Review: Crossing Jane, Arms of the Girl, & more at Avant Garde
For those who don’t know of Avant Garde Bar, it’s a very cosy and intimate venue where you can chose to show up for the art, the music, or simply for the drinks. It’s a bar and a gallery rolled into one.
On the 9th of September Avant Garde hosted a show that was well, a little avant garde. The show consisted of five different bands and each had pulled out of their comfort zone to one degree or another to play this acoustic show. Four of the bands are rock bands with four or more people and aren’t as used to the acoustic setup but they made it work very well. The fact that these individuals played their own rock songs as acoustic ballads really presented the audience with the sheer talent that the individuals possessed.
The first act was a performer who goes by the stage name of Vee Nella. She used to play in a band called The Cowards but has since pulled away from the music scene. Despite this, her sister called her in when the actual opening band dropped out, and she happily replaced them. She had informed me that it was her first time taking the stage completely alone.
With nothing but a guitar and her vocals, she captured my attention. Her voice is a very strong and powerful one and it really dominates the room it resonates in. It really shows that her influences have stemmed from early Gwen Stefani and the 1990’s grunge band Hole. Her lyrics are directly from the soul and they’re not only catchy, they’re also meaningful. It’s very clear that a piece of Vee is placed in every single song, and each is sung with such raw emotion. It’s out in the open, like a diary open to the public.
The guitar is very powerful but it takes a mellow tone due to the show being acoustic. It’s a contradiction all on its own but because it’s a stripped down show, and because the lyrics are so raw, it melds together like no other combination. The emphasis was heavy on the lyrics and less on the techniques used while playing the guitar.
The second band was composed of two members from Arms of the Girl and a temporary but very endearing member who goes by “Butters”. The performance was by Cee Cote and her band member Dave. The two played intricate riffs over an acoustic melody all while Butters played the Cajon.
A Cajon is essentially a percussion box. You hit the surface of it with your hands, fingers, mallets, and it will produce a sound similar to that of drums but with a more hallow sound.
Arm of the Girl is usually a four piece rock band but had to tone it down. Similarly to Vee, Cee (Vee’s sister) is an open book with her lyrics. Ranging from topics like breakups to life experiences, she covers it all. Her voice is raspy but with a country feel to it, especially when performing an acoustic show and she captures the attention of those around her not only with her soulful voice and harmonies with Dave but with her well humoured banter and upbeat energy.
Cee is an artist that you need to really listen to and not just watch because it’s all in the lyrics and not the act itself. The impression she gives is cheery but when it gets down to the deeper aspects, her lyrics are known to be like an excerpt torn out of a diary. They’re raw, emotional, and don’t hold much back.
From Carleton Place, CeVilain took the stage with their two acoustic guitars. The band is heavily inspired by the band Thrice and has mentioned that inspiration was also drawn from MUSE. CeVilain is a full band but only Marty Strong (Kurtis) and Cliff played the show on the 9th. The two play around with blues sounds and scales and they bring it all together with ease. There isn’t a doubt that the two are incredibly skilled musicians.
You can’t compare the vocal stylings to that of another musician, CeVilain has a unique vocal styling and it gives off a unique vibe that can’t seem to match up to anybody else’s. Cliff doesn’t strain his voice but instead puts a clear passion into it. Watching his stage presence makes it seem like he gets completely lost in what he’s doing, and in turn it’s hard to peel your eyes, and ears, away from the performance. The transitions from various parts of their songs are smooth and well executed, almost as if there couldn’t be a flaw in there.
The pair had mastered their acoustic performance and swept me away with the variety they presented. Energy went into every song, note, and chord and every song played on a different sub-genre of rock. They covered a broad range in the time they had and really made the best of it. Although there wasn’t much harmonizing, there was a sense of life brought to every song. They weren’t pushing to be anything they weren’t.
Tay Sera was the next band to play and the duo took over the stage and radiated a calm energy that is only described as easy going and light. The band is an easy one to listen to, and draws influences from Hey Ocean!, Norah Jones, and a variety of other bands such as Sam Roberts and Alicia Keys. Their lyrics touch upon love, heartbreak, and stumbling and falling only to pick yourself back up. They’re a folk band that comes from Oshawa, Ontario and not only to they use typical instruments such as acoustic guitars and Cajon to get the airy and whimsical sound they desire, Taylor actually plays the ukulele for the band. Her vocals demand your attention because they’re light, and reach soprano ranges but mainly keeping to more alto tones.
They’re upbeat and certainly funky but without elements of funk. While she sings lead, Justin adds depth and more dimension to the song with his backup vocals. Not as prominent on records but certainly in his stage presence, he adds to the songs in a positive fashion. The two balance each other out and create a positive dynamic that seems to bring not only the two closer, but the audience together as well.
Taylor has a voice that sounds like that of Florence Welch of Florence + the Machine but with her own unique stylings to it which is what really makes this band one worth listening to. It grabs your attention. It’s new, it’s old, and it’s everything in between and you’re left thinking about it. The familiarity draws you in, but the uniqueness of it is what gets you to stick around. They band manages to tie everything together through its light tones, vocals harmonizing with it and flowing smoothly and without the grit that you hear from singers who often touch the same genre. What I’m getting at is that you should probably grab a pair of comfortable shoes and come let the music sweep you from your feet as you sway to the sweet melodies and harmonies that Tey Sera composes.
Despite every single band bringing an intense amount of pure talent, my favourite was Crossing Jane, an Ottawa band for the soul purpose of the grit that came with the vocals. They reminded me of the late Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington, and the band is in fact influenced by Linkin Park. They played a tribute to the recently deceased lead singer, and genuinely encapsulated the emotions of the song near perfectly. If any band were to do the same cover, they would need to work very hard to get the same feel out of it and Crossing Jane.
The band is clearly one that puts thought and effort into every song, the placement of each note, and how they would accentuate the vocals and at what point during the song. They know how to play with the emotions of a crowd and really put their hearts into what they’re doing.
There’s the saying “go hard or go home” and quite frankly, this has been one of the best representations of it as far as I see. The band has taken an acoustic set and turned it into a nitty, gritty, out of the gutter grunge performance and has made it sound amazing.
With backup vocals from Andrew to bring out some more mellow bits and even it out, and his drumming to accompany the guitars, it was truly astonishing. The vocals parts are in general by Joel but they are shared between all the members as four piece harmonies and all vocal aspects are equally distributed. Joel has a very unique vocal styling and it’s gritty but he can mellow it out as he wishes. The control over the vocals and feedback from the single electric guitar used are quite astounding and perfected especially when paired with the two acoustic ones. With little to no feedback coming through, it was clean and heavy.
The band creates an audio masterpiece unlike any other acoustic performance I’ve witnessed or heard. They know how to work the crowd and they certainly know how to compose. It’s very difficult to give you a good representation of what they’re like, but I’ll tell you one thing, and it’s that there’s no doubt that the band puts their hearts and souls into the work that they produce. It’s raw, emotional, and very real. It sways the crowd and adds a fiery energy to the atmosphere all around, and it certainly leaves you wanting to hear more.
New Music: Elementals – s/t EP
By Andrew Elle
Elementals are a three-piece rock band from Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. Over the past year, the current line-up of Rick Vaughn (bass/backvox), Jamie Speck (drums) and Cody Smith (guitar/vox) have played countless shows with numerous bands, continuously improving their live set as each month passes.
Elementals was forged from the dissolution of Smith’s old band, The Apollohs. The Apollohs played shows around Ottawa and were well known for an intense live set. Smith’s honest take on rock and roll kindled a new light in many fans of honest music. After a quick EP as a duo, With An H, The Apollohs received studio time to record a follow up of B-Sides, alongside a new addition to the band, Kyle Code. After the success of those two records, a full-length album was soon to follow.
In the fall of 2013, The Apollohs hit Sonic Weapon Studios in Ottawa to start pre-production on the new record. After the tracks were laid with the assistance of Jason Koster (drums) and Kyle Code (bass), Smith went in to lay guitars and vocals. Unfortunately between the beginning and middle, The Apollohs dissolved, leaving Smith with a tough decision. Smith approached good friends Rick Vaughan and Jamie Speck from the boiled-down band, The Arcanes. The Arcanes’ project was slowing down due to a travelling member. The stars were aligned and Elementals was born.
Vaughan and Speck added years of live performance experience to the newly formed band, Speck also playing in Ottawa’s full action rock band, Pretty Little Death Machine, at the time. The new trio delivered an amazing first performance on January 31, 2014 at Zaphod Beeblebrox in Ottawa, alongside The Beaches (Toronto).
With a full album sitting in a studio in Ottawa, another tough decision laid in Smith’s hands – either proceed with the completion of an album with the old band members, or start fresh with the new members. When I asked Smith whether he would have re-started the project or felt pressured from production team to continue, he replied, “having Rick and Jamie lay down their own tracks would have been cool, because while learning with them they each added their own unique feel to the original tracks. But at that point I was just really looking forward to progressing and creating new music.”
Elementals EP is a 6 song record. The opening track, “Cali Sun,” takes you directly into the album with open arms. It’s rock, but you can’t help but feel good about it and dance. The second track, “Deconstructionist,” is the standout track on this EP. Smith’s gently soft and haunting vocals alongside Koster’s well-organized percussion takes you into the depths of the song. The third track is a unique little acoustic break called “Interlude” which was added to this EP and was not part of the original recordings. Track four, “King of the World,” stands out as it doesn’t represent the true nature of this band, but it’s a crowdpleaser nonetheless. Track five, “People as Flowers,” is an honest tune performed alongside Kara Askwith of Ottawa’s Tindervox. Track six, “Shapes,” added a perfect closure to the EP with a bass line to move your hips to.
This EP was constructed with only half the tunes which were originally recorded at Sonic Weapon Studios. Will we ever get a chance to hear them? Who knows? The truth is that Elementals are a poetic rock outfit that deliver an honest message to their listeners and fans. Rock is not dead, it has adapted. It is present in this EP. The newly formed trio will hopefully bring a new record in their own voice in the next year or so. Smith’s writing style we hope will continually be genuine and honest. With the amount of talent in this outfit, I do believe anything is possible.
Don’t forget to check out Elementals when they play Avant Garde Bar on December 13. Only $5