NYC’s Fruit & Flowers made a quick tour stop in Ottawa on July 5th, playing an energetic show along with Sally Ride and Deathsticks at Pressed. Sally Ride—now known as Steve’s Job—opened the night with some meowing and gentle laughter as they transitioned into first song. The members of the band had nerves flowing through them but with their humour, banter, and strange aura of what’s possibly feigned confidence, they truly made it seem like they were naturals. Despite it being their second show, they perform as if they’ve been on stage countless times together. The band is one that kicks off everything summer is, and with their light and airy sound they sound like a redefined indie rock.
Sacha’s vocals are distorted and in the background, but very prominent at the same time. The almost monotone singing lulls you into a dreamy state but the guitars, drums, and keyboard bring you back to reality, keeping you on that edge. With intricate riffs, a strong bassline, and keyboard playing that sounds almost like synths, the band really ties it all together, almost like a gift that was chosen especially for you.
Not only do they play very well, but the band is one that’s impressive because of the versatility of instruments they switch to. With Hillary, who mainly plays the drums, switching to keyboard, up front and centre, and the guitarist and keyboard player switching to drums. The lot also know how to turn awkward banter funny, and get the crowd to participate in it as well, creating a more intimate feel to the entire set.
Fruit & Flowers, a band from Brooklyn, NY, began by introducing themselves with the classic riff from all those movies where people get on their surfboards and start shredding the wave, it started as surf rock. Don’t let this fool you though. The band itself is a very hipster looking band with an angry but equality elegant and beautiful sound. This band redefines anything you thought could be punk. They bring an entirely new set of sounds to the genre while playing with the classic sound that we love. The bass player and lead vocalist, Caroline, was up front and centre and her playing shook us to the core. She has a light and fairy-like aura but she shreds like there is no tomorrow.
Between the two guitars, her bass, and the drums, there is always a rhythm set while Ana plays intricate riffs over it, really setting a tone. Gentle vocals mixing with a fast doesn’t work, but the fast-paced bassline and prominent guitars make the crowd want to move, whether it is dancing, swaying, shifting foot to foot, or jumping up and down. They turn punk into a genre you can dance to. The solo’s fall nothing short of mesmerizing—impressive stage presence, with feedback, very quick playing, and smooth transitions back into the main verses. They bring in true punk energy mixed in with the quick pace that a band like The Misfits set.
The thing about Fruit & Flowers is that they also turn their sound into a psychedelic garage rock for some songs and it works because of the riffs played and the gentle and harmonic vocals. The band doesn’t restrict themselves to solely one genre which is really mind-blowing. Usually when every song on a record has a different take to it, it doesn’t work, but these guys have mastered it and have bent it to their will. The band is an absolute must see band if you ever find yourself itching to see a show packed with energy and artistic vision.
The last band to play was a band called Deathsticks. They are a duo but they sound far more numerous than that thanks to pedals and the drumming. The drum lines are ones that bring a new kick into it and truly encompass punk of the past, such as The Faith. They gave no mercy to the kit and the drumstick fell apart. The constant use of the ride and crash cymbal really set in the angry tone the band possessed, however the fact that she showed so much control while letting loose proved that Laura has truly mastered drumming. The guitar playing was absolutely wild in comparison to anything else I’d seen so far. It was all over the place, messy, but it sounded good. I’ve heard people say that punk noise sounds like shit, well let me tell you, this is very good shit in that case.
Matt’s slides and incredibly quick riffs turn into a muddle but listening to it closely, you can make out what he’s doing. The two have a Sonic Youth like dynamic around the vocals much like Thurston and Kim did but instead of singing they scream. Sometimes at the same time, other times not. They’ll have more spoken parts to songs like in Mountain Men and sometimes they’ll full out scream like in 30 Second Song. Had the setting been a dingy bar as opposed to Pressed Café, there would have been a mosh pit. The two play with feedback, letting it grow wild, and sometimes taking care of it when they planned to.
This is a band I’d go to see again—no doubt about it. If you want to throw yourself into a pit, experience the mind-and-eardrum blowing experience that is Deathsticks, please do so. I’ll probably see you there.
RBC Ottawa Bluesfest kicked off the 2017 edition in style Thursday night at Lebreton Flats with Death From Above, Pokey Lafarge, Telecomo and Pony Girl.
Death From Above (they are no longer using “1979,” but still having it written on their drum kit) made a triumphant return to Ottawa after having to cancel their 2016 appearance. The noisy rocking duo from Toronto consists of Sebastien Grainger on vocals and drums and Jesse Keeler on bass and keys, and they closed out the night at the Black Sheep Stage and stirred the crowd into a frenzy. The band incited the first mosh pit of the festival and possibly the first crowd surfers. After two songs, Keeler got on the mic and said “Thank you we are Toby Keith,” which garnered a good chuckle from the crowd and a Toby Keith chant. Keith was playing on the main stage at the same time.
In the early going the set seemed focused on songs from their latest album The Physical World, but fans of their earlier work didn’t have to wait too long. Grainger whispered “You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine” before launching into the song of the same title. The nearly two-hour long set was their second show in nine months. On the eve of the full moon, they took off from there and went on to play everything a fan could ask for including “Black History Month,” “Little Girl,” “Cold War,” “Romantic Rights”—ok those are all off of 2004’s You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine, but they are classics. They also played a few more songs off of The Physical World such as “White is Red” and their new single “Freeze Me,” which they struggled with a little being that is was the second time they ever played it live. But that meant Ottawa got the second and the third-ever performances due to a quick re-start. The new stuff is quite a bit dancier but they still find time to have Keeler rock out and bring that gritty bass into it.
It wouldn’t be Death From Above set without a story by Grainger. During the set he told his this lovely piece about how for Canada’s 125th, he was 13 and in Ottawa at base the peace tower when a motorcade rolled up and Prime Minister Brian Mulroney came out. Grainger shook his hands and then shook his son’s hand “who grew up to have great hair plugs…I mean they probably aren’t hair plugs” he said laughing. He continued “and then another nicer motorcade pulled up a Trudeau came out and I shook his hand and then shook JT’s hand. Back then I thought to myself that he would one day be a great…snow board instructor or substitute teacher.” Many laughs were had and they got back to rocking. What a great set and an awesome way to cap off night one.
Unfortunately there was overlap on Pokey Lafarge and Death From Above so I only caught a few songs but they were excellent. Pokey and his band are simply exceptional. I mean, the act features a harmonica, brass, a stand up bass and the occasional washboard or banjo on top of the usual guitar and drums. With songs like “Close the Door,” “Something in the Water” and “Riot in the Streets” (which he all played while I was there) you get transported to a quaint bar in the southern states. His music would be perfectly accompanied with a nice tall glass of bourbon. Even without the bourbon, they had people singing, clapping and dancing under the new Bluesville tent—a great new feature—which has replaced the River Stage.
I took in a double dose of locals to start off my festival catching Telecomo on the Black Sheep Stage and Pony Girl in the Barney Danson Theatre. Telecomo are a garage rock three-piece made up of very familiar faces in the Ottawa music scene. Adam Saikaley (vocals, guitar), Gary Franks (bass), and Pat Johnson (drums) have played in bands such as The Acorn, Silkken Laumman, Bondar and countless others. As I walked over to the stage, we were greeted by the Gary Franks’ undeniable bass line from the opening track “Long Gone” off their debut full length release For Sale. Anyone in attendance who didn’t know about the album before the show, certainly knows about it know as Saikeley took a few moments to mention it and hold up a record to show people what it looked like. It was pretty effective as he sold a copy right on stage to a very enthusiastic concert-goer in the front row.
For most bands the showman is the lead singer or lead guitarist, but in this band it’s the bass player. Franks is never still and can often be seen striking quite the poses. My favorite is the very close stare down of Saikeley while he sings. Franks could have the voice of an angel but I kind of hope he never gets stuck behind a mic as his wondering is such a great addition to the performance. I’m pretty sure the band played all their entire catalogue and even included 2 new songs during their 50 minute set. I love garage rock.
Getting everything started was Pony Girl‘s performance in the standing room only Barney Danson Theater. It was great to see them pack the room. They certainly put on a show to merit the audience. A Pony Girl set features something most live acts don’t, a clarinet. Every time I see them, I am reminded of how underutilized and undervalued this instrument it. The band made full use of the space on stage and also bringing the show to the crowd singing and playing the clarinet in the first couple of rows. What is sometimes forgotten or lost in the wonders of the duel vocals is just how talented of musicians they are. Beyond the clarinet and the excellent guitar and bass work, the drummer always blows me away with all the subtle fill,s and the little extra he does that just add so much. Just as I was thinking of this, they put it all on display during an incredible instrumental lead by clarinet and drums dancing around each other which was beautifully amplified by the guitar and bass. It has been awesome to follow this band for years now and still be so impressed.
This past weekend Rockfest in Montebello, QC, turned 12 years old and I was there to take it all in.
After three hours of sitting in the car the car slowly making our way through small neighbouring villages and ultimately right down Main St. in Montebello Thursday night, we set up our tent just as the torrential downpour began. This being my second Rockfest, we knew to expect the crazy long delays getting in, but let me tell you—knowing it would happen only barely makes it better.
Once we were all set up, everything was on the up and up from there. The festival was an absolute blast other than the crapshoot to get in and the poor sound during Meshuggah. I’m not sure why it only affected them, it was a shame given the highly technical nature of their music and this being their 30th anniversary as a band.
Below are my highlights from two days of rock, metal, punk, beer, mud, sun and hundreds of thousands of people.
10 Highlights of Rockfest 2017
Random cheer “waves” in the camping area.
Anyone who has ever camped at a big music festival like this knows exactly what I’m talking about. For everyone else, it is the phenomenon where one person or a small group of people yell out a random sound or the name of the festival and other pockets of people join in as it moves across the campgrounds just like a wave at a sporting event.
Fanny pack fashion.
They are back, they are useful, they are better for your posture and tan lines than a purse and people have gotten very creative with them. I saw some of all sizes, multiple zippers or simple, gold, silver—heck, there was one even shaped like a pineapple. I don’t know what drove people to bring them back, but I am all for them.
I’m a sucker for a good cover, always have been. But I love them even more when they are done live, and then that is all amplified when done on the big stage of a major festival like Rockfest. Some covers can be the entire song like Pennywise doing Minor Threat or Goldfinger with their cover of Nena’s “99 Red Balloons.” Other times it can be a perfectly placed snippet of a classic during their own song like Wu Tang Clan throwing in some lines from “Come Together” by The Beatles, The Specials with “We are family,” or Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age throwing in a little Amy Winehouse “Rehab” during a song. These are not only great tributes, but also a lot of fun for the audience.
Hatred for Donald Trump.
The hatred for the current President of the United States was a constant theme over the two days. I first really noticed it when Pennywise mentioned it and then played their politically charge track “My Country.” But they were certainly not alone, Goldfinger started a fuck Donald Trump chant during their set, and Bad Religion’s “New Dark Ages” has never been more relevant… well, since President Bush at least. The Special dedicated their song “Message to Rudy,” (which most probably don’t associate with politics but it is a very political track) to Trump and complimented Prime Minister Trudeau. Other bands like Anti Flag, Dreadnaughts, Face to Face, and Down by Law also had their piece to say.
Less Than Jake.
One of the challenges of these festivals, is with five stages rolling, you sometimes have tough choices to make, but also some bands that usually play hour long sets get cut to 30 minutes. This is what happened to my beloved Less Than Jake, a ska band I have been into since grade school. They made the absolute most of their shortened time and it felt like they crafted a set list just for me, hitting on most of my favourites including “All My Best Friends are Metalheads,” “The Science of Selling Yourself Short,” “Johnny Quest (Thinks We’re Sellouts)” and more I most likely forgot to write down while I danced up a storm. They capped off their set inviting the brass section from The Real Big Fish on stage to join them. This was one of many skank-tastic moments of the festival with great ska.
Yeah we all know “Du Hast” the German industrial metal band’s big hit that brought them fame in North America, but this band has been wowing fans since their inception in Berlin since 1994. The music is good, actually much better than I expected given I don’t really listen to them and don’t speak German, but the show is what truly blows you away. There are fireworks and pyrotechnics throughout the entire thing. I read somewhere that their tour features more than 20 trucks just to pull off this spectacle. And I mean when you see a guitarist wearing what looks like a WWII gas mask that shoots 10-foot flames from the mouth area, you start to understand. It was almost more like going to see a foreign musical horror film than a live show, and I mean that as a compliment. Fireworks, flame throwers, fire-shooting masks, fire from the stage, crazy light show, explosions, elaborate costumes and devilishly good metal, Rammstein showed us why they are one of a kind. I wonder how many people had nightmares while camping that night.
(please note this is not our video, but we felt it was important to share the spectacle with everyone)
The Specials are one of the innovators of the English 2-Tone and ska movement of the 1970s, forming in 1977. I have loved this band since childhood thanks in part to my parents introducing them and ska and reggae to me at a very young age. The problem was, they broke up in the 80s, got back in the 90s, but I didn’t see them until a couple of years ago. Finally seeing The Special at Bluesfest was something else, but it was unfortunately overshadowed by poor sound and the lead-singer getting pissed off and throwing stuff at the soundman and storming off near the end. This time was very different. This time not only was the sound great, the sun shining and the band in a great mood, but I got to share the moment with my little brother. We danced up a storm skanking all over the place with smiles painted from ear to ear. Their set list was great, and as mentioned they dedicated “A Message To You Rudy” to Donald Trump, but also featured favourites like “Monkey Man” and “Too Much Too Young.”
PUP are simply one of Canada’s best bands right now, if not one of North America’s best exports. Their live shows are full of energy from start to finish and this set was no exception. The cloud of dust filled the air at the side stage as the band got started and never really settled, even when the band slowed things down a little. One hilarious thing was that someone brought a long an inflatable poo emoji which could be seen floating around for most of the set. They ripped through tracks off both their album not stopping for long in between songs to ensure no time was wasted. This may have been the first time I see them play where lead singer and guitarist Stefan Babcock didn’t crowd surf, but he did stand on the barrier surrounded by fans… it might have been a festival rule? Just see this band. I have been saying it now for years, stop taking my word and go learn for yourself how awesome PUP are.
Photo by Els Durnford
So I know I keep using the term “one of my favourites,” but hell, the festival did a good job gathering bands I love and Alexisonfire is certainly one of them. I never thought I would see this band again, I was pretty sure they would reunite, but I figured I would always miss out somehow and that I was destined to never see the band again. Why does that matter so much? Well, Alexisonfire completely changed how I perceived music and opened the door to much heavier sounds and styles—they were a gateway band of sorts for me. I’m also a bigger guy but love to dance, so being able to find space a little further back to throw down and not hurt anyone or myself while respecting others’ space was a nice bonus. Seeing them again was very special, and it could be the last time or I could see them five more times, who knows but it was epic.
Photo by Els Durnford
At the Drive-In.
Another one of those bands from my younger years, recently reunited and I went to go see them in Toronto and they were great there. They played Rockfest with that same energy and stage presence. One of the moments that stole the show, beyond their amazing music of course, was when lead singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala went on an anti-Bill Cosby and Hollywood rant. He simply stopped after one song and said “Fuck Bill Cosby. Fuck the Hollywood rape sympathizers. Fuck all of them while you sit around and watch their sitcoms and movies.” It was completely out of the blue, and don’t get me wrong, I 100% agree with him. I was just surprised when most of the hatred had funneled towards Trump over the past days. The set was tight, full of great songs we all wanted to hear, and was a great way to cap off another fun year at Rockfest.
Trails was the first band to play. Songwriter Allie O’Manique’s sweet melodic voice gently flowed through the air. As we watched Trails perform, we were absolutely entranced by the music. Soft, progressive and quite different from anything you’ve previously heard. The only instrument used was an electric guitar and other a gentle voice. A loop pedal was used in instances where there was a need to write a part of a song over the other.
It’s light, airy, but it’s nostalgic. For this reason it turns heads. It’s very psychedelic and lifts past memories as the performance progresses. It’s sound that makes you see colours, and swirls of them, blues of all sorts twirling around. As far as easy listening goes, this is it not only because there’s heart in the performance but because it’s so refreshing and ethereal. Trails produced harmonies with her voice and a loop pedal, singing over her own voice in different tones, creating something soothing. It’s beautifully haunting and will leave you wanting to hear more.
Next up was a band called Lake Urmia. Elsa’s vocals are smooth, high, and create a soft contrast with the sound of the band itself. They’re loud but at the same time they’re almost quiet and have a delay on the vocals so it gets distorted in the medley of music.
The sound is very refreshing and if you don’t like it at first, it’ll certainly grow on you. It’s a soft indie rock with its own flavour to it. The struggles they face are shown through the music, and although sounding happy, the lyrics represent something deeply rooted. They too allow the audience to see colours but more so violets and wine reds. They’re the perfect band to listen to as you sit by the window with a good book, and a cup of tea, listening to their sound intermingle with the rain.
The last band that I caught was a band from Bloomington, IN, by the name of Nice Try. The band is a pop rock band with vocals that strongly contrast the guitar. Their vocalist, Madelaine, has that sweet voice that you’d imagine wouldn’t work with a rock progression and a heavy drumline but the dynamic the band possesses makes everything fit together like puzzle pieces. The relationship they have with each other really adds to the fact that the music works so well. It’s something infectious that brings out the dancing shoes of the audience, and if they were sitting, they were swaying. The band is what should be classified as a feel good band, and the pure enthusiasm they have for what they do really draws the spectators in. Their live performances are a bit heavier than their recorded stuff but honestly, their sound is much more raw and untouched that it’s impossible not to love.
The last day of Ottawa Explosion really kicked it into high gear and didn’t let the impending tornado and storm warnings stop the party. They kicked it until the very end of it and all in all the day was sunny and warm much like the crowd of people there. So go down to Explosion next year and really get lost in the tunes. Trust me, once any band starts playing—even if your intention wasn’t to see them—you won’t want to leave.
I managed to get to Ottawa Explosion earlier than expected and in time to hear the very last bit of Preemptive Eulogy. I was greeted very kindly by Sacha of Sally Ride and we stood together as the previous band finished.
While local band Sally Ride began to set up, photographer Ming Wu and I sang to “Don’t Stop Believing” and got into the great ‘which movie is better’ debate. There wasn’t a moment that afternoon where I wasn’t smiling and enjoying myself.
As soon as Sally Ride began, I jumped to action. They’re quite the “go with the flow indie band” that seemed to hold fragments of a bohemian soul within their sound. It’s the perfect sound for long summer road trips. In fact, it’s probably what you’d play while rolling down your car window and driving through a deserted valley area somewhere warm. This was their first show, and despite how nervous they were, they hid it well. The music was infectious and it became impossible not to dance or sway to the beat of the songs.
The vocals were smooth but not in a perfect and polished way, which added character to the performance. There was a keyboard being played for the first little bit but that dropped off and got switched out for another guitar. To really set the tone of their performance and give off a taste f their personality, they played the theme tune of Buffy The Vampire Slayer and someone picked up the task of bubble blowing for them during their light and airy performance.
After Sally Ride came the Empty Nesters, another local band. They didn’t particularly move around too much but their music made a mark. It’s the sound of gritty rock attic demos recorded on a cassette tape. With these guys, no two EP’S or albums sound the same. This time, they were loud, garage rock with soft voices that resonated across the courtyard and down the street. The band has songs that get softer and quieter, reduced to vocals, only to pick up with a loud booming sound and jump right back into a fully energized performance.
They’re full of distorted fuzz but in the most lively way, and they manage to keep the energy contained. It’s the music that you sway to and give no shits about the fact that you’re holding your beer and might spill it. They take you into their own world and away from the one you’re currently in. A sound with much reverb, a boisterous drum beat, and the perfect amount of discord thrown in, it offers a refreshing the garage rock scene.
It’s noise but it’s the noise you want to hear. The noise that will leave old folks waving their fists in the air and saying “those darn kids!” and leave you wanting to hear more of their hypnotic tunes.
A band from Calgary, AB, by the name of The Shiverettes played promptly after. They’re an angry feminist punk band that’s out seeking justice for the misogyny faced day to day. They’re a band that get you on your toes, and jumping around. Their songs expel immense amounts of energy and anger that the audience feels down to the core.
The band consisting of three females and a male drummer conveys the struggles women face in life such as the things asked when a women reports sexual assault, the catcalling that they have to endure on the streets, and fundamental rights being taken away or not taken seriously. The anger and frustration in the screams of the lead singer really convey the emotions that women hold rooted deeply and it projects onto the crowd so well that despite the catchy and punk power chords there’s an impact left on every member of the crowd. They scream in favour of those who don’t have a voice or can’t speak up about the pressing issues in society.
They’re aggressive, but not in your face. Their points come across effectively, and loudly. If you think women don’t have voices, think twice because this band will blow you out of the water with how powerful theirs is.
Toxic Thoughts is loud, angry, in your face, and aggressive all with good reason. They voice the volatile thoughts that we have about ourselves, though it’s more so on a personal level with them. They get the crowd roaring and throwing themselves into a mosh pit at an alarming rate. The drums are well played and clearly a good part of the backbone of the song structure. The guitar seems to follow the bass line and the way the mass of noise comes together to form something so beautiful yet so full of frustration leaves you in mystery of how much anyone had to go through to be able to produce what’s essentially pain packed into music. The band toys with controlled feedback and they have managed to tame that beast. Not only is it difficult to produce it unless you have the right equipment, but it’s also very possible for it to get out of control. Their song “The Void” really showcases this, making the controlled feedback the spotlight of the song along with the bass lines.
The amount of talent that extends to minorities in music and the many different genres the festival showcases, there is something for everybody to come see. No stone should be left unturned when it comes to this festival as there is something for everybody.
During Ottawa Explosion’s fourth day, the outdoor stage at Club SAW was rocked by the Mint Records Showcase featuring The Smugglers, NEEDLES//PINS, Tough Age and Expanda Fuzz.
The iconic Canadian garage rock band The Smugglers headlined the wonderful evening. The band from Vancouver, BC existed from 1988 – 2004, and just recently reunited for select shows in 2017. Lead singer Grant Lawrence, who many know as a host on CBC Radio 3, is wildly energetic and engaging as a frontman. He kicked off the show by saying: “Ottawa, it is so good to be back in the city that birthed The White Wires, Stand GT, Resin Scrapers, The Creeps, Million Dollar Marxists, Tokyo Sex Whale and so many more!” That was quite the tribute to the locals here, and many of the aforementioned bands had members in the audience. He continued “Since the last time you saw us in Ottawa we have had nine children and one heart attack.
They call themselves a rock n’ roll band, which they most certainly are, with hints of surf and very danceable garage (maybe those terms weren’t cool back when they were). Their sound is amazing and infectious and had people dancing and singing along non-stop. I try to make a point to not comment on a band’s attire, but I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the full suit and rubber boots look sported by many of the members.
The band played a high energy 12-song set featuring “Vancouver BC,” which Lawrence mentioned “was almost a hit on Much Music,” the International Smuggler Dance Competition judged by the drummer of NEEDLES//PINS and “Booze” which was dedicated to the drummer of The Gruesomes, a band from Montreal that changed Lawrence’s life, who happened to be from Ottawa. They closed with “Rock n’ Roll Was Never This Fun” and thanked us all for attending what could be one of the last Smugglers shows ever. It is bittersweet that my first Smugglers show may be my last, but I’m ecstatic that I got to see them play my favourite festival.
NEEDLES//PINS took to the stage before The Smugglers and were full of apologies from the get go. After playing their opening song “Drop It” they said “Feels so good to be back, I can’t believe we missed an Explosion I’m sorry. We will never miss another.” I sure hope the Explosion team holds them to that as I love knowing I will see this band every year. Before launching into “Best Friend” they urged us all to high-five our best friend which was a really fun moment to watch happen all around them in the packed Club SAW courtyard.
They also played a bunch of music off their new record, Good Night, Tomorrow, which hadn’t been released yet but is now available. The new tracks sounded great and I can’t wait to sink my teeth into the album. Their set featured one of the cutest and most heart-warming moments of the festival. Not everyone knows that even though the band is from BC, one of their members is from the Ottawa Valley. Emmanuel Sayer (OXW organizer) noticed some of the family members, mostly older, sitting by the stage during the set and ran them over some earplugs. What a gentleman. It is always awesome to see NEEDLES//PINS perform, they are incredibly talented but also just such nice and positive people.
Tough Age, formally from Vancouver and now based in Toronto, played Ottawa Explosion again and are becoming a festival mainstay. The new-ish, stripped down three-piece (formally a bigger band) have really embraced some post-punk influences and sound with their new music, such as the song “Not That Bad.” I, and a couple of people I was chatting with, really dig it. One of the things that blows me away about this band is how the guitarist and bass player just switch instruments back and forth throughout the set. I have massive respect and am in awe of bands that can do that, it’s just wild. Member Jarrett Samson said in closing, “I’m excited to see NEEDLES//PINS and if they don’t play “Drop It” I’m going to burn this tent to the ground.” Lucky for him and all of us, NEEDLES//PINS opened with “Drop It” as mentioned and we all avoided a catastrophe.
Opening the Mint Records Showcase was local duo Expanda Fuzz. I was unfortunately running late and missed some of their set, but as always what I did hear was most excellent. Their fuzzy and drone garage style sound has this perfect slow crawling build that leaves me wanting more. In a short time as a band, they have already released a bunch of great music, but I am constantly going back to the first song I heard them play “Flavour: Zombie.” Every time I see them perform that song I get a big smile on my face and have to bob my head. I’m glad that even arriving late, I managed to catch it.
This being my first time at Ottawa Explosion I didn’t know what to expect except for great tunes and a very kind group of punks. I didn’t exactly expect the chaos that ensued, then again, these were punks and a punk show is always chaotic either due to the time it starts or due to the go-with-the-flow-screw-time attitude.
I made it to Warp Lines early and sat through the booming sound check. If you think sound check is loud enough, it’s nothing compared to how loud the band itself gets. Their voices resonate and bring a livelihood to their otherwise gritty rock sound, and let me tell you – this band does not fear noise in the slightest. There also isn’t as big a need to mic the drum kit itself, because even without it you feel the drumbeat in your heart and the bass rattles you.
The way the three guys work all together is astounding. They’re loud and proud, all while creating a very garage-like setting despite being situated in an artsy bar by the name of Avante Garde. They know how to capture your attention and though some may say it’s a more generic sound, there’s nothing remotely generic in their performances and how they capture the crowds attentions with their singing and screaming.
I’ve seen the band once before and had even reviewed them, but honestly, I was shocked when I got the email asking if I could photograph this time. I hadn’t received an offer like that beforehand and this was new. I knew Johnny was an incredibly nice guy (see House of TARG show review with Steve Adamyk and Bar Robo show review with Warp Lines) but this was beyond a pleasant surprise. Naturally, I complied and actually managed to get some decent shots despite the hardships with lighting. Curse it for being light out at 7:00 PM!
Next up was WLMRT, who I’d sprinted over to Club SAW to see. I thought I had made it just in time, but they were finishing. However, I managed to catch three of their songs. They’re loud, aggressive, sometimes shoeless, and overall astounding. The lead singer and bassist were both up front and centre, and they really set the tone. I’m always rooting for female fronted bands, and always looking out for them because there simply isn’t enough. Let’s be real – female fronted bands are badass and deserve far more attention than they get because they’re incredibly talented and full of fiery passion.
The bass lines really encompassed what punk music was supposed to be, with everyone else seeming to flawlessly (but with that sloppy punk character) build around it. Their music itself doesn’t seem to take itself too seriously, and there are some underlying tones under it that let some seriousness peek out. Despite being there for a small amount of songs, the performance shook me and it carried an infectious need for you to move. Perfect to thrash to, mosh to, and just let out all stress and anger to. If you get the chance to see this band, they are truly worth seeing live.
After WLMRT I quickly ran outside to witness the very bizarre Cincinnati, OH, band Mardou. Their energy was so odd and their performance was so unique that it drew me in and kept me staring no matter how much I might have wanted to go to the band playing inside. The clown doll, the pink LED fairy lights, the exaggerated movements. Everything set the tone. It reminded me of post-punk and new wave music, but I honestly think it would be more of what Kim Gordon classified as No Wave.
Their sound was almost Joy Division-esque, but with such a different twist to it that it’s a band you’d have to go see to understand what they’re about. There is nothing generic about this band. It’s fresh and it’s new. The lead singer’s voice was monotonous but worked well for what they’re trying to do. It, as well as the entirety of the performance, almost puts you in a sort of trance.
Through all of Ottawa Explosion, you’ll see the bands smoking outside, or walking around downtown. You might catch some people just hanging out or jamming out to their friend’s songs. Everyone seems to be supportive of one another, or their friends and fellow musicians, and the beauty of it is that they’re people just like you, and just like me. You could probably strike up a conversation, no hesitation needed. Explosion, and all the bands that play during it, unite the people, the punks, the oddballs, the ones who have a deep affinity for music. Take a break from your high school work (we know exams are happening next week but come on!) and get down to Ottawa Explosion at Club SAW.
It is that wonderful time of year again when you know all that matters is going to the punk show with your friends. Yes, Ottawa Explosion is back for its 7th year and once again mostly situated at Club SAW.
On day 2 I took in eight bands and could not think of a much better way to spend the last day of my 20s, surrounded by great music and even better people.
Headlining the night was Ottawa’s very own Crusades, which happens to feature Emmanuel Sayer, one of Ottawa Explosion’s organizers. Emanuel opened by saying “RIP JS, it is weird not being pelted by beach balls right now,” referring to last years show where JS had ordered black beach balls and decorated them with friends, just for the Crusades set. It certainly is weird not having our lovable JS around for those types of funny moments. If you see people sporting Hawaiian shirts, they are most likely doing so as a tribute to our good friend who left us too soon. Crusades put on a ripping set as always, I just can’t get enough of their style of heavy punk rock featuring three very distinct vocals. The band was celebrating seven years just like the festival, and as they prepared to play their final song, they were stricken with technical difficulties. Emmanuel simply said “We have been a band for seven years…” hilarious way to cap off the night.
Setting the stage for Crusades in the dimly lit Club SAW was Edmonton’s post-punk act Rhythm of Cruelty. This band is like no other I have ever heard. Their blend of ambient with post-punk and synth is pretty wild, but then when they add in a trumpet and loop it, it blew my mind. It might have a been a little too drone-like for the masses, but I was very impressed and would love to see them again.
Also playing inside was Sudbury Ontario’s greatest export, Strange Attractor. I believe the band has played every Explosion and always fast and hard, like everything they do. They barely have any songs over two minutes long and cram as many as they can into every set with ferociousness. One of the great things about a festival like Explosion is the bands generally stick around and watch other bands. And nothing is better than seeing a band you just watched (Lonely Parade) front and centre jumping, singing and all around losing it to another band.
Getting things started for the late-night indoor portion of the show was Black Tower. They brought us inside and delivered the metal as they summoned ghouls and ghastly creatures from Explosions past. Erin Ewing’s vocals sends shivers down your spine for all the right reasons when she unleashes the darkness within with a banshee-like flexing of her vocal cords. They are the perfect band for fans of punk, metal, and Tolkien-style fiction.
Partner from Sackville, New Brunswick (SAPPY FEST!) headlined the outdoor portion of the night. A lot of bands enjoy playing music live, but very few bands demonstrate that happiness and fun as clearly and openly as Partner. They are out there having at riot at every show and just loving life. It was raining pretty hard during their set but that did not deter them or the crowd, we simply huddle in tight under the tent, the band even giving up much of their space to make more people comfortable. They played a bunch of great new songs off their latest release Sounds of the Future, which is named so as the songs will eventually appear on the next full-length album. The highlight of the show for me was when they stopped during “Gross Secret” to ask the crowd if they had any secrets to share. The crowd was hesitant at first, but then Anthony Cardozo emerged from the side of the stage to happily admit he still picks his nose. The crowd cheered loudly and then more people started telling their secrets. Way to go Tony.
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Lonely Parade from Peterborough, Ontario also rocked the outdoor stage at Club SAW. They get better every single time I see them. It has been really awesome watching this band grow having seen them several times over the past few years. They played a lot of new songs, which they jokingly called “new song 1” then “new song 5.” These new tracks really show off the bands progression and evolution. Don’t get me wrong – I love their earlier songs, but the new ones are very tight, rocking and just have that little something extra.
Montreal’s Towanda also played. This sludgy three-piece from Montreal really rip it up. While many may focus on the guitarist, I was really impressed with their super solid drummer that really drives the music. That said, the lead singer and guitarist lives to shred and does it quite well. She also sports a scowl all set long making it just that much more intense. This band would pair perfectly with Ottawa’s Bonnie Doon.
The first band to play was one of Ottawa’s newest acts Ultralove. I was super impressed by the trio’s performance. I am always amazed when I see a drummer who has a very prominent vocal role. Some people struggle to walk and talk, so hammering the skins while singing just has that automatic wow factor. The band plays a melodic noisy punk rock with strong hardcore influences. One of their songs had one of my all time favourite song structures. A song with one verse that is repeated several times with the music and the vocals intensifying every time until it crescendos into an explosion of emotion. Local readers really need to checkout Ultralove next time they play live.
Wednesday night was a rowdy night where three excellent Dine Alone Records bands, The Flatliners, The Dirty Nil and Sam Coffey & The Iron Lungs, rolled through Ottawa and rocked Babylon Nightclub.
Anyone who reads my articles enough knows the importance of The Flatliners to myself and to Ottawa Showbox. They are one of the reasons Matias brought me on board at Showbox and we have shared many great times listening and seeing them play live. This night was no exception, with the punk rock trio from Toronto reaching deep into their repertoire, but also rocking tracks from their new album Inviting Light. The diversity in their set is key when you realize that the band has been together for 15 years and could easily decide to ignore their earlier work from when they were teenagers. As a long time fan, I know I appreciated it immensely when they played songs like “July!August!Reno!” off their 2007 release The Great Awake.
While some fans screamed out for older tracks, or yelled requests for some ska, most of the crowd was just dialed into the true passion and energy that is a Flatliners set. Another thing that goes hand-in-hand with The Flatliners is Beau’s Brewing, which was flowing all night and whose reps and brewers were very present. If you’ve never sang along at the top of your lungs with a sweaty Tim Duncan, you haven’t lived. Be sure to read Matias’ in-depth interview with Chris Cresswell here.
Setting the stage for The Flatliners were The Dirty Nil, a headliner-caliber band in its own right and who most recently won a Juno for Breakthrough Group of the Year. It’s not everyday you see a show where all three acts have headlined your town and tours across the country. When the band took to the stage, lead singer and guitarist Luke Bentham walked in with a big sign that read “HOTTAWA.” I think they were happy to be here. The Dirty Nil played their high energy grunge-inspired punk rock with conviction and style. With perfectly placed bubble gum bubbles for dramatic effect, Luke always looks likes he is having a blast. Bass player Ross Miller however often looks really intense during songs like he belongs in a metalcore band. That’s not a criticism at all, it’s just quite the contrast from the smiling, bubble-gum blowing going on on the other side of the stage. They played a new song “Avidazen” which was quite the rocking slow burner of a track. Dundas, Ontario must be so proud of these boys as they just keep getting bigger and better.
Opening the night was Sam Coffey & the Iron Lungs from Toronto. Now here is a band out there having fun and taking names. The group all rock sleeveless jean jackets with their logo on the back and never stop smiling. They play up beat and lively rock n roll that will take you back a few generations and might even make you want to do the twist at times. They have a new album coming out soon and the new tracks sound great and are just as much fun. New songs like “Talk 2 Her” are definitely a step in the right direction.
They also played my favourite track “Gates of Hell” which just has every a great song needs from gang vocals, infectious sing a long moments, build-ups and claps. If you’ve never seen Sam Coffey and the Iron Lungs play, you might not know that one of the guitarists plays a double neck guitar which usually leads to a great two man solo (can it still be called a solo if there are two?) – one on the 6 strings and the other on the 12 -neck. I also think this might be the only time I’ve seen the band play where Sam didn’t puke or roll around in the crowd… it was still great, but just saying.
Not only was the 12th of May an insane night due to how amazing the show at the Bronson Centre Theatre was, but it was insane for many reasons. As a short preview, I’ll give a list – dead batteries, between-act adventures, and battery compartment latches malfunctioning. Does that sound eventful yet? Most likely.
The first act to come on was Everett Bird. The dynamic that the band possessed was very unique in comparison to other bands that I’ve seen, and although I had completely blown my hearing, I could tell there was something this band possessed that few do. The band takes scales and plays with them with precision. Everett brought his scales from the highest notes he could use down to middle tones, all while being in harmony with what the others were playing. It was such a strange dynamic but it melded together very smoothly. He even produced noises from the guitar that don’t sound like they would come out of such an instrument.
They took these delicate and high notes and combined them into a gritty song filled with power chords, but they also take an approach to their music that sounds a bit like psychedelic and progressive rock. It’s very easy to get lost in and just let the music sway you. The lyrics take you into a different world completely. They produce vivid imagery through each song and through their lyrics, telling a story through each song. This was not limited to just vocals but it was through every note played. Though they didn’t move around very much, they seemed to take a different approach to getting the crowd lost in their music.
Unfortunately, this was the band I did not manage to get any photographs of. This is the first reason my night got thrown into absolute chaos. The batteries for my camera where dead, or so it appeared. It wouldn’t turn on, and I was unable to do anything with it. So as soon as Everett Bird got off stage, I had asked my friend to google the nearest corner store, which was on Albert Street, and while we booked it for the Quickie, one of my very close and dear friends held our spot in case we didn’t make it back in time. The walk was a six minute walk and I had determination that nobody could get in the way of. As soon as we got to the Quickie, we paced around, trying to scope out any batteries, and we noticed them behind the counter. The man charged me a good $10.16 for four AA batteries, and as soon as everything was paid for, we bolted out of the store. We had a brisk walk back, and it was as if everything was in our favour. All the lights turned to the little walking pedestrian as we approached them and we got back just as PS. I Love You had started.
PS I Love You is a group from Kingston that initially started out as a one-man-band, however Paul Saulnier realized that he needed more than just himself to partake in the band, and so Benjamin Nelson joined. The two really lose themselves in the music they create, and the sense of the sound wrapping around you slowly takes over. They really set the mood and atmosphere around them and they know how to control every aspect of it. Not only this, but the two are incredibly talented. Paul had at one point taken his guitar behind his head and shred the most amazing solo which only indicates how much raw talent these individuals possess.
Because it’s just the two of them, they have a very harmonious way of working together. It seems like the harmony goes deeper than just the music, which only helps them in their live performances. Their light and airy sound is drenched in reverb, and soaked in the sound produced by the organ pedal used for the guitar. The sound produced was very heavy yet interesting. I’d never heard anything like it before. It was entirely new to me and if I’m honest, it’s the first I’ve heard of such a pedal existing. The vocals were unconventional in the sense that they’re not perfect or smooth. They’re their own and fit into the very strange assortment of harmonies and melodies that were put together.
Unfortunately, halfway through their set, my camera stopped working once again. For the life of me I could not figure out what was going on until I took a closer look at the battery compartment. For my camera, it was located at the bottom, which meant a lot of force had to go into closing it. I had flipped it over and opened the compartment and as I had done so, I realized the small sliver of black plastic that held it shut had broken off and the little compartment could no longer be closed properly. At this point, I had had enough. I had come to the show to have a good time, and to get some amazing photographs and I was determined not to leave without them.
“But your camera is half broken,” you may say. Technically yes, but literally nothing was going to stop me from shooting this show. Anyone who knows me, knows that I’ve been looking forward to this for far too long. In the moment, I looked over at what tools I had (which wasn’t much) and decided on my solution. I quickly wrapped the camera strap around the camera itself, making sure to pull it tight across the bottom. I looped it twice and then looped what remained around my right hand then placed my pinkie right where the battery compartment was and ensured it stayed shut. This wasn’t only difficult to do, but it was painful as well. This is how I managed to shoot the rest of the show.
Ottawa natives Hollerado came on after a quick little sound check from their crew and jumped right into what they do best. The stage went dark right before they emerged and the UV lights lit up the stage and displayed all the graphics that were painted on either large sheets, guitar cases, boxes, or the likes. Dean’s bass resonated clearly throughout the theatre and it could have been because I was very close by, but Hollerado has always been a band that has shown appreciation for a good bass line time and time again. Even the drumming that Jake presents to us is unlike anyone else’s drumming. In its own ways it’s simple enough to learn if you worked on it, however he plays with such energy and passion that I don’t think many could match even if they put their hearts into it. Although I have said that the drumming is simple enough to learn if you really sat down and tried, it’s also not as simple as it looks or sounds. It’s very precise when it comes down when each beat is hit, and it relies on rudiments. The way he even controls how loud or soft the sound gets takes practice and it’s something that most people don’t take into account.
Menno’s vocals are very rock and punk-based, especially with the new album. Of course, there is the backing vocals of Dean, Nixon, and Jake that add that slightly more indie-rock feel, which go back to the roots of the band. I particularly admired Nixon’s playing, especially how quickly he got back on his feet from his injury. The thing about the way he plays, he almost becomes one with his instrument. He knows it as if it’s the back of his hand and that only adds to how talented he is when it gets down to it. He loses himself in the music and he’s so in harmony with the songs, the instrument, and the setting that his performance falls nothing short of amazing. Although Menno isn’t one to rip out these intricate solos he really puts a spotlight on his guitar work, tearing away at power chords like in “Juliette” and “Eloise.” He’ll even create harmonies with Nixon’s playing to give a new depth to the songs that Hollerado plays.
They opened with a song from their new album, Born Yesterday. This really brought a kick to the show, and although most bands do open with tracks from their most recent release, you could tell each member was fully invested in this. In the moment, they were all there mentally, and physically. This album seemed to take a much more serious tone that the previous two, however due to the incredibly upbeat nature of the songs, you could get down to them very easily. Each riff holds a very intricate sound to it, different from the rest. Even when they slowed it down, the songs still had a very powerful sound to them, heavy on the bass and guitars. They even seemed to explore a little bit with their sound, extending to some more bluesy sounds.
During their performances, as unconventional as they are, Menno brought out cookies at one point, treating the crowd to a little snack. Not only does he get personal with the crowd, but with his friends with whom he shares the stage. He shares his microphone with Nixon from time to time, and they each invade each other’s personal space. Nixon would get up on Jake’s kick drum and jump off, Dean would get right beside Menno, and Menno and Nixon would take turns in each other’s space. Their performances are incredibly intimate no matter how big a show they play. They take this lack of personal space and apply it to the crowd as well. At one point Menno had shoved the microphone in my face and got me to sing along (I was later informed that I sang on key which rarely happens).
They did not disappoint when it came to the performance they put on, and even allowed a member of the crowd to play part of a song with them, asking who could play the guitar. They invited a man up and you could clearly tell he was so happy about the moment and you could tell the band really wanted him to feel like he belonged. Even in the moment where a drunk woman ran up on stage and slapped Menno’s ass, they weren’t angry, they just went with it and laughed it off. They even got an older gentleman (perhaps a family member?) to play a few songs with them.
There was one point where they began to play my favourite song off the new record, Eloise (which they weren’t even sure about adding to the record a year ago until my friend’s sister told them that they need to add it), and a man ran up on stage and told them to stop the show. He needed 9-1-1 called due to a woman passing out, and every member of Hollerado dropped their instruments and ran over to help in any way that they could. When they got back, they informed us that everything was okay, and she woke up and told them she passed out and that she was okay. They picked back up only after making sure that everyone was okay.
This album really brought a depth to the band that had come through before but never with such intensity. With songs about politics, love, and family, they really secured their legitimacy with this record, although they could probably write a song about a sock and everyone would love it just the same. They find a way to take small things and make them fun, or serious. They even have a song about a turtle (go listen to “Lonesome George”).
Hollerado, as a band, is very good at taking unconventional approached to rock, punk, and indie music, including staccato guitar intros, and tremolo picking solos. Much like bands they’re friends with, or have been associated with, they bring such a unique energy that only they would be able to bring to a room. It’s indescribable. It’s terrible to be one to say “man, you’ve just had to be there,” but it’s true! This is the only show I’ve been to where they haven’t fired off glitter and confetti and completely wrecked the venue with those small pieces of paper. Had they actually done that, you probably would have been finding it in weird places for days (this happens, trust me).
They guys themselves are incredibly kind people and all it takes is a conversation to get them talking. They actually even remembered my two friends and I from previous shows that we’ve frequented and asked about how we were doing and how our lives were going. Each member pays attention to you when you’re in conversation and really value your word. And lemons.
This band is one you need to see live before you die and even if you have to call in sick to work, or jump several fences to get there, please do because you will not regret it at all. You’ll probably just have too much fun and never want to go back to your regular life ever again. Also, please bring them Sharpies (or don’t it’s up to you) because they seem to be lacking some. And if you borrow their Sharpie, return it to Dean. It’s probably his.