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.
Saturday night at CityFolk delivered. Throughout a jam-packed lineup that featured not one but two performances by Fred Penner (the later performance was just for adults), there was no shortage of quality in spite of the quantity. Father John Misty’s thunderous closing set was backed by an opening lineup seemingly hand-picked to complement the dynamism and stage presence of Mr. Misty. This was a night of huge personalities performing captivating sets.
At first glance, the odd man on the schedule was Penner, whose musical stylings are most often associated with the children’s section of Chapters or CBC in the 90s. But there seems to be a very strong contingent of Fred Penner fans amongs those of Father John Misty, and nostalgia was strong on the air as a hanger full of nineties kids belted out “sandwiches are beautiful, sandwiches are fine” as a 70-year old man serenaded them.
Penner’s set was wholesome fun. He puts on a great show, and is still just as charismatic as he was when his catchy-as-anything kids tunes first hit the playgroups. He has the energy of a man still doing what he loves after what he admits is quite a long time. Forgetting the lyrics to the second verse of a song requested by an audience member he exclaimed that he hadn’t played the song in 30 years, something of which most of the room’s occupants had no concept.
Also on the Ravenlaw stage, Common Deer played a dream-poppy dynamic set, with long harmonies over tight beats and fantastic musicianship across the stage. With cello, guitar, keas and violins blaring, the group is a great example of what can be achieved when innovative musicians approach indie rock tropes. Also, their name is good.
On the City Stage, The Philosopher Kings capitalized on a bit of the nostalgia thrown into the air by Penner. The Canadian band, best known for their cover of the Godley and Creme song “Cry” in 1998, is staging a comeback with the release of their first album in eleven years and a stylish new music video for the song “Still The One” (no, not the 1998 Shania Twain song).
The Kings put on a great show, and frontman Gerald Eaton proved that the 90s are most certainly not dead with his Timberlake-esque dance moves and microphone technique. To their set, there could be no greater contrast than that of Corb Lund and Ian Tyson which followed. The two legends sat throughout a beautiful set of country and blues tunes, harmonies echoing across the Lansdowne lawn. The audience followed suit, sitting in rapt silence as two of the greats did their thing. But soon the stage cleared for the main event.
Father John Misty is a thing to behold. So much could be said of his look alone. The bearded, longhaired man in tight pants and a sport jacket look has taken off in large part due to this man, and I can confirm that many people at the concert on saturday were sporting said look. It’s a good look, don’t get me wrong. But no one wears it like Father John, whose real name is Joshua Tillman.
Interesting side note about Josh Tillman: he has played in many of your favourite bands, including Fleet Foxes, Pearly Gate Music, Demon Hunter and many more. To me, Father John Misty seems like a persona of his, to which I attribute much of the over-the-top theatrics associated with the act.
That look of his features heavily in the show he is putting on. We know this because at every opportunity the lighting director (excellent job, by the way) found a way to backlight Father John so as to emphasize his form as he danced wildly, throwing his arms up like Michael Jackson used to do.
Misty himself takes on a role similar to that of a cult leader, asking his followers to eschew the foibles of modernity (cell phones, texting, etc.) and play acoustic guitar in heels. It’s a little funny to be lectured about modern life by a walking brand, and maybe that’s the point. Maybe the hipsters are onto something after all.
Unfortunately for Yours Truly, Matt Mays was so crowded no one was able to get in. I’m sure he was very good.
As Ottawa enjoyed its seemingly first weekend of summer weather, a lively crowd descended on Day 3 of CityFolk for some throwback nostalgia and some first glimpses of buzzworthy bands.
To start the night, Suitcase Junket played the Ravenlaw stage to a crowd split between fresh ears and those who were so impressed with his late show on Day 2 of City Folk, that they came out for a repeat performance. He was mindful of that dynamic and played a largely separate setlist, save for a few overlapping tracks. His folksy blues sound was a hit with the crowd, with songs like “Swamp Chicken” and “Busted Gut” particularly resonating. His ability to multitask with a seemingly endless array of instruments is mesmerizing, think Shakey Graves crossed with Owen Pallett (though there were no loop pedals in sight). Playing several tracks off of his recent release Pile Driver, he described himself as such, driving around a pile of instruments to win over audiences, something that he certainly achieved on this evening.
Following Suitcase Junket was Brooklyn’s Big Thief, a band with two incredible releases and a significant amount of buzz (particularly due to this masterpiece. They played with a pared down ensemble which fit with the intimate Ravenlaw stage. Lead guitarist and vocalist, Adrianne Lenker was magnetic, deftly weaving from whisper to wailing guitar solo. Highlights included “Paul”, “Shark Smile,” the aforementioned “Masterpiece,” and haunting “Pretty Things” (with lyrics like “there’s a woman inside of me, there’s one inside of you, too…” resonating even more live).
The unfortunate scheduling of Canadian indie rock legends Broken Social Scene 15 minutes into Big Thief’s set had an impact on crowd size as well as the atmosphere, with Big Thief’s intimate songs having a subtle backdrop of muffled Kevin Drew vocals. Though Lenker expressed some frustration to that extent, the band powered through, and we’re hopeful they return for us to have an opportunity to enjoy them under ideal circumstances (rather than take a Sun Kil Moon approach to a grievance with Ottawa Folkfest scheduling).
Though Ottawa has enjoyed live performances from various members of the Broken Social Scene collective over the past few years (Kevin Drew at Arboretum 2014, a particular highlight), seeing them all together (well, most of them) is a rare treat. About to kick off a North America wide tour to support their latest release, Hug of Thunder, the set was a power-packed hour of hits new and old (as well as a brief cover/singalong of “Total Eclipse of the Heart”).
New member Ariel Engle filled in admirably for Feist on Hug of Thunder’s lovely title track and both she and Amy Millan did “Anthems for a Seventeen Year Old Girl” justice. While the crowd was enthralled throughout, a short passionate speech from Kevin Drew about the state of the world and a call for the crowd to cathartically yell as loud as they could made closing tracks “Cause=Time” and “Ibi Dreams of Pavement” particularly meaningful. As they closed the set (and for many, the evening), many wondered aloud why the heck they weren’t headlining tonight’s show.
Amanda Marshall bounded onto the City Stage next and she did her best to prove the scheduling skeptics wrong. Playing for the first time in more than a decade, she joked about the lack of Netflix and Uber when she last hit an Ottawa stage. There were no signs of rust, as she dove into her back catalogue with a tight seven piece band for an assembled crowd of passionate Amanda Marshall fans and curious BSS holdovers. As “Sunday Morning After” and “Trust Me (This Is Love)” began, many in the crowd exchanged an “Oh, I remember this song” look. Her biggest hit “Birmingham” followed and sufficiently delivered, sending many of her fans to the promised land (you know, the one beyond the lights of Birmingham…?).
Gee, the Ottawa Folk Festival sure has changed. Since 2011 when the Bluesfest producers took over, CityFolk as it’s been so recently dubbed, has become an extension of Ottawa Bluesfest. In all but name, size and location, CityFolk is indistinguishable from its older festival brother. That old “where is the blues in Bluesfest?” criticism can and has been applied.
But for the second night of 2017’s CityFolk, the festival seemed to harken back to its roots, presenting a lineup of artists who likely wouldn’t be offended at the use of the term folk to describe them. Jack Johnson headlined the night, and his acoustic sensibilities informed his openers, from Nathaniel Rateliff to local favourite Honey and Rust.
However, because there is so much overlap between these artists, many fans may have found themselves double booked, which is the other major criticism levelled at festivals like Bluesfest: you can’t see everything you want to. So it was Thursday night as Jenn Grant took to the indoor stage as Nathaniel Rateliff took the outdoor. Though the word was that both shows were great, Nathaniel Rateliff’s set was the highlight of the night for many.
Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats have recently exploded out of Denver with their song “S.O.B.” reaching number one on the American Adult Alternative Charts in 2015. It’s a catchy song with a swear in the hook, so its popularity is to be expected. What was unexpected, at least to the casual listener, is the degree to which Nathaniel Rateliff backed up that hit with a solid set, characterized by country-folk-esqueness.
Rateliff is a born performer, and he certainly looks the part. With his ten-gallon hat and wide gait, his appearance lent authenticity to a new band playing a very old style of music. I don’t want to say he’s making the organ cool again, but he’s certainly trying. With horn-blaring crescendos aplenty, Rateliff’s band had the crowd stamping their feet to his well-written music.
Fitttingly opening for Rateliff was The Family Crest, a recording collective whose music is a loving homage to the folk music structure. Overtop of excellent melodic work, the group’s talented musicians create a beautifully textured sound, replete with horn, keys and multiple guitars. Because they’ve refined this sound to such an extent, their sound is pretty consistent. There are negatives and positives to this, but one clear negative is that no one song stood out to one unfamiliar to their music. However, the band performed exceptionally, and while they may lack a certain memorableness, they make up for it by putting on a great show.
Inside at the RavenLaw stage, Ottawa’s Honey and Rust performed an intimate set of music from their self-titled album released last year. Despite some shakiness, most likely due to the inclusion of two temporary (?) new members to their duo, the band’s sound was clear and refined, with the instant hook of Jo Beattie’s voice. Her singing brings out the sadness that is so often a feature of the band’s music, and Cristy Williams’ drumming compliments it perfectly.
From the emotional intensity of Honey and Rust, we turn to the closer of the night, Jack Johnson, whose emotional intensity was that of a bag of cotton balls. Judging from the crowd at his show, it’s unclear if he’s a musician or a party entertainer. Chalk it up to “shitty Ottawa crowds” if you like, but most people at J. J.’s concert seemed more interested in their conversational partner than the stage. Whether he was making banana pancakes or being all positive, Johnson wasn’t able to hold their attention.
And yet the park was packed. Clearly Johnson has a following in this city. It seems that Johnson just isn’t great live, and despite their love for him, his fans are more used to having him on in the background of a party.
The show was pretty lackluster. Johnson swayed his way through his repertoire, pausing every so often to make low-energy comments to the crowd about the weather. I do understand that low energy is Jack Johnson’s style, but for an outdoor festival with a huge stage, it felt incongruous, even boring.
At one point, his keyboard player crowd surfed for about one minute. Crowd surfing to Jack Johnson is a very odd thing to do, and even Johnson seemed confused, demanding the crowd return his keyboard player for the next song. And it is that image of the gangly keyboardist riding a wave of people as Jack strummed his acoustic guitar, swaying ever so gently, that most encapsulates the mixed tone of this show.
Part of that mixed tone is due to CityFolk’s own identity crisis as it seeks to draw more crowds, growing a festival that is trying to stay dedicated to its folk roots while putting on shows for thousands of people. Maybe folk and stadium crowds don’t go together? Tell that to Bob Dylan and Neil Young, I guess.
A few weeks ago, my friends and I went to the Horticultural Building at Lansdowne in Ottawa for the Ukrainian edition of Ottawa Welcomes the World. We were treated to two great sets of live music by some of Ukraine’s finest, ONUKA and Mad Heads… for free.
Ottawa Welcomes the World invited embassies and high commissions to mark their country’s national celebration in Ottawa with free events which highlight their nation through food,art, music and more. I had no idea about these events and I have clearly missed out on a lot of really fun days and nights, but lucky for me my buddy invited me to go check out Ukraine.
The evening started with a sand art performance where the artists moved sand around on a back-lit platform creating beautiful images to tell the story of Ukraine and Canada’s connection. All of this accompanied by a violinist. It was very impressive and visually stunning.
Mad Heads, from Ukraine, performing at the Horticultural Building in Ottawa.
After a few speeches from very distinguished guests, including the ambassador to Canada, it was time for the music. Up first was Mad Heads—a ska band and the reason we were there. Little did I know they had been performing and releasing music for over 25 years and 8 studio albums. They were high energy and a lot of fun. I didn’t understand a word, other than their cover of “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” but their music was infectious and had us dancing.
ONUKA, from Ukraine, performing at the Horticultural Building in Ottawa and putting their big “horn” on display.
Headlining the night was ONUKA. ONUKA, which means granddaughter, are an electro-folk act and were introduced as a band with chart-topping hits all over Europe. The band has four main members, a singer/wind instrumentalist, keyboardist, percussionist and a banduryst (which is one of the coolest looking instruments ever with so many strings). For their live performance they also had a three piece brass ensemble with a french horn and two trombones. During some songs one trombonist switches to this massive 10 or 12 foot horn. All of this was performed in front of an ever changing video screen ranging from the abstract to animals. All that to say that it was quite a sight to see and even better to hear. One of the most touching and heavy moments was when they performed a song “Vidlik.” Lead singer Nata Zhyzhchenko simply introduced the song saying “let’s all pray for the victims of 1986,” which was a reference to the Chernobyl disaster, the biggest disaster in the country’s history.
All the great music was complimented by traditional Ukrainian food, including perogies and cabbage rolls, as well as Lvivske—a Ukrainian beer which traces its roots to a monastic beer of 1715. It was an amazing night and of this is a sign of what to expect from other Ottawa Welcomes the World events, I strongly encourage you to check them out.