing a beat. Both acts were preceded by London, ON’s Single Mothers and Little Junior.
After a lengthy trip from downtown to The Brass Monkey, I made my way into the venue for the first time to the sweet, sweet sound of Single Mothers exploding on stage. Approaching the place, I was surprised to find it located beneath a strip mall. Not exactly what you’d expect, but The Brass Monkey extended the whole way along and was packed to the brim with folks from all over Ottawa. It was pretty impressive to see that many people come together at this out-of-the-way venue for a show like this, but the sound there is known to be one of the best in town and that counts for something.
Single Mothers has been picking up steam since their debut LP Negative Qualities was released into the world in 2014, and gained notoriety for their brash and untethered live performances. This one was certainly no exception, as the band cranked up the energy immediately. The crowd wasn’t quite ready to warm up and get moving yet, but got there by the end of their set. Single Mothers released their second album, Our Pleasure, earlier this year and played a combination of tracks from both of their full length records.
Lead vocalist Drew Thompson channeled the full force of his band with his trenchant vocals in tracks such as “Half-Lit” and “Overdose,” seemingly ripping up his vocal cords with throaty and guttural delivery. But Thompson never relented, as he and the band kept the crowd locked-in with untamed stage antics and infectious punk rock. The group bucked any critics by playing a dynamic set which featured newer tracks such as “Leash” and “Long Distance,” offering us a glimpse into a side of the band that is more than the blunt-force trauma of distortion, but also layered with melodic elements and lyrical prowess.
I wasn’t that familiar with AWS going into this show, as melodic hardcore isn’t really my thing. But I gave their 2007 album Career Suicide a solid listen ahead of the show and was genuinely impressed by the sheer magnitude of the band’s sound. Although it’s not the kind of album I’ll put on every day, I appreciate how well it is composed from start to finish and looked forward to how it would translate live. I should also say that I appreciate that they named their band after a hilarious sounding stock sound effect, a recognizable scream which we’ve all heard in movies before.
AWS exploded into their set with a trio of fast-paced heavy hitters in “I Wipe My Ass With Showbiz,” “5 to 9,” and “The Horse.” Right away the crowd lovingly started belting out each line, word for word, as lead singer Nuno Pereira egged each audience member on with his interactive stage presence. His jugular seemed to protrude more and more with each song, and his liveliness was reciprocated by some of the die-hard fans up front. The onslaught that is Career Suicide continued, and the 15-song tour-de-force was fully realized in this live setting. The band’s tightness is undeniable, as each member seamlessly plays off the others without missing a single beat. Pereira took pause to tell a quick story in the middle of the set:
“It’s hard to believe it’s been 10 years! We got a message from the guys in Flatliners on MySpace asking if we could join them for their record release shows. We said ‘fuck yeah’ and had a great time doing it.”
The only thing that detracted from the music for me was extended guitar solos throughout, as I’m not a big “solo” guy. This detraction is merely preference, and certainly had nothing to do with the skill of the band members. AWS’ tendency to blend old-school So-Cal punk rock with metal and even prog-rock is a bit of a stretch at times for my liking, as the sprawl across styles can be distracting. But there is a definite primal feel to their music, an intensity and attitude that are distinctive and comparable to bands like Propaghandi. The near-perfect live execution of the complex song structures on this record are worth seeing, even for a layman like me who might not be as familiar with AWS’ catalogue.
The headliners of the night, The Flatliners, took the stage last and performed their much-loved 2007 sophomore album, The Great Awake. The band were Canada’s ska and punk rock darlings of the 2000’s, getting noticed by Fat Mike of NOFX’s label Fat Wreck Chords and getting the opportunity to play with well-known bands associated with the label at a young age. My first experience seeing them was in Detroit in 2008, opening for NOFX and No Use For a Name just after the release of The Great Awake, and I have fond (sweaty and bloody) memories of that show. Needless to say, a lot of us at the show were really amped to see the album played live front-to-back.
Right out the gate, the punching percussion of “July! August! Reno!” thundered from the stage and the raucous crowd burst into moshing as expected. “What do you do when doing what you love gets you nowhere? It gets you nothing. These loaded guns are nothing until they’re fired,” is a sentiment most of us endure at some point in our lives, and a powerful beginning to their set. Immediately after, the band transitioned right into my personal favourite, “Eulogy.” The song is a young person’s account of the death of someone close, a friend or family member, perhaps for the first time. This one hits hard for those of use who listened to it in the wake of tragedy.
The set went forward full-speed, and those who love the ska beginnings of The Flatliners got down to “The Respirator” and “Mastering the World’s Smallest Violin” but the band’s turn towards punk rock on this record was as well received in 2017 as it was in 2007. Chris Cresswell’s in-your-face vocals were absolutely mind-boggling throughout, which is a mystery to me since he’s abused his vocal cords for so many years. This album in particular is not a walk in the park, by any stretch.
The band ripped through their set, sweating up a storm and playing highlights such as “Mother Theresa Chokeslams the World,” This is Giving Up,” and “Hal Johnson Smokes Cigarettes.” Scott Brigham backup vocals and guitar riffs enveloped the crowd and kept the energy high until the very end.
The love for the record was felt through everyone that night, and I’m sure many of us had lost our voices by the end of the night. Overall it was a big treat to see all these bands play together, and have a hell of a party out in the suburbs of Ottawa.
Remaining shows on tour for The Flatliners
12/09 Montreal, QC – Club Soda ^
12/14 Long Beach, CA – Alex’s Bar ^
12/15 Phoenix, AZ – Marquee Theatre %
12/16 Las Vegas, NV – Brooklyn Bowl %
01/12 Chicago, IL – Cobra Lounge
01/13 Pontiac, MI – The Crofoot Ballroom #
^ with A Wilhelm Scream
% with Descendents
# with Twin Peaks, PUP
On Thursday night, crowds escaped the damp, rainy Ottawa streets and piled into a dimly lit Bronson Centre to witness an evening of ambient, atmospheric music. Headliner Timber Timbre visited Ottawa for the fourth time in 6 years along with support from Ottawa’s own Boyhood Scattered Clouds.
Scattered Clouds took to the stage first, rising out of an ascending red fog. Performing as a 2-piece band with Jamie Kronick on drums and Philippe Charbonneau on guitar, keyboard, and vocals, this band was the most surprising act of the night. In terms of style, Scattered Clouds describe themselves as “dark, experimental, and post apocalyptic.” These characteristics could not be more fitting. Beginning their set with a heavy presence of baritone guitar and an emphasis on drums driving the synths, the band achieved a sound that could easily be equated to a modern day embodiment of a Joy Division b-side album, with an “Ian Curtis- esque” vocal tone. The second half of the set however, transitioned into an emphasis on synth and a precision in instrumentation. Creating an atmospheric 80’s dance vibe, the band achieved a type of lo-kfi sound that left the audience in a state of euphoria. Waking from this set with the harsh Bronson Centre lighting was like waking out of a heavy, romantic dream.
When the lights dimmed again, our good pals Boyhood took to the stage. Clad in flared pants and turtlenecks, Boyhood did not fail to deliver their staple moody, noisy sound. As always Caylie Runciman delivered raw and airy vocals that harmonized beautifully with her band, and provided an emotional and unpolished set completed with songs that morphed and melted into one another. Giving us a taste of what is to be expected from the upcoming album Bad Mantras, which will be the bands first album since 2012, the set featured the bands catchy “Drivin’” and “He Don’t.” Beginning with keyboard, Caylie swapped over to guitar midway through the set where she went to town in an emotional and raw guitar solo. It’s easy to get lost in a Boyhood set, and this was no exception.
Last but not least, Timber Timbre finished the night in almost total darkness, with only subtle lighting sweeping the stage. A glass of liquor sat idled on an amp to the right, Taylor Kirk began playing what seemed like it would be the entirety of his most recent work, Sincerely Future Pollution. However four songs in, the set took a detour towards an intermingling of a huge sample of his work, ranging from his self titled back in 2009 to his most recent. Detouring the set with Hot Dreams, the band’s instrumentation, and deep, sultry vocals, the song was delivered with a raw, sensual and emotional demeanour.
This specific Timber Timbre performance was unlike many others. His previous shows in Ottawa, which included a performance in Ottawa’s first Baptist Church in 2011, a set at Folk Fest in 2012, where he performed alone with a kick drum, and even his set at Jazz Fest in 2015, stuck pretty tightly to the delivery of the songs on the album. However, this set tended to use the style in the albums as backdrops for experimentation and improvisation with melody and pace during the performance, providing unequivocal authenticity. Most notable in this performance was the “Curtains?!” jam session that lengthened the song by about two extra minutes with intense instrumentation. The night ended with a 3-part encore beginning with “Grand Canyon,” that delivered an expressive and theatrical but emotive and raw finale.
This show captured a unique energy that seems to have been strengthened by the uniqueness of all the bands but also the ways in which they played off of one another. They each brought an atmospheric sound and seamless instrumentation, as well as a hard punch in the heartstrings with their raw vocals, lyrical movements, and honest and authentic delivery. The perfect ambiance to fit the creepy environment that is the Bronson Centre on a rainy evening, this show was not one to miss.
House of TARG, a timeless venue that brings all sorts of people together through pinball, perogies, and concerts, held one deafeningly loud and soulful show on the night of November 9th. The lineup held a promise that the show would be one that the audience wouldn’t forget, unless they were drunk off their asses—and it delivered.
Opening with a roar was Black Oak Decline and they didn’t fail to capture the attention of the crowd and drive a new energy that I hadn’t seen in the atmosphere before. With precise and quick scales and solo work for the guitar. It’s quick and hard to follow but if you just let yourself listen, you get swept up in the emotions the music drives. It’s numbingly loud and sure to leave your ears ringing for the next two and a half days, which is something I can vouch for.
The bass is sludgy and grimy. There is nothing, absolutely nothing clean about the sound of this band. The bass is played almost like a guitar in the sense that there’s a lot of scales and jumping around within the basslines. But it’s deep, you can feel it rumble in your chest, and shake the floor. It over-driven and powerful and holds structure all while being the least structured seeming part.
The drums embody heaviness to them and they’re cold and distant. They resonate with you the longer you listen to them. While they do follow the rhythm, they also tend to veer off and create a unique space for themselves, straying from the conventional path. The make the songs sound full and create an atmosphere to get lost in. There are moments where it seems that the drums lead because of their sheer force.
The vocals are ragged, almost torn, they’re strained to the max but in such a way that it’s not unpleasant to listen to. They leave you in awe. I don’t typically enjoy intense screaming of lyrics throughout songs entireties but this band has showcased how to properly execute it without being overbearing and without overwhelming the audience. Whether it’s the stylings of the screaming itself or how it blends into the rest of the music, I can’t say. All I can say is that raw emotion is thrust into every single note played and sung. It’s something the band clearly enjoys doing and their presence is well known once they step on stage. It’s not overwhelming or in your face, but the band isn’t afraid to get up in it.
The second act was Pyrrhon who blew the crowd out of the water. The sheer energy presented found a way to take over the room completely. They find a way to take death metal and turn it into an artwork that entrances you and leaves you wanting more after they’ve finished up their set. The movement across the stage, seeming minimal on House of TARG’s stage, was very forward and the body language emits intense emotion.
The drumming is aggressive, almost confrontational. It leaves you in absolute awe and lets you feel the intense emotion that may course through the band. It’s almost in disorder and sounds rather distressed but it’s certainly not at a tempo that just everyone can keep up with. Perfect for head banging, the beat slows down and speeds up, keeping it interesting and allowing those listening to really get a feeling for the bands style. The beats come off in quick succession one after another most time and it’s common to hear rolls on the snare drum.
Dylan’s guitar playing is dissonant and angry. The distorted and overdriven sound was a staple for this band. With controlled feedback to add to the messy sound, it really grabbed your attention and ripped you right out of any preconceived notions on what the band would sound like live. With heavy power chords and added tremolo it brought the guitar parts to life and almost embodied them as something otherworldly. It breaks order and creates a balanced chaos with the drums and vocals.
Doug the vocalist pours every ounce of his being into what he’s screaming and it shows. With the way he moves around to how he controls his screaming, it fall absolutely nothing short of impressive. High and low notes interlace and destroy every preconceived notion of what harmonies should be. His vocals are not meant for the background, they deserve the fullest and uttermost attention due to the sheer heavy and weighted vibe it gives off.
The bass is a distorted, disorganised mess that somehow ends up being unified with everything else. It’s assertive and demanding but doesn’t let down in the least. This component, tied in with the drums are what rattle the core and entrance you, leaving you wanting to hear more. The scales played are not simple but they’re played with such an air that it’s made to look almost effortless.
Next up was a band by the name of Yautja who originate from Nashville, Tennessee. Their sound dissonant in terms of instruments however when it comes to vocals, prepare to be swayed by the cloudy heaviness that they possess.
The guitar providing intensive and strong power chords that are part of a masterpiece of its own. No sound goes without purpose. Pushing boundaries with the much lighter contrast that the guitar provides to the vocals while maintaining a heavy presence impressed me to no end and will continue to beckon attention. It keeps you on your toes and doesn’t let the stressed feeling go all while holding its own unconventional structure. The guitar vibes with a whole different frequency and it sticks out.
The vocals take a drastically different turn. Deep, in your face, and raspy. The lead singers aren’t afraid to strain any vocal cords, or to scream their hearts out to the crowd that’s more than willing to listen to the beautifully constructed chaos. The songs are held together, it seems, by a thread. In this case it would be the vocals, placed in just the right places. Any sense of convention is otherwise completely obliterated.
Tremolo effects rang through the bassline without hinting at any ounce of mercy. It hits you in the face forcefully without even laying a finger on you. A strong prominent bassline is a good bassline to me, and even better the sloppier and more pronounced it is. It’s nothing short of impressive and captivating. It’s hard to follow so you just let yourself embrace it and listen. It rattled the floor, and there wasn’t part of me that could deny it. I wholeheartedly believed that being so close to the bassist along with amps and speakers would give me arrhythmia. The bass folds into each song, crashing into the guitars like a wave during a brutal storm.
The literal crashing is brought by the drums and creates the effect of everything nearly falling apart. It’s everything that you want to hear from the drums when immersing yourself in metal. Heavy hits falling onto the snares and toms, relentless crashing of the cymbals, and pure energy radiating off the drummer, it’s hard to ignore. While the drums intertwining with the guitar and bass parts makes the whole thing sound as if it’s imploding on itself, it holds it’s backbone and creates something the bassline can lean on without overpowering it.
Inspiration ripped from Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, and Iron Maiden, Montreal’s own The Great Sabatini took the stage and created a loud and fitting end to the high energy night. They incorporate different genres and roll it into what can only be described as a sludgy doom metal. With aspects of what’s considered a musical canon and heavier gauge strings for the guitars and bass, energetic, aggressive but warm drumming, and the riotous screaming, the members create a sound that while containing sporadic elements, is so solidly unified that it’s impossible not to listen to.
The guitar parts which are played by Rob and Sean challenge and push boundaries, and with their new material, which is yet to be released, you hear the distinct tones overlapping in a confusion of sound that one tries to make sense of. It pushes your ear and begs you to deconstruct it because it’s so masterfully done. The soloing that Rob brings forth is some of the work I admire most. It’s skillful, distraught and slurred together, full of life and soulful aggression. Keeping up with him is a task but he puts every ounce of his being into it. He pours his heart into it and you can tell that with every note he plays is his pride and joy.
People always say that there’s a sparkle in someone’s eye when they’re doing something they love, and that passion was definitely behind Rob’s eyes.
Sean pours his soul into his screams and he gives it his all. It doesn’t go unnoticed, and besides his riffs and enraged power chords, this is what gets the crowd going. He jumps right to it—cut the bullshit, this is what it’s about. The progression of the higher notes keeps the crowd on their toes and the contrast provided by Rob brings them back down. Personally, and this comes as a great shock believe me, I would pick seeing The Great Sabatini over Metallica in a heartbeat. It’s progressive, gritty, and grimy.
The drumming Steve provides is one that that leaves you with very high expectations for other drummers. He’s outstanding with incredible control over the sound he wishes to produce. Sometimes warm, other times cold, loud or toned down, he has total control. His drumming has character, almost alive in its own way and everything you thought you knew be damned. It was deafening and powerful, enforcing the message behind every song. It will not only blow your mind but also your eardrums. It’s just the right amount of hysterical and yet its incomparable to any other drummer I’ve seen or heard.
Joey might as well have bumped the bass up to an 11 because it’s dominating and rips your attention towards it whether it’s isolated or incorporated into the self-imploding sludge. The fact that it’s frenzied in most songs is what sets the tone and it truly adds depth to the performance. Beautifully channeled and timed, the bassline could do no wrong. It pushed and it pulled creating an individual soundscape that would be thoughtfully incorporated into the overall experience the band created as a whole.
If you asked me to come see a legendary band with you on a night where the four bands I spoke of were performing, I’d have to object. Shocked? So am I but they fall absolutely nothing short of talented and driven with a sound that will leave your ears ringing for days to come. They’re all deeply underappreciated bands that created vivid soundscapes that you’ll find yourself immersed in once you give them a listen.
When you see the familiar name on a concert poster stapled or taped to a street sign, take note when and where these bands are performing because I guarantee that you’re not going to regret it in the least bit. Your ears might object to it the next morning (and in the long run), but in the moment you’ll be wanting to hear more. There will always be Bandcamp, but trust me, no justice will be done to these wonderful bands. Their shows are a must.
Japandroids made their triumphant return to Ottawa this past Sunday after nearly a decade away. They brought with them Cloud Nothings, a gritty garage rock band from Cleveland, Ohio, who made their Ottawa debut at the Bronson Centre.
I fell into Cloud Nothings as they were dropping their third album, Attack on Memory, back in 2012 and never looked back. Their 2014 followup Here and Nowhere Else and their 2015 split with WAVVES called No Life For Me were equally impactful—each had their own character and feel that I thoroughly enjoyed. This is one band I had somehow missed at all the festivals and shows I’d been to over the years, and their perceived avoidance of Ottawa was truly a bummer.
But that all changed Sunday night, as this stacked bill had no problems packing the Bronson Centre’s main floor. Cloud Nothing have seemed to always tow a line of self-defeatism, the “down-and-out” rockers on Attack on Memory finally pulled through and found a semblance of purpose on the gritty followup Here and Nowhere Else. So when Life Without Sound emerged earlier this year, it was exciting, yet I was skeptical and unsure of what to expect. However, when the needled dropped for the first time, it was like a breath of fresh air. The band’s new songs translated incredibly well live, and band members fed off each others stage energy. The album itself comes off as more refined, more direct, and less chaotic than their previous efforts. Songs like “Up to the Surface” and “Enter Entirely” are more restrained than much of their catalogue, and the John Goodmanson’s production gives Life Without Sound a more cohesive and refined feel.
On the stage, Cloud Nothings were tight as hell and nailed every moment of their performance. With this kind of music, it’s easy to get lost in the fuzzy riffs and percussive thunderclaps, but the band strung their set together with ease and precision. Dylan Baldi let loose on a number of occasions and didn’t hesitate to crank up the rasp and scream into his mic. One feature of the set that stood out was drummer Jayson Gerycz’s total domination of the kit. On multiple occasions, he took the spotlight and commanded the drum set with reckless abandon. His tirades were a welcome fixture in their performance, particularly at the end, as he seemed to lock eyes with the all audience members at the same time while pounding our senses with his kick. If Ottawa didn’t know Cloud Nothings before, they sure do now.
Japandroids rocked the Bronson Centre on Sunday Night.
Next up was Vancouver’s Japandroids, pleasing the audience with their much anticipated return to the capital. Lean vocalist and guitarist Brian King noted the long absence, and shared a funny story with the crowd about their last Ottawa gig. The duo formed in 2006 and slugged it out in the Vancouver scene for years, often taking a DIY approach to music and putting together their own shows and do short tours in the area. They put out a couple of EPs in 2007 and 2008, but started to turn heads with their debut LP Post-Nothing. With irresistible jams like “Heart Sweats,” “Young Hearts Spark Fire,” and “Wet Hair,” this is about the time that I fell in love with the band.
Their second LP Celebration Rock was released in 2012, and was almost universally acclaimed by major music publications. It is also pretty much my favourite album of all time, but I digress. Japandroids dug deep into their catalogue and played songs spanning their 3 LPs and gave fans old and new everything they wanted. The tone was set right away as they opened with the title track of their latest record Near to the Wild Heart of Life, an all-out rock and roll anthem that immediately unleashed the energy of the crowd. The crowd indulged in the vocal refrains (“oh oh oh’s”) which has become such a staple in Japandroids tracks, and a truly unifying force. Given the current state of things in the world, picture hundreds of young folks yelling the chorus:
“And it got me all fired up / To go far away / And make some ears ring from the sound of my singing, baby”
The group played older tracks such as “Heart Sweats” and “Young Hearts Spark Fire,” as well as many off of Celebration Rock like “The Nights of Wine and Roses,” “Fire’s Highway, and my personal favourite “Younger Us” (which I would like to be played loudly at my funeral, but I digress).
Japandroids delivered a full dose of raw and unhinged emotion in every song they play. David Prowse’s drumming was as great as ever, but his vocals were noticeably improved since the first time I saw the band back in 2013. His back up presence boosted the overall impact of each song, and it was clear that the two of them had each song down to near perfection. King kept the audience engaged at all times, and didn’t let up throughout the set even though the heat and lack of ventilation in the Bronson Centre was getting noticeably worse as they played.
Even new songs with a different instrumental approach such as “Arc of Bar” and “North East South West” were performed immaculately, and if anyone in the crowd was not on the board with the new record, they were hidden by bodies flying and silenced by the screams of many.
King took a quick pause to share an anecdote about their last time in Ottawa:
“It was at Ottawa Bluesfest in 2009, I think. And it was pissing rain. We were having the best time, but the stage crew was rushing to cover all of our gear with tarps to get the hell out of there. They just wanted us to stop so they could go see Kiss play on the other stage.”
All in all, the group did what they do best—giving the audience the best possible performance. Coming off a raucous night in Montreal (which my friends and I also attended), the Ottawa show was just as impactful—if not more so, only because anticipation had been building for almost a decade. They closed out with one of their biggest songs, the triumphant anthem “The House That Heaven Built.” With fists pumping in the air, shirts soaked with sweat, and vocal cords bursting at the seams, we all sang our god damn hearts out and yelled like hell to the heavens.
My only advice is this: if you haven’t listened to or seen Japandroids before, do it. They are what rock and roll infused with punk rock look like in 2017, and their music will pick you back up on your feet when the world knocks you down.
DOXX ripped the stage apart on Wednesday night at Pressed when they opened with “Human Waste CEO” and that set the tone perfectly for the rest of the night. Fast paced, loud, aggressive, and high energy the bass lines Jeff plays are enough to shake the floor. It’s quick, timed, and it dominates. It demands your attention and doesn’t let it go. No two baselines are remotely the same.
Britt’s guitar playing is distorted, messy, and angry much like Sofia’s screaming. It adds a depth and sometimes choppiness to the songs but in a way that doesn’t make a song seem cut off. It completes it instead.
The guitar combined with Kieran’s drumming is what gets the crowd head banging, and moshing to the music. The drums come out as hostile and dynamic with much use of the snare and there isn’t a song that doesn’t use the loud crashing of the cymbals. This creates a balance in each of the songs.
Sofia, lead singer of DOXX, in the zone at Pressed in Ottawa.
Sofia’s vocals are impressive not only because she screams the songs, but because they’re rough around the edges however still maintain a smooth finish to them. She puts all the emotions she can muster into the words and what comes out of her is an incredibly big sound despite her being “short and stompy”. The lyrics hint at socio-political views that tend to be skewed and then rage against them in fashion that isn’t all that contained. The bitterness and resentment is clear but it’s presented in a fun and enjoyable manner that gets everyone eager to hear the next masterpiece that’s to be belted out.
DOXX is a must see Ottawa band that’s sure to kick some energy into you and get you thrown into a pit of punks. They don’t fail to amaze and they certainly bring a certain je-ne-sais-quoi to the shows they play. Ultimately, if you’re looking to enjoy some raw emotion, and a band that can pack a punch within their music, DOXX is the band you want.
John of Radiation Risks going full zombie or passing the mic to a fan to sing with him…you be the judge.
Radiation Risks knew how to play not only their instruments, but the crowd as well. They drew everyone in from the second they stepped on stage, and despite being more behind the scenes when off stage, they own a heavy stage presence. It’s hard not to pay attention to them. They tore open the crowd by getting right into their songs, no elaborate intros, nothing. Raw exuberance flowed through lead singer John and into the crowd. Every scream, every staggered movement fueled the crowd and got them more excited.
The guitar contrasted itself between heavy and light, high and low notes, solo work and chords and this was certainly a key aspect in putting the rhythm in people’s feet. It’s intricate but sometimes sloppy, melding with the deep warm thrum of the prominent baseline. There wasn’t a note that was missed which was incredibly impressive considering Nicky would constantly be moving and jumping around.
The baseline shakes you and you feel it in your heart. It jumps out of the music and stands out, begging to be noticed. There isn’t a single way you could miss the bass. It’s violent in a subtle way and it’s messy, blending in to the noise. The best way to describe it is pounding, and it rattles your heart right in your rib cage really making you feel what’s being played.
The drumming is rushed, slurred but clear. It makes perfect sense and of course there’s the thrashing sound of the cymbals, cool and cold. A variety of rudiments and beats play through one song interchangeably which adds a dimension that isn’t often found and better yet, it helps meld each song into the next. How that could possibly work is up to you to determine when you hear their sweet tunes.
Lead singer of Fried Egg delivering the goods at Pressed in Ottawa.
The last band to take the stage, with much spitting, was Fried Egg. Their sound is heavy and distorted all around and everything flows together to create a harsh edge to the sound produced. The vocals are choppy, fragmented and loud and they fall nothing but short of deep and raspy. The screaming is impressive and it tugs at my curiosity as to how the singer hasn’t torn up his vocal cords. Of course, this isn’t at all what I would have expected from a band called Fried Egg, but I guess everyone gets a surprise every now and then.
Irritated and cold power chords cut through the air and make their way to the ears of those listening. It’s enough to feel it in your feet and to get people trashing around, especially when in combination with the bass and drums. They’re in harmony with the fierce baseline but also tend to veer into their own world filled with pick scratches and wild effects that you’d only find at a show such as this one.
The bass picks up quickly and can only be described as progressive and fiery. It’s heard above everything when it’s being played and it creates a warmth within the song so that it can provide a counter to the cold that the guitar brings.
Setting the high energy and fast pace are the drums. With beats being played and quick and well plotted fills adding space and urgency to the music, the drumming couldn’t get better. The drummer goes hard and I’m surprised that the drumsticks hadn’t broken that night while he was playing. The drumming commands the beat that your body moves to, it’s the soul of the songs.
Whether you’re spectating from the sides or right dead in the middle, you’re going to get at least somewhat thrown into the mosh pit despite your best efforts to steer clear.
All the bands set the standards of punk gigs high and they certainly didn’t disappoint. They all radiated sheer talent that they’ve managed to contain and let out in a constructive and creative way that everybody can enjoy. They wooed the crowd and made every performance intimate and personal and they made a point to get a little too close for comfort. If ever you see the scribble of “Fried Egg”, “DOXX”, or “Radiation Risks” on a poster around town, or on a Facebook event, cancel all plans and make your way down. You’ll probably have a better time with them anyway.
Some things never change. Walking down Bronson Avenue among the early fall aromas of Pizza Pizza dough and gasoline, I felt unstuck in time. It felt like a scene from a movie about my life circa 2007: a young man makes his way to a New Pornographers show at the Bronson Centre. Oh, and Born Ruffians are playing.
Okay, so maybe some things change. Ten years makes an impact, and the city, the music scene, and everyone involved have changed quite a bit. In theory, the New Pornographers have roughly same lineup they did when “Use It” was pretty much everywhere, but Dan Bejar and Neko Case were notably absent Thursday night. Dan is busy with Destroyer and Neko is occupied with her solo career. Todd Fancey and Kathryn Calder were their backups, and while they were fantastic replacements, there is something slightly off about the band when two of its most prominent members are absent.
Yet Carl Newman’s presence was enough to make all absences irrelevant. Two decades in a touring band will hone one’s talents, and Newman has become one with the stage. He clearly knows the material, and he still brings a tonne of energy to older songs, of which the lengthy set list contained many.
The band played a tight, breathless set comprising most of their well known songs, with the exception of any sung by Bejar (some things cannot be replaced). Their triumphant closer was The Bleeding Heart Show off 2005’s Twin Cinema, a masterpiece of Canadian indie rock that starts slow and builds to a soaringly high energy finale. Doubtless, they know their audience, and the room went absolutely crazy for it. That is, they went crazy for the parts they could make out over the refractive wall of sound issuing from the stage.
Because, here’s the thing: the Bronson Centre is nice and all, but the acoustics are pretty awful. It’s a square room with nothing on the ceiling and bare, reflective walls. The sound bounces around in there like Flubber, and with a band like The New Pornographers that can really be a problem. There were seven people on stage, with violins, keyboards, guitars and drums all clattering together. Now try adding vocals to that mud, and you’ll see why a melodically-focused band might be better off in a different venue.
However, since Bronson Centre is about the only venue in the city with the right size for the band, we may be stuck with it.
Luckily for Born Ruffians, they had only three members on stage. The band was a good fit as an opener because, besides having risen to fame at roughly the same time, their music is written in service of its vocals. Both Carl Newman and Luke Lalonde put on excellent performances, even if their vocals were largely indiscernible. Born Ruffians even debuted a couple of new songs from their upcoming record, which seemed like a step in a distinctly more dancy-punk direction.
While both of these bands have been around for some time, the fans were going just as crazy for their new stuff as their old stuff. The future is as bright as the past for them.
Casual Hex presented a show at Pressed that brought forth good tunes and good times last week. With a line up like Steve’s Job, So Sensitive, Tough Age, and Jay Arner, there was always dancing, singing, some banter, and the very few strange mishaps here and there throughout the night.
Opening with a calmer vibe, but not closing off the same way, was Steve’s Job. Despite the few shows they’ve played, this one being Steve’s 4th job, they really harnessed an energy from what they’re doing and hold a very specific stage presence that’s hard to ignore. Subtle and loud, indie but with kick of a new flavour, the band makes the show fun and positive. Guitars light and airy with a good strong baseline and vocal harmonies that range from monotone to expressive. The band is a sight to see and one to listen to. Banter is always included!
Not only that but the band recently began using a chorus pedal and they have it down. It creates an emphasis on verses and lyrics, forming the effect of the band surrounding you completely. You get lost in the soundscape that these incredibly talented individuals create, and it draws you in differently every single time. They’re silly, fun, and they’re the perfect mix of something melancholy and their own upbeat summer sound. I’ve mentioned it before but if you’re going on a road trip, roll down your windows, turn up their tunes, and just listen to the music these people make. It swept the crowd away with its elegance, sweet talked it with its grace and air, and of course got them swaying to the sweet melodies produced. There is absolutely nothing this band can’t get the crowd to do. They’re loud, light, airy, and overall provide great tunes and sweet times for all friends and spectators alike.
The Pixies effect is used by many bands but keeps coming back as a unique and outstanding trait in music. So Sensitive captured this vibe, fusing indie and rock together in a progression of loud, to quiet, to louder. Despite it being their first show, the group is composed of former members of BB Cream and members of Deathsticks. The band brought an air confidence with them, mouthing words to their own songs when only one person would sing and they would dance around while performing. It is grit, but polished grit, and quite frankly the solos played over simple chord progressions seemed so much more complicated than they actually were. Bands that manage to turn simplicity into a beautiful and complex soundscape never fail to blow me away because they’re taking so little and creating so much.
So Sensitivehas a stage presence that seems to push others to let loose and get lost in all the intricate tonality of each and every composition the group has come up with. Each is unique but tied together in a similar sense, often with the shift in mood or pace. They have a solid sound with the power and volume that screams rock. Soft vocals add to that smooth sound that recalls The Pixies’s Kim Deal, and really set a mood for the show.
My best advice is that you look out for the next show they play and head on down to hear some very sweet and joyous tunes that will be sure to get you moving and smiling.
Tough Age, a Toronto based indie rock band, took the stage not too long after and from the very first note had the crowd hooked. The crowd moved in waves, pumped their fists in the air, danced, and sang along to this high energy band. The vocals were in no way clean or polished. That set the tone completely and added a sense of looseness and comfort to the atmosphere.
The bassline is quick and prominent, and the guitar follows up right behind, the two instruments creating harmonies that get you hooked and dancing. The raw passion that is used to play the bass and guitar are absolutely insane. Tough Age play with such fire that within the first few minutes of the set one of the strings of Jes’s guitar snapped and he ended up playing through a song with five strings.
The drums are quick and prominent. I didn’t see a moment where Jesse wasn’t smiling. Despite the rhythmic pattern being continuous through certain songs, it didn’t stop him from playing with his whole heart or from breaking a drumstick. There’s much use of the cymbals and this creates a new layer to the songs that wouldn’t normally be found. The fills are perfectly placed and there’s just enough to keep each song interesting but not overly complex. There’s depth and thought placed into it but it’s loud and proud.
Tough Age fall nothing short of a must-see band. If you haven’t seen them, you’ve probably heard of them… and if you haven’t even heard of them, well, now you have.
They’re a high energy band with lots of passion for what they do.
Jay Arner, a psychedelic new wave sounding band from Vancouver was the one to headlined the show. The harmonies the member created where smooth and layered with precision. Close to what the Arctic Monkeys have done and continue to do but with more of a Joy Division meets The Smiths vibe. They grab at your attention the moment they step on stage. From the instruments to the way they dress, there isn’t anything that doesn’t get you itching to hear their tunes.
The vocals are soft and beyond their generally flat sound, there’s an evident play of tones. Jay creates an almost soft spoken effect while singing and harmonizing with the rest of the band. This adds unspoken feeling and power to the songs despite keeping a mellow resonance.
Synths are used for effects that pull you in and make you feel like you’re floating through space, the drums keep you in the loop and provide you with a beat to move to. Fast, slow, with intricate fills or without, the drumming falls nothing short of fast paced and muddled together. This is done in such a way where it sounds clean despite the fact that the cymbals were being hit with a fair amount of power.
Spacey, lost, colourful—this is what the sound makes me think of. You’re floating in zero gravity, dancing as if nobody is watching, just completely in time and tune with the music. It takes you in and captures your attention because it’s not something that is often found in music in this day and age. The band kicks it old school in terms of sound and brings a nostalgia forward that you weren’t even aware of.
All the individuals are incredibly talented, and each band brings its own unique styling to the shows they play. It’s never a repetition of the same sounds or progressions and the banter is always different. It ranges from untraceable, unlikable websites to self-depreciating jokes and general thanks for supporting the bands. So make sure to get yourself down to Pressed for some wicked shows by some wicked cool and talented individuals.
For those who don’t know of Avant Garde Bar, it’s a very cosy and intimate venue where you can chose to show up for the art, the music, or simply for the drinks. It’s a bar and a gallery rolled into one.
On the 9th of September Avant Garde hosted a show that was well, a little avant garde. The show consisted of five different bands and each had pulled out of their comfort zone to one degree or another to play this acoustic show. Four of the bands are rock bands with four or more people and aren’t as used to the acoustic setup but they made it work very well. The fact that these individuals played their own rock songs as acoustic ballads really presented the audience with the sheer talent that the individuals possessed.
The first act was a performer who goes by the stage name of Vee Nella. She used to play in a band called The Cowards but has since pulled away from the music scene. Despite this, her sister called her in when the actual opening band dropped out, and she happily replaced them. She had informed me that it was her first time taking the stage completely alone.
With nothing but a guitar and her vocals, she captured my attention. Her voice is a very strong and powerful one and it really dominates the room it resonates in. It really shows that her influences have stemmed from early Gwen Stefani and the 1990’s grunge band Hole. Her lyrics are directly from the soul and they’re not only catchy, they’re also meaningful. It’s very clear that a piece of Vee is placed in every single song, and each is sung with such raw emotion. It’s out in the open, like a diary open to the public.
The guitar is very powerful but it takes a mellow tone due to the show being acoustic. It’s a contradiction all on its own but because it’s a stripped down show, and because the lyrics are so raw, it melds together like no other combination. The emphasis was heavy on the lyrics and less on the techniques used while playing the guitar.
The second band was composed of two members from Arms of the Girl and a temporary but very endearing member who goes by “Butters”. The performance was by Cee Cote and her band member Dave. The two played intricate riffs over an acoustic melody all while Butters played the Cajon.
A Cajon is essentially a percussion box. You hit the surface of it with your hands, fingers, mallets, and it will produce a sound similar to that of drums but with a more hallow sound.
Arm of the Girl is usually a four piece rock band but had to tone it down. Similarly to Vee, Cee (Vee’s sister) is an open book with her lyrics. Ranging from topics like breakups to life experiences, she covers it all. Her voice is raspy but with a country feel to it, especially when performing an acoustic show and she captures the attention of those around her not only with her soulful voice and harmonies with Dave but with her well humoured banter and upbeat energy.
Cee is an artist that you need to really listen to and not just watch because it’s all in the lyrics and not the act itself. The impression she gives is cheery but when it gets down to the deeper aspects, her lyrics are known to be like an excerpt torn out of a diary. They’re raw, emotional, and don’t hold much back.
From Carleton Place, CeVilain took the stage with their two acoustic guitars. The band is heavily inspired by the band Thrice and has mentioned that inspiration was also drawn from MUSE. CeVilain is a full band but only Marty Strong (Kurtis) and Cliff played the show on the 9th. The two play around with blues sounds and scales and they bring it all together with ease. There isn’t a doubt that the two are incredibly skilled musicians.
You can’t compare the vocal stylings to that of another musician, CeVilain has a unique vocal styling and it gives off a unique vibe that can’t seem to match up to anybody else’s. Cliff doesn’t strain his voice but instead puts a clear passion into it. Watching his stage presence makes it seem like he gets completely lost in what he’s doing, and in turn it’s hard to peel your eyes, and ears, away from the performance. The transitions from various parts of their songs are smooth and well executed, almost as if there couldn’t be a flaw in there.
The pair had mastered their acoustic performance and swept me away with the variety they presented. Energy went into every song, note, and chord and every song played on a different sub-genre of rock. They covered a broad range in the time they had and really made the best of it. Although there wasn’t much harmonizing, there was a sense of life brought to every song. They weren’t pushing to be anything they weren’t.
Tay Sera was the next band to play and the duo took over the stage and radiated a calm energy that is only described as easy going and light. The band is an easy one to listen to, and draws influences from Hey Ocean!, Norah Jones, and a variety of other bands such as Sam Roberts and Alicia Keys. Their lyrics touch upon love, heartbreak, and stumbling and falling only to pick yourself back up. They’re a folk band that comes from Oshawa, Ontario and not only to they use typical instruments such as acoustic guitars and Cajon to get the airy and whimsical sound they desire, Taylor actually plays the ukulele for the band. Her vocals demand your attention because they’re light, and reach soprano ranges but mainly keeping to more alto tones.
They’re upbeat and certainly funky but without elements of funk. While she sings lead, Justin adds depth and more dimension to the song with his backup vocals. Not as prominent on records but certainly in his stage presence, he adds to the songs in a positive fashion. The two balance each other out and create a positive dynamic that seems to bring not only the two closer, but the audience together as well.
Taylor has a voice that sounds like that of Florence Welch of Florence + the Machine but with her own unique stylings to it which is what really makes this band one worth listening to. It grabs your attention. It’s new, it’s old, and it’s everything in between and you’re left thinking about it. The familiarity draws you in, but the uniqueness of it is what gets you to stick around. They band manages to tie everything together through its light tones, vocals harmonizing with it and flowing smoothly and without the grit that you hear from singers who often touch the same genre. What I’m getting at is that you should probably grab a pair of comfortable shoes and come let the music sweep you from your feet as you sway to the sweet melodies and harmonies that Tey Sera composes.
Despite every single band bringing an intense amount of pure talent, my favourite was Crossing Jane, an Ottawa band for the soul purpose of the grit that came with the vocals. They reminded me of the late Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington, and the band is in fact influenced by Linkin Park. They played a tribute to the recently deceased lead singer, and genuinely encapsulated the emotions of the song near perfectly. If any band were to do the same cover, they would need to work very hard to get the same feel out of it and Crossing Jane.
The band is clearly one that puts thought and effort into every song, the placement of each note, and how they would accentuate the vocals and at what point during the song. They know how to play with the emotions of a crowd and really put their hearts into what they’re doing. There’s the saying “go hard or go home” and quite frankly, this has been one of the best representations of it as far as I see. The band has taken an acoustic set and turned it into a nitty, gritty, out of the gutter grunge performance and has made it sound amazing.
With backup vocals from Andrewto bring out some more mellow bits and even it out, and his drumming to accompany the guitars, it was truly astonishing. The vocals parts are in general by Joel but they are shared between all the members as four piece harmonies and all vocal aspects are equally distributed. Joel has a very unique vocal styling and it’s gritty but he can mellow it out as he wishes. The control over the vocals and feedback from the single electric guitar used are quite astounding and perfected especially when paired with the two acoustic ones. With little to no feedback coming through, it was clean and heavy.
The band creates an audio masterpiece unlike any other acoustic performance I’ve witnessed or heard. They know how to work the crowd and they certainly know how to compose. It’s very difficult to give you a good representation of what they’re like, but I’ll tell you one thing, and it’s that there’s no doubt that the band puts their hearts and souls into the work that they produce. It’s raw, emotional, and very real. It sways the crowd and adds a fiery energy to the atmosphere all around, and it certainly leaves you wanting to hear more.
The final day of Ottawa’s CityFolk was the perfect end to a festival with a lot of highlights (my personal favourites thus far included Broken Social Scene, Matt Mays, and Suitcase Junket). The Ottawa weather finally cooperated with the entirety of a music festival for the first time this summer and though the fatigue was starting to show in the crowd, the best was perhaps yet to come.
The first act I was able to catch was Guelph’s “Nefe“, who was a pleasant surprise. Her debut EP Mama was released early this year and successfully combines R&B, pop and reggae elements into one smooth package. Her powerful, soulful voice made the crowd take notice, as did her harmonies with her band. Highlight of the set was her solo performance of “Mama,” a powerful R&B ballad that segued into a standing ovation.
Bahamas next took the stage in what almost seemed like a disguise, sporting a camo hat and a large, billowy t-shirt. His trademark banter was in rare form and with the outfit, he almost resembled a fun uncle at a backyard BBQ. Appearances aside, his classics sounded as good as ever with backing vocals from the always lovely Felicity Williams (who also performs with Bernice). Highlights included the classic “Lost in the Light” and a rare performance of “Stronger Than That”. He also debuted a handful of new songs, which seemed to intermittently connect with the crowd, which led to some jokes regarding the seagulls circling overhead. Encouraging crowd participation with his new song “Bad Boys Need Love Too,” he talked about the advantages of blowing a kiss instead of flipping a bird to those that may have let you down (“you know what I’m talking about”). With the sun shining down, his chill vibe and positive messages were warmly received.
Up next was the first Canadian performance for New Orleans’ Tank and The Bangas, the band that I was most excited to see all festival. For the uninitiated, the past year has been a whirlwind for the band after having won the 2017 contest to get on the famous Youtube series “NPR Tiny Desk“. Having been chosen from 6000 entries by a panel of judges, the video has been seen over 2 million times and has won them legions of fans across the globe (myself included). It’s the type of experience that has to be seen (at least until their recordings catch up to where they’re at now) but even I could not anticipate the force of nature that was this band.
Tank herself is aptly named, demolishing everything in her path with a powerhouse presence and voice that seemingly effortlessly changed on a dime, from playful Nicki-Minaj style raps to Saul-Williamsesque impactful poetry to soulful gospel vocals (perfectly complimented by her back-up vocalist Anjelikla “Jelly” Joseph). Packaged into “Quick” was an unexpected verse in which Tank proclaimed “I’m not the sea, I’m the ocean, I’m not the water, I’m the well”, a statement which now seems an understatement. The band rapidly oscillated between hip hop, soul, funk, R&B, spoken word poetry (and more) and had the crowd more lively than any in recent memory. So much so that they returned to the stage to play a cover of Outkast’s “Hey Ya” for an unexpected encore.
The absolute highlight of the set was their song “Rollercoasters,” a song which Tank describes as her first discovering what love could look like. It takes place at a New Orleans theme park called Jazzland, which takes on added meaning as it’s never reopened since Hurricane Katrina. The song took the crowd on an emotional ride, and the refrain “I’m getting back in line” seemed a perfect one. Wherever they’re going, I suggest going there and getting in line early (they play Toronto on September 19th).
Rodriguez hit the City Stage next, to a crowd of adoring fans. His mythology is well known (if you’re not familiar, please go watch Searching For Sugarman on Netflix) and his current success is a heartwarming story, following 40 years of relative obscurity. He played a collection of originals and covers, with the assistance of a solid backing band (one of his many across the world). While his covers of The Doors “Light My Fire” and the Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody to Love” were pleasant, it was his folk anthems “Sugar Man,” “Rich Folks Hoax,” and the upbeat “I Wonder” that had the crowd most engaged. It was a treat to see the man in action, and his banter was well received. He remarked that the simplest way of practicing peace is to smile. After 5 days of solid festival tunes, it was likely that most in the crowd already were.
Sam Coffey & the Iron Lungs headlined a great show at the Dominion Tavern Wednesday night which featured opening sets by locals Saint Clare and Mushy Gushy.
Sam took to the stage wearing his standard issue jean vest with Sam Coffey & the Iron Lung patch on the back over a a bedazzled jumpsuit, which I later learned was actually part of an Ace Frehley costume. The band is touring celebrating the release of their new self-titled album which they released after signing with Dine Alone Records.
They opened with two tracks off the excellent new record, “Ragnarock” and “Judy.” I love the new stuff, I really do, but was very glad to see they didn’t forget about their first album and the song that made me fall in love with them a few year ago, “Gates of Hell.” The track is a kick-ass rock n’ roll song with a sprinkle of old school, some claps and sing-a-longs, it is the near-perfect song.
Another highlight of their set was their song “Voicemail,” which is about Ottawa’s very own Gary Voicemail aka Ian Manhire of such great bands as The White Wires, The Sedatives, and more. If you have never seen these guys, shame on you. They are a great rock n’ roll band through and through and even better guys.
Same Coffey and the Iron Lungs rocking out at The Dominion Tavern in Ottawa.
Setting the stage and filling the stage was Saint Clare, a 7-piece band from Ottawa. The band has been making waves in Ottawa with their energetic live performance and great releases. They have such a dynamic horn section (sax and trombone) which adds so much to their music, especially on their 2016 single “Cheatin’.” And I don’t know about you guys, but I just love watching a trombone player strum along like a guitar when they aren’t playing.
Taking the importance of the horns even further is their physical arrangement on stage, which had the brass right next to the singer/guitarist, one on each side, putting them at the forefront. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen that anywhere else. The band as a whole is great and I love what they are doing, but I must say the brass really makes them stand out in the crowded rock n’ roll world. There were definitely some new songs during their set so hopefully we will get something new soon to sink our ears into.
Saint Clare bringing the brass and the fuzz at The Dominion Tavern in Ottawa.
Opening the night was Mushy Gushy, a four-piece butt-rock band who are also from Ottawa. I’ll never truly know what butt rock is but Mushy Gushy make you want to bob and dance on every track. I mean this as a compliment—they were the perfect opening band and got the energy pumping. They did not waste any time playing three songs straight without breaks to get everyone in the zone. They then took a very quick break to say who they were and plug their new tape called More Butter and then quickly got back to business playing the wicked track “Trap” off of said tape. Not a lot of talk and a lot of good rock is key when opening a show. Also it is hard to go wrong with songs named “Fucking Awesome” and “Bodybreak.” Eat your heart out Joanne McLeod and Hal Johnson.
Mushy Gushy kicking things off at The Dominion Tavern in Ottawa.