The closer it drew to 8:00pm, the more the feeling of knowing something good will come out of what I’m doing settled and eventually completely took over. This feeling – remember that I’m talking about it.
Just beyond the arch of Chinatown is a small bar by the name of Bar Robo. Despite what you may think of music clubs – grimy, unwashed bar, people asking for beer by the pint – it isn’t what you’d expect. The atmosphere was warm and friendly, and the place was very tidy, had neon lights, some large potted plants, and cushioned seating. Having only seen the bar in photos, I always thought it had a mellow vibe, but as soon as I entered it, my gut feeling was only confirmed.
The first act, The C.H.U.D.S, came on at around 9:00pm (I admit I messed up and showed up an entire hour early). They proved to be the most difficult to photograph, with Imogen (the lead singer) constantly moving around, kicking over chairs, and flipping tables, and Brenda (the bassist) having her hair in her face at all times.
The band gets up in your personal space and the members really immerse themselves in every song they perform. Not only did I enjoy their sound, which I can describe with having tones of thrash punk with a unique twist, making it their own. They heavily touch upon the societal injustices that trans people face every day, and just how poorly they’re treated. This is why I really admired them, they’re a band that is very open about trans rights and they’re very active in getting awareness out in spite of how difficult it is.
Audrey (the guitarist) threw in many amazing riffs that sound like they were very well thought out, melding so well into every song. The band even toys with having controlled feedback, which is often hard to fit into songs naturally. James’ drumming added intensity to the overall sound the band had and really set the pace for each song. It seemed to determine the energy the room held and got everyone moving, and of course Imogen played a huge role in that as well.
After they had finished off their loud performance, I managed to talk to a few people, and learned that out of all the bands James was in, this one was the one with the most meaning. I have never listened to any of his other bands, but I decided since the person knew James for a number of years, I would take their word for it. I believe this especially because the whole focus of the band is to amplify the voices of people who identify as trans. They voice their pains, struggles, and how they matter. They sing and scream about the trauma they face daily, and about the violence they face from society. They do not hide from what they are and they stand very firm in their beliefs. The band is a reaction to the expectation of being respectable and quiet, as Imogen had told me. She even brought up how she sings about resistance, drug addiction, and cis complacency.
She even touches on the hypocritical side of punk. Punk has always been considered a genre that’s meant for everyone. Everyone is welcome to the punk scene, everyone can be a part of it. It’s about resistance, and never letting anyone take you alive, so why are trans people being out cast from a genre that is supposed to include, to resist, to bring awareness to important and pressing issues? Within this band’s violence is liberation.
It didn’t take long for Street Eaters, a duo from California to begin their performance. They took the two instruments people care about the least and transformed them into a full-throttle truewave punk band. They really impressed me with the coordinated drumming and signing brought forth by Megan March. This is something that’s incredibly difficult to do. Not only was this something that blew me away, but it was also the way that John played his bass. The approach is unconventional – he played it as if it was a guitar. This produced a heavy and gritty garage sound and shook the floor with its raw power. Their singing and shouting melded together and really brought the mood of their songs together. If you like Black Flag, I’m sure you’ll find yourself loving these guys.
Their commentary about Ottawa’s weather was accurate, but they bounced back with that if we were to go down to the USA, we could insult their weather patterns as well. After this, they performed a song that they seemed to sarcastically admit wasn’t about the hail storm they experienced while coming up to Canada. The song is called ‘To the Ice’ and it’s from their new record The Envoy which you can pre-order on their Bandcamp.
They closed off with the joke of “we’ll do you one better, we’ll play one more song” after suggested they cut their set down to two more songs. The song they closed off with was one they claimed to be about punching Nazis in the face, in reference to the event that occurred a couple of months back with Richard Spencer. This one seemed to strike a fire in both of the musicians that I had seen glimpses of throughout the night, but never with such intensity.
After they finished up, I managed to speak briefly to Megan, who was incredibly down to earth, and despite the angry sound of the band, was incredibly kind. We spoke of the band briefly and a very small amount about photography regarding the band before I let her go do whatever she was set to do. During this time, a few other people had piled in and had come to support their friends in the next band.
When Warp Lines came on, I immediately recognized their lead singer and guitarist Johnny from the TARG show a few weeks back with Steve Adamyk Band, however don’t let that fool you into thinking this band had the same sound. Although possessing some of the same roots, the sound is dirtier and grittier. Technically classified as pop-punk, these guys really nailed that heavy punk rock we were there to see. The trio brings a lively performance with them, coordinating very well with each other. The dynamic the guys have was incredible, sharing smiles throughout the songs they played. They drumming relies on crash cymbals and a very heavy beat all thanks to the wonderful Dave Sec whose technique impressed me. The riffs thrown in by Johnny, in their song ‘Weak Signals´, where perfectly placed and the string bends added a new depth to the song. Some riffs were kept light to contrast how heavy the entire song was and yet, it oddly fit so well. The bass, played by Kurt Rafuse (of The Yips/Tropical Dripps) shook the floor and made itself stand out in every single song they performed. It’s no doubt that this band is not afraid to bring out the bass.
If you listen to Steve Adamyk, PUP, or Hollerado, Warp Lines is a band that you’ll find yourself drawn to without a doubt. They’ve lively and really immerse themselves in their performance and despite bordering pop punk, they don’t fall into what the stereotypical association with that genre is. In a way, they grasp it, make it their own, and bring a new flavour to the punk and pop punk scene of Ottawa.
The night ended on a really positive note and gave me the opportunity to speak to a few more people, Johnny was one of them. He’s a very sincere and approachable person despite how serious he may look. Once you jump into conversation with him, he’s a really pleasant person to talk to. I also managed to say hello to Steve (Steve Adamyk Band) and Pat (Telecomo) who came out to support their friends. Now, remember that feeling I told you about in the very first paragraph? That feeling is something I had during the entire time I was in the small bar in Chinatown. This was without a doubt one of the best shows that I’ve been to, and the whole night the atmosphere was filled to the brim with positive energy.
Overall, any of these bands mentioned above are worth seeing live because you’ll either never find the recordings no matter how far you delve into the World Wide Web, or if you do, the recordings will never do the band justice and will never possess the same grit, grime, and liveliness that their live performances hold. That being said, make sure to catch The C.H.U.D.S and Warp Lines at Ottawa Explosion weekend in order to hear their sick tunes live and raw.
After a very, very last minute decision to go to a show, I was set to take on Pressed Café on the 13th of April. For those who have never been, Pressed Café is a small coffee house and bar on Gladstone Avenue. The venue is one of the smallest I’ve seen to this day and the room itself seems to be designed to fit maybe thirty people seated. This “full house” standard was once broken, but that is a different story for another time.
On the 13th, Pressed was not a full house, however, everyone left with hearts filled with something they’d come to the venue without. For me, it was pride and hope, and lungs filled with the smoke from the fog machine (yes, they did indeed have one).
Nightshades was the first to perform, and Mallory (guitar and vocals) even admitted that at practice the night before, everything sounded amazing. But when she went on that night, she felt like it just wasn’t as good. However, I beg to differ. Their sound, although described as garage punk, thrash, or grunge, is astoundingly similar to The Breeders, and Mallory’s voice is so much like Kim Deal’s that I was completely blown away. Her vocals sweet and melodic but with a little depth that you wouldn’t expect. She didn’t hold back at all, and laughed off not being able to quite remember the set list, joking around that it’s what professional bands do. The overall sound of the band, going past just describing it as The Breeders, is gritty. Accompanied by a strong baseline that caused the building to shake was a heavily distorted guitar and some really unique drumbeats.
If you came to see Nightshades for a heavy and overpowering guitar sound, you’ve come to the wrong place. Dean’s bassline is the focus, it’s aggressive but doesn’t make a big deal out of itself and when Geoff pounds the drums, it’s truly something else. It’s not like most drummers that I’ve seen that go at the drums like Grohl. This is something that came from the late 80’s and transitioned into the 90’s. Not quite the anger from the grunge movement but definitely holds a strong element of it. It’s so well put together and the fact that the band itself seemed so into what they were doing just created a more positive experience overall. A favourite of mine was by them is for sure a song called “London Bass” because the bassline is prominent but has a unique build with the guitar.
The next band to play was one by the name of Look Vibrant. They’re a band that seems to be a bit of noise rock with a psychedelic twist to it. Here’s a better visual for you. Remember back in the 70’s when kids would get high and listen to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon? This is a band that you would probably do the same thing with. They’re an incredibly unique band, and believe me when I say I’ve never heard anything like them. There are falsettos used in every song, but it feels just right in a strange way. With many keyboards, drums (with a broken crash symbol), and some synths, this band of five is impressive. How they fit these instruments that look like they shouldn’t be able to go together, I won’t understand, but they managed to do it all. The overall style of the band really caught my eye because they seem like what would either be considered hipster or very 80’s, but when they began, I was blown away by the harmonies and by how lost they got in the music. Not to mention how much they enjoyed performing for a small room despite the limited amount of space. Overall, the performance was one that drew you in either out of curiosity or because you genuinely enjoyed it. It was soothing and if you ever find yourself in a place where you might have a creative block or just need something to listen to while laying on your floor thinking about the rest of your life, by all means, find their Bandcamp and all of their EP’s. I especially recommend the song “Clouds” if you are going to do the aforementioned.
The last band,Smokes, was a band I found myself enjoying a lot more than I thought possible. With small moments between all the members and the way they threw themselves into it, it really set the tone of the show and created a positive atmosphere. Everyone felt like they were part of something. The genre was a strange one and verged on punk and rock, bordering it all but throwing in elements that you wouldn’t see in either. When I say that, I mean they managed to throw in a violin into the mix of guitars, and drums, changing the sound of it with many pedals, but nonetheless, it was incredibly impressive. When you learn that those few sounds that sound like a synth are in fact a violin, it blows your mind away completely and all notions of what a punk band needs to be are blown out of the water. These guys push the boundaries, and I mean that in a good way. They certainly make explorations with their music. Playing the bass more like a guitar, plucking at the violin strings, combining some guitar into that and an intricate drum beat that doesn’t remain the same throughout the entirety of every song, it was incredibly impressive to watch. They took absolutely every detail into consideration to make sure it sounded ideal. Not only that but the movements throughout the performance really proved for a more enjoyable show and challenged photography if you tried to get a shot of just one of the members. All in all, their distinct sound which faintly echoed that of Depeche Mode’s was truly money well spent. Their lyrics were insightful, especially in the song “Body Heat,” allowed emotional connections to the songs they performed.
After all the songs, save one, were performed, it was exactly 10:59 pm. People scattered and started to help dismantle the drum kit, and packed up equipment while others got a beer and handled the merch tables. During that time, I went and thanked the bands and talked to them a bit about their show (making sure they weren’t in conversation or too busy). It turns out Look Vibrant was thrown into an Ottawa show and they didn’t really realize it, but went with it anyway and drove back to Montreal for a show the very next day.
Pressed is an intimate venue where you can go up to people, start a conversation, and just simply connect with the bands, which is exactly what I did. Some engaged in conversation, others exchanged information and it was left at that but overall, everyone was incredibly friendly and pleased to have a conversation with you.
I strongly suggest you keep a lookout for these bands if you want your mind blown, your creativity to flow, and to hear a strange and artistic take on your favourite genres. Your experience will be a pleasant one, you can hold me to that, and if for some reason you don’t find yourself tapping your foot to at least one of the songs, a least you got out of your stuffy home.
House of TARG is one of those unique places that makes you feel at home when you walk down the dingy basement stairs. The room was probably about a billion times hotter than it should be and only got worse through the night. That being said, it didn’t discourage people from having a party.
“How does one make a punk show out to be a party?” one asks. Well, the answer to that is simple, booze, good tunes, and lively bands that either know what they’re doing or have no idea what they’re doing but do it well. That’s exactly what went down on the 7th April, and of course, continued until the early morning of the 8th.
When my best friend and I walked in, we were greeted by Matias who then introduced us to a long-term Showbox writer, Eric. He also introduced us to Eric’s girlfriend, and both were exceptionally kind to the two of us. After some conversation, we headed to find a table and patiently await the show to start.
Robots! Everywhere! was the first to perform and he put on an acoustic set which reminded me very much of a band by the name of AJJ. He sang about sports, going to the park with his daughter, and terrible dates. Phil does not take himself very seriously, which is something that you don’t see very often in the music scene, and much less in a punk music scene. He embraces forgetting the words to a song with no shame and jokes around with the crowd, even looking at a notebook he placed on the floor to remind himself of what songs to perform. Through the night, with friends there to support him, a smile did not leave his face. He even performed a song that he doesn’t perform live and he let us in on a little secret; it’s because his girlfriend is typically at shows and well, the song is called “Call Me Some, If You Are Looking for a Time”. The song consists of the lyrics “If you are ever bored and you want to get married… call me.” And yet he is not. He brought forth an energetic show, one that would remind you of summer camp where you’d gather around the fire and sing together, just way better and with a little more yelling. Seeing Phil live is well worth your money if you don’t take yourself too seriously, or even if you do, you can’t help finding his music infectious.
I wish I had the time to talk to Phil after his set, however, Telecomo took the stage immediately after and who was I to complain? Telecomo brought a more serious vibe to the bar, opening with brand songs that I couldn’t find anywhere on the internet yet. They completely shifted the mood. Not only did they make it feel like they belonged playing in bars due to their sound, but they made you feel like you were in your friend’s garage, watching their band go at it with heart. I found every song infectious and the composition was incredibly well done. I have also never in my life seen a bassist move around as much as Gary did. His basslines shook the floor with its power. I have always deeply admired strong basslines, and Gary’s blew me away. It’s something that really added to the songs and the experience.
The third last song Telecomo played was “I Met You.” It reminds me so much of a song from my childhood and yet I can’t for the life of me figure out which one. This is probably one of the reasons that I have a strong love for that song. They played their last two songs, “For Sale” and “Lipstick” then began to pack up after their very heartfelt thank you. Their drummer and friend, Pat Johnson, was revealed to be working double time because he was also the drumming for Steve Adamyk Band that night. He seemed very modest and began to shake his head when a round of applause was asked to be given for him.
I managed to talk to Adam and Gary after they performed, who were both incredibly sweet people. They even talked to me about my photography and Gary mentioned how he tried to “muck it up” for me, and hoped I got some good shots. They were very genuine people and even asked for my social media. After that I went to find Phil, which Matias kindly directed me to, and I managed to exchange some info with him. Phil, if you manage to talk to him, is a sweetheart. Not only did he make sure everything was alright, but he kept checking in with my best friend to see if she was enjoying the show and if she was okay. This wasn’t something we asked for, but it was certainly much appreciated. His friend chimed in and even told us that we had very nice smiles and that although we occupied the table that he had been eyeing all night, he couldn’t be mad at us for it.
Telecomo will be releasing their debut LP For Sale in June, it is a must-have and will be available on vinyl as well.
As things began to settle down, Steve Adamyk Band began to set up. I was pretty excited to hear them live for the second time because their recorded stuff doesn’t do this band justice. When do CD’s, LP’s, or cassette tapes ever do a band justice though? They opened with “Through My Fingers” and really threw themselves into the music. Pat was going at the drums with every ounce of energy that he had within him. Later that night I learned that he had broken something close to sixteen drumsticks, and two kick pedals because that’s how rock and roll works. I even managed to snag a photo where his drumstick is breaking. Their sound is pop punk with a dash of fuzz added to it. Their energy got people on their feet and dancing, and got me bobbing my head to the fast pace of their songs. Unfortunately, on this night they were a trio as opposed to their usual foursome but their delivery was still spot-on despite this fact. They talked to the crowd and all in all were incredibly friendly people. If you want to listen to a song of theirs that will for sure get you on your feet I highly recommend “False Teeth.” It’s a little gloomy sounding at first, but it picks up fast and gets you moving with a strong baseline that draws the song together.
Talking to Steve was a pleasure. Not only was he thankful for the photos I was taking, he spoke to me about how he loves talking to people who were born and raised in Ottawa and even talked some about how Ottawa is a home to many bands they’re friends with, officially and unofficially. We spoke briefly, but in that time we spoke of the local music scene. These guys have a passion for music that’s so clearly written on their faces, in performance, and in conversation. After thanking Steve for the time he gave me, I headed over to Matias as I got very excited about a photo of Steve Adamyk Band that I took. It is by far my favourite photograph of the night and I knew I could not wait to send him the photo. I needed to show him there and then.
There was a wait period between Steve Adamyk and B.A. Johnston. The whole vibe suddenly shifted, whether it was because it was the opening act or because a significant amount of people immediately flooded towards the front, I don’t know. All I really knew about B.A. was that he makes a joke out of everything and anything, and that in his shows he includes a performance art component to it which most people don’t actually consider an art. Watching this man perform was incredibly absurd. Not that it was bad by any means, it was just incredibly strange. I’d never seen anything like it in my life. Not only did he wear three sweatshirts, but at the very beginning of the show, he ripped a pair of Velcro pants off. His humour consisted of not understanding how an iPhone 5c (his Walkman) worked, and writing songs with very oddly specific names. He had even written a song about GST cheques. Besides that, his humour gave off the vibe of Hamilton, Ontario (so he claims), which is where he’s from. He went around the crowd belting out lyrics in his hoarse voice and crushing beer cans on his head whenever he was handed one.
His sound can only be described as something you’d hear from video games from the 80’s, with a mix of pre-programmed beats, synthesizer, and a few acoustic songs. His guitar is a clear indication of the type of act he puts on. A modge-podge of various bits and pieces stuck on, and stickers littering the old thing. There were even carvings in the face of his guitar, and even a metal pick guard somehow stuck on to it. If you paid close enough attention, you could see his feet floating above the ground from time to time as he played. He later claimed to be “a forty five year old man whose only pleasure is forcing people to drink Sourpuss”.
His act went on well past 1 a.m. and although I didn’t stay for the last few songs, I guarantee that there was a lot more drinking, dancing, and singing going on as the show came to an end. I got a cab home and Matias made sure my friend and I stayed safe, walking out in front of TARG with us.
The night was overall filled with great people, fantastic music, and most of the vibes were incredibly positive. Everyone was incredibly friendly and grateful, no matter how drunk or tipsy they were. The live music allowed the room to surge with energy, and as soon as the bands played everyone crowded around TARG’s stage.
If you’re looking for lazy punk, garage punk, punk with some fuzz to it, or folk punk with a side of comedy, this was the lineup for you. And if you want and incredibly wild night with no regrets (except for that headache you’ll be sporting), come on down to see these incredibly talented artists next time they play.
Standing in the Westin picking up Juno Awards media passes, my phone buzzed. A screenshot from a friend of a tweet saying there was a pop-up Arkells show at a *secret* location, hosted by CBCq and Tom Power. What the hell is that, you ask? Pop-up show? Secret location? Challenge accepted. So, The Great Hunt for The Arkells Pop-Up Secret Show hosted by CBCq began.
As we left the hotel we made a plan. It was 1:30pm, the show was at 4pm. Start the clock.
1:32PM – We narrowed down possible venues for such an event in Ottawa. The tweet said that the first 50 people who emailed CBCq would get access to the show. We knew it would be small.
1:37PM – We hauled ass to the car, snow flying down everywhere, and decided first stop would be at the source. Off to CBC we went. Once we parked and found our way around the the entrance that actually let us in (harder than you’d think, there’s like five doors to that place). The security guards were quick to stop us, we showed them the tweet and I’m pretty sure they thought we were off our rockers. Thankfully, one gentleman didn’t think we were completely loony and offered to help us out by introducing us to the CBC host he was waiting to meet. Amazingly enough, the host he was waiting for also happened to be the moderator from the morning’s panel discussion on Ottawa As A Music City. Though he also had no idea what we were talking about he was nice enough to wish us luck as we left on The Great Hunt for The Arkells Pop-Up Secret Show hosted by CBCq
2:05PM – Next we tried to think logically. CBCq hosted an event at the Bronson Centre the day before. Perhaps they were holding all their gear there for the broadcast. So once again, off we went. We got inside only to have the person behind the desk look at us like we have eight heads. This was becoming a theme. We thought this was a logical choice, but failed to consider the size of the Bronson Centre, and how it could fit many more than 50 people.
2:30PM – Though we didn’t admit defeat, we decided that CBC probably knew a thing or two about keeping secrets. We carried on with our day.
3PM – Out for lunch where I ended up with a full pint of beer in my lap and ate perogies that would later nearly kill me (that’s a story for another time).
3:45PM – *Phone buzz.* What’s the line up outside LIVE on Elgin? We once again hauled ass to the car.
4:05PM – Late for the 4PM start time, we parked, j-walked and carefully knocked on the door of the venue. Security opens the door and quickly starts questioning. We got a quick no, and a door close.
4:07PM – Some parts of this story need to remain a mystery, right?
4:10PM – WE GOT IN! The Great Hunt for The Arkells Pop-Up Secret Show hosted by CBCq was a success!!! We quickly stripped off coats, rigged up cameras with lens, and flew like the wind towards the stage. Arkells were going full tilt, we started shooting. Max flew everywhere through the crowd. He was dancing, throwing his mic stand around, finally just took the glasses straight off my face. Insanity. Private School, Drakes Dad, Happy Birthday, Jackson Five.
4:50PM – Post show CBC Host Tom Power striked up a conversation with us. We hesitantly told him details of The Great Hunt for The Arkells Pop-Up Secret Show hosted by CBCq, unsure of the response we would receive. He got a laugh, seemed impressed, all was fine, the end.
4:55PM– Still losing our shit, we went on with our day. The rest of The Juno Awards awaited us, little did we know there was much more in store for the weekend. Check out the full photo gallery for more of what I got up to throughout Juno Weekend.
Join us next time as I tell the story about how I puke outside Petrocan before meeting another CBC radio host.
There were countless options for live music Friday night thanks to JUNOfest, and I chose to rock out with New Swears, NO BRO and Blve Hills at the Bourbon Room.
It was a tight fit in the Bourbon Room, but that didn’t slow the moshing, crowd surfing, confetti shooting, beer drinking and general chaos that is New Swears.
My night began with Blve Hills who took the crowd on a psychedelic journey. Most of the set kind of felt like a well organize psych jam session, and I mean that in the best way possible. They were a bunch of musicians having fun and not taking themselves too seriously, but still rocking out. At one point a large stuffed snake was tossed into the crowd and thrown around for a couple of songs. Just confirming my point that they don’t take themselves too seriously. Then, out of nowhere, the set shifted from psych to a stronger, more punk rock style tracks to finish off. This climax of the set really switched the mood and got everyone ready for what was to come next with NOBRO and New Swears.
Setting the stage for New Swears was the most excellent three-piece NOBRO from Montreal. The ladies were excited to be back in Ottawa and were ready to shred. “Nice to be here in the nation’s capital for the Junos where everyone is a winner,” they said with a smirk. Their set was high energy and ripping, especially when they played songs of their aptly called EP Stoke Level: High. My favourite was “Call the Doctor,” where guitarist Marianna Florczyk really shines and shows off her skills. I strongly urge everyone to see NOBRO next chance you can, you will not be disappointed.
I have seen New Swears more times than I have fingers, but they are still one of the most entertaining acts to ever come out of this city. The set was no exception, and was filled with all the tracks I love from over the years. They stirred the crowd into a frenzy and had great stage antics, such as a rock n’ roll pyramid and playing guitar with a bassist’s legs wrapped around your neck, as we have all learned to expect. But now I’ll do a mostly non-punk rock thing and give a big shout-out to security. The two bouncers that were working probably had no idea what they signed up for. The moshing was one thing, but the stage divers (a.k.a human projectiles) during “See You in Hull” was next-level for a venue that is not used to this stuff. The two gentlemen did a bang up job of keeping people safe but also letting us all have a riot. New Swears, never change.
New Swears being New Swears during JUNOfest in Ottawa.
NOBRO ripping it at Bourbon Room in Ottawa during JUNOfest.
Blve Hills getting all psychedelic on us at Bourbon Room in Ottawa during JUNOfest.
JUNOfest kicked off Thursday with a few shows around town, and I decided to make my way to Zaphod’s to check out Operators along with supporting acts Charly Bliss and Potential Red.
Juno fever was in the air, and you could feel the excitement building in the city. The first act to hit the stage was a newer post-punk group in Ottawa called Potential Red. I’d heard about these guys through the grapevine but hadn’t seen them before, and they impressed everyone in attendance with a strong set. There aren’t a lot of Ottawa groups writing songs in the footsteps of late ‘70’s and early ‘80’s post-punk and new wave bands, and these guys do it right.
Right away Potential Red captured the audience’s attention and held on tight as they blasted out heavy bass-driven grooves layered with reverb-laden guitars and flutters of synth throughout their songs. Dare I say that lead singer David Sklubal’s moves on stage were reminiscent of Ian Curtis’, frantically exuding his energy into the crowd and getting the front riled up. I heard some of A Place to Bury Strangers in some of their songs, which I certainly connected with. Sklubal nearly broke the neck of his guitar as he jumped around on stage, just before launching himself into the crowd with reckless abandon. This is definitely a local band to keep an eye on, their live performance is not to be missed.
Next up was Brooklyn, NY grunge-pop band Charly Bliss. The four-piece churned out the kind of power-pop that we all know and love, channeling a sound that many of grew up with in the 90’s. Front-woman Eva Hendricks stole the show with her stage antics, having fun with the set and luring the crowd in with her energy. In all honesty, this is the kind of band I’m skeptical of going in. Having not heard their music before, I felt like they might toy with my emotions and try to pull some nostalgic strings without executing it properly. This happens sometimes. I was admittedly looking for something not to like about Charly Bliss, but one can’t help but fall in love with those catchy hooks, overzealous performance style, and honest songwriting delivered with a bow on top into our eardrums.
The band’s stage chemistry was obvious, and it wasn’t difficult to tell how close they are. They have opened for Veruca Salt, Sleater-Kinney, Tokyo Police Club, PUP, and are currently touring with Operators. Needless to say, catch Charly Bliss at small venues while you can because I have a feeling they’ll be playing bigger clubs any day now.
The headlining act Operators hit the stage as the crowd packed in tight. I would be remiss to leave out that I am a huge fan of Dan Boeckner – he has the Midas touch and all of his projects rule. I’m one of those old Wolf Parade fans that fell in love with Handsome Furs, and then Divine Fits, and then Operators. I’m sure there are a few curmudgeony Wolf Parade die-hards that don’t like the direction he’s gone in, but I for one am excited to see him playing with new toys and collaborating with great musicians such as Devojka and Sam Brown. I had the chance to chat with Boeckner last year, an interesting piece which you can read here.
Analogue synths abound, Operators’ modern take on post-punk has really taken shape over the last few years. This was the best set I have seen them play yet, and the road has surely tightened up their live performance. Boeckner’s comfort in this role is evident, and the smile on his face suggests that he’s loving every second of it. The songs off of Operators’ debut LP Blue Wave translate extremely well live – it’s part 80’s new wave, part dream pop, part dark post-punk – but whatever you call it, it works.
A couple highlights of the set were their performances of “Cold Light” and “True,” each of which electrified the room and got the crowd into a frenzy. Some of their songs had the audience a little unsure of themselves with respect to their dance moves, but the bodies kept flailing nonetheless. Sam Brown’s dialed-in drum beats were mesmerizing – even I got lost in his incessant, fixated rhythms. Devojka’s electronic wizardry provided the high-voltage energy of the set, complimenting both Boeckner and Brown perfectly.
My favourite part of the night was when Operators were cheered back onto the stage for an encore, during which they played a Handsome Furs track “Damage” from 2011’s Polaris-nominated Sound Kapital. I left with a smile, as night one of JUNOfest set a pretty damn good tone for the rest of the festival.
As soon as I walked down the steep black stairs and into the basement that is Ottawa’s very own House of TARG, I wasn’t only greeted by the lights and noises of the pinball machines but by the familiar faces of the members of The Great Sabatini. Before the event began, I was introduced to Jack (Jack Moves) and mainly stuck around either him or Rob (The Great Sabatini) and once the clock struck 8:40, so the show began.
Jack Moves opened, bringing a tremendous amount of talent to the table, and setting the standards high. With only a loop station at his disposal, I questioned what the performance would be like. I was pleasantly surprised, however, and Jack looping over his own voice was unlike anything I’ve seen before. Every song was built up from scratch and on the spot despite having already written and recorded them for his album. What was the most impressive was the capabilities that he possessed when creating specific sounds for the song he would perform, from the beat to the melody line, everything came from his voice. There were falsettos he later turned into harmonies and even layered certain lyrics over others. He was quick on his feet and certainly did not miss queues. Live looping is a make-or-break thing, and Jack has certainly made it.
His quick rhymes and whit payed off when it came to his lyrics and the sound effects created. With lots of small technical specs, it was important to stay on top of what was being done, and the sheer efficiency that I saw was beyond comprehension. The performance fell nothing short of jaw dropping and his creativity, when it came to producing specific sounds, certainly came in handy. If you listened to any of his music without knowing how it was being produced, it would have you fooled into believing it was created with synths.
After I had gotten all my photos and Jack had ventured to his merch table, I stopped to speak with him. Through the whole night, he was a very pleasant and modest person. You could throw a conversation at him about curling (which was discussed prior to the show) and he would engage in it. Unfortunately, conversation became a difficult task once The Great Sabatini ripped out some powerful chords and drumbeats for a quick sound check. With the very strange string of sounds and words uttered into the microphone, Steve made it known that something absolutely wild was about to go down.
I’m not typically the kind of person who throws myself into death metal shows and has the time of my life. I’m the kind of person who’s selective about their metal bands, and I certainly make sure they’re fantastic live and check their supporting acts but as soon as I saw The Great Sabatini were playing TARG, I shot a message to Matias about coverage. Maybe it was because they were inspired by some of the greatest metal bands that have existed and carried a very intense yet well-crafted sound, or maybe it was how friendly they were all in all the last time I showed up to one of their shows. To be frank, I’m still not sure which it is.
This time, I left my earplugs at home (although there is a small part of me that regrets that because I’m sure to lose my hearing by the age of twenty-five, I also don’t regret it all that much). I heard the solos much clearer this time around, and although the drumming was deafening (thank you Steve), it added many dimensions and really created that powerful and angry sound you find in death metal. The bassline stood out and there wasn’t a member of that band who didn’t become one with the instrument they were playing, and even though each one of the men screamed the lyrics into the microphones, they didn’t fail to keep up with their expertly crafted songs. Their setlist, handwritten but clearly well selected fell nothing short of impressive and made sure you got lost in the music no matter which band you meant to go see that night. Everything managed to meld together so well that you’d think it was done by someone who’s been known as a professional for the past twenty years. Both instances where I’ve seen them, they’ve blown me away (and this time my hearing).
The last performer of the night was a band called Swarm of Spheres. Truth be told, until a few nights ago, I hadn’t even heard of them but as a band that was described as something between sludge and stoner rock, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. All the information I had about them was either about the genre they played or that Mark McGee was an incredible drummer – the best some had ever seen. These two facts certainly were made apparent when the time came for them to perform. The trio took the stage with such ferocity they might as well have blown the low ceiling off of TARG. Mark went at the drums like Dave Grohl did back in his Nirvana days but despite how loud he was, his technique was mastered. The bassline, thanks to Andrew Rashotte, was incredibly strong and prominent throughout each song which is probably one of the factors that really drew me into the sound this band was producing. That bassline, and everybody in the room, buzzed with energy despite the show drawing closer to midnight than anticipated. Jay Chapman shred on the guitar and his string bends were skilfully placed. He clearly had a knack for intense bends and he got right back into the songs he played after executing them without fault.
After much hard work, sweat, and good laughs in between, the night drew to a close. When I had the time to actually step back and look around I noticed that a good portion of the crowd was composed people from other local bands who came out to support their friends, some were fans, and some were just at TARG to enjoy the live music but sneak in a few games of air hockey during the sets. I found a few people, and spoke to them including Steve, earning a pat on the back from him and being told that he had yet to use the photos of them I took back in February. After this, I slowly made my way out but not before stopping to say goodbye to Rob. Despite the influences of the band and how metal they might look, I guarantee they’re the sweetest people. Rob made sure I stayed safe and in touch, ending the night with a pleasant note of “friends don’t say goodbye, they say see you later.”
The Ottawa Rock Camp for Girls hosted an incredibly empowering event at the YMCA-YWCA last weekend featuring three local bands. They all took the stage with raw energy and incredibly unique voices that blew away the crowd – myself included. Not only that, but each differed in genre and style of performance.
The first act was a young musician by the name of Kae Rose. She performed as a solo artist and stunned the crowd with her talent. Her sweet voice melded with the power of her electric guitar and sorrowful lyrics really brought emotion into the room and swept people away with the messages behind each of her songs. Most were heart-breaking, and seemed to feature struggle but there was always the element of hope hidden behind each one of them. The small moments where she broke the character she depicted on stage were incredibly endearing moments. She wasn’t afraid to admit that she had messed up and if she ever did mid-song, she got right back on her feet without a moment’s hesitation just like a pro. The smile that graced her face as the crowd cheered for her was one that melted hearts.
Each of the songs that she performed were composed by her, save for one. She skilfully performed Ticket to Ride by The Beatles, her voice adding unique dimension to the song that I never even knew I needed to hear. The last song performed was a song she wrote called Drown. It captured everyone’s attention due to the hopeful message the song delivered using melancholic tone. There wasn’t a person in the room who wasn’t cheering for Kae by the end of her set. She was humble and kind, thanking the audience for listening to her performance after it was over and despite how reserved she seemed her vocals were spilled out with elegance yet intensity.
The second act was a band by the name of Distilled Water, who while having technical difficulties revealed that the name of the band was a split second decision. They were waiting for their turn to play a show at their school and flipping water bottles (a trend among youth) when they found out that they needed a band name in order to play the show. The first thing they had seen was the “distilled water” label on the plastic bottle and the name stuck with them to this day. Not only did they cover a wider range of genres, including a cover of a song by Modest Mouse, they threw in a jazz piece as their last song adding a saxophone solo into it.
What impressed me most wasn’t the steampunk-looking saxophone, but rather the band’s ability to switch instruments. They were missing their drummer so they improvised, having each member switch their instrument for the three songs they performed. The drummer turned into the bassist, the bassist into the drummer. Even the singer changed for each song. The guys in the band had a vast amount of talent that needed showcasing. They managed to effortlessly hit every note and did it with such skill and precision.
Miss McLeod had a stunning performance at the YMCA. Photo by Sara Osmanovic/Ottawa Showbox.
The final act was the one that surprised me the most. She was an eleven-year-old girl by the stage name Miss McLeod. As soon as she started to belt out the words to the song “Ex’s and Oh’s” by Elle King, I stared in awe – first at her, and then turned to Els and nothing but the words “holy crap” left my mouth in that moment. She agreed with an “oh my god.” We were both gobsmacked. This is no exaggeration. The MC had mentioned that she had praised Miss McLeod for her voice, but I was not at all prepared for what was to come out of the young girl’s mouth. Her voice was strong and powerful, never missing a single note, and always keeping to the beat. She managed to match up to Elle King’s pretty nicely, and although that isn’t the genre I’m usually into, I was incredibly astounded at the performance itself.
From sweet and melodic to the gritty and rough vocals of the second chorus, she had mastered it all. Not only was she capable of a ragged voice, but her vocal range was incredibly large for someone her age. Her vocals covered a broad range of musical stylings including the rock ballad “Sweet Child of Mine” by Gun’s ‘N Roses. Her vocal stylings were impressive, going from alto notes to high sopranos and even some falsetto’s that she managed to blend into the song naturally. She brought the house down with her performance. She made the audience feel included by getting three girls from the crowd to compete in an air guitar contest during Slash’s guitar solo featured in that song. Besides that, the sweetheart had brought candy and glow sticks (or as she put it – “magic wands”) with her. Her performances filled everyone’s hearts with happiness and love for her, and the crowd even got up and danced as opposed to staying seated as they had the rest of the show. This encouragement was seen through all the performances, but especially for this eleven year old wonder.
After all the excitement, the rambunctious crowd was thanked by the MC’s, and were asked to sit tight and listen for just a minute before the jam session was to begin. When everyone calmed down, they went on to say that they had suddenly lost a dear friend who had been part of the Ottawa music community for many years. It was evident on the faces of those around that it really hit home. The crowd that night was asked to donate to keep the programs running and to keep the music community in Ottawa blooming because it was something that would have been wanted by him.
All in all, the night was filled with a mixed bag of emotions, all evoking positivity and hope in the youth that showed up. Some were inspired to start creating and spark a change, form their own fierce girl rock bands, or even start with the small baby steps of picking up their first instrument. If you ever find yourself itching for inspiration, be sure to check out the Ottawa Rock Camp for Girls and their rad events. Even if some of the stylings may not be to your taste, I promise that you will not regret showing up and viewing the vast amount of talent that these young people possess.
I ventured out to The Brass Monkey on the west-side of town for a heavy night with Every Time I Die, Knocked Loose, and Harms Way.
This was the first time I went to a show at The Brass Monkey (out near Hunt Club and Greenbank) and let me tell you – I was impressed. As someone who grew up in that area, I remember playing pool there a few times in my younger days, but they have really transformed the place. A raised stage, guardrails, sprawling bar, and excellent sound. Don’t let the distance scare you away from shows at The Brass Monkey, it is very much worth the trip.
Nostalgia on this night went much further than the venue and my old stomping grounds. This was a night of hardcore and heaviness that really brought me back. From the moment I walked in a heard Harms Way, I looked at my buddy and we reminisced about how we used to love bands like that 14 years ago. I don’t listen that genre as much as I used to (not even close) but it makes me really happy that people still make and love this music. As the band from Chicago let loose, people took advantage of the space to dance and “open that shit up.” Space that would diminish as the night progressed.
Knocked Loose live at The Brass Monkey in Ottawa.
Next up was Knocked Loose from Kentucky. They kept the heat on and the crowd was into it. There was a good group of people at the front screaming along as others threw down behind them. The crowd listened to every word, when told to open it up they did, when told to two step they danced and when told to spin it they started the circle pit. It was really fun to watch. My favourite tracks of the performance were “Oblivion Peak” and their closer “Deadringer.” Once again, I forgot how much I love this music and the adrenaline rush it creates.
It was now time for the main event – Every Time I Die. I have been a fan of this band since high school. I think it all started in grade eleven when I was in a band and one of the guitarists would often play Every Time I Die in his truck. I went into the show not being particularly familiar with the band’s last two albums, and having read a review about the Toronto show, I expected a lot of the new stuff. The new albums are great, but I was there for the older stuff I had listened to hundreds of times but never seen live. I braced myself.
Every Time I Die gave the old time fans almost everything we could have asked for, and the fans responded by crowding the barriers to sing along for the entire show. Yes, they played a few new songs off of their latest album Low Teens, but they dug deep and went back through their catalogue which spans over decade long. Opening with “Underwater Bimbos From Outer Space” off Ex-Lives from 5 years ago, the set featured fan favourites “We’rewolf,” which was dedicated to the bartenders, “The New Black,” “Floater,” “Imitation Is The Sincerest Form Of Battery” and “No Son of Mine.”
Every Time I Die rocking out at The Brass Monkey in Ottawa.
My highlight for sure was one of those deep cuts, “Ebolarama” off of the 2003 album Hot Damn! I hadn’t danced all night, I had watched and given people space and just listened to the band. But as soon as the first chord was strummed I was taken over with glee and adrenaline. I stayed off to the side for a bit but then had to enter the pit and have a time. I don’t think I have ever enjoyed an elbow to the eyebrow so much.
As much as I was loving life in the hot sweaty basement, so was the band. Lead singer Keith Buckley said “It’s fucking horrific outside. I can’t think of a better place to be than a bar where you can sweat with all your friends.” He also did the great thing of giving a big shout out to the bouncers who were working hard to keep every safe while letting us have fun and express ourselves as we needed. Big ups to Mike Postma and the crew.
On a cold Ottawa winter night (despite it being 10 degrees last Saturday), I had the warmest welcome to the friendly Centretown cafe venue of Pressed. Greeted by Outside I’m a Giant’s front man, I knew it the night was going to be warm and inviting. Naturally once inside I decided this warm night would be paired with comfort food. So Mac&Cheese is my natural choice. As I sat, scarfing down the dish in record time, I was greeted by more friendly faces from the band and promoters. Seriously, I felt so welcomed.
Jonathan Becker started the night off. He brought to the stage a nice mix of acoustic folk punk. His voice carried the carefully written lyrics that narrate stories within his songs.
I love when I can learn something at a show, or after a show in this case. I like to think I have been to my share of drone shows, but something about Veldrones set seemed different. I couldn’t put my finger on it, and desperately reached out to many asking what it was and why I wasn’t able to put two and two together. Thankfully, people put up with my millions of questions, and gave me a list of other artists to listen to. He is different in his sound, mainly because he sways from the norm in terms of what ‘traditional’ drone typically is.
He brings together a combination of his new wave electronic sound, and upon looking further into it, he describes what is ‘Post-Sokkie,’ connecting with his South African roots. This fusion is what made up this combination sound I hadn’t prepared myself for. I found this set contrasting to the rest of the night in many ways. The warmth of the room took a turn to distance as Velodrones sat in silence, sending his waves of intricate sound through the room. Behind him, his projected his theatrics onto the small space of wall between the venues red curtains. A dash cam of videos, driving down different highways. Giving physicality to the distance portrayed by the music.
Outside I’m a Giant began their set by turning off the main stage lights, opting for a small house lamp. This quickly brought us back to the warm intimate environment. Humming through songs accompanied by a violin and steel guitar they elaborated on where songs originated. Connecting with the room, but also to their fellow musicians, sharing stories of inspiration of how songs came from seeing each other play live. I sat mesmerized on the floor in front of the stage. Finding myself forgetting that I was needing photos. I took in the music, leaving my camera in my lap. They carried us through the rest of the night. Closing off the set explaining that they didn’t have merch, but had chocolate bars for a school fundraiser.