Some things never change. Walking down Bronson Avenue among the early fall aromas of Pizza Pizza dough and gasoline, I felt unstuck in time. It felt like a scene from a movie about my life circa 2007: a young man makes his way to a New Pornographers show at the Bronson Centre. Oh, and Born Ruffians are playing.
Okay, so maybe some things change. Ten years makes an impact, and the city, the music scene, and everyone involved have changed quite a bit. In theory, the New Pornographers have roughly same lineup they did when “Use It” was pretty much everywhere, but Dan Bejar and Neko Case were notably absent Thursday night. Dan is busy with Destroyer and Neko is occupied with her solo career. Todd Fancey and Kathryn Calder were their backups, and while they were fantastic replacements, there is something slightly off about the band when two of its most prominent members are absent.
Yet Carl Newman’s presence was enough to make all absences irrelevant. Two decades in a touring band will hone one’s talents, and Newman has become one with the stage. He clearly knows the material, and he still brings a tonne of energy to older songs, of which the lengthy set list contained many.
The band played a tight, breathless set comprising most of their well known songs, with the exception of any sung by Bejar (some things cannot be replaced). Their triumphant closer was The Bleeding Heart Show off 2005’s Twin Cinema, a masterpiece of Canadian indie rock that starts slow and builds to a soaringly high energy finale. Doubtless, they know their audience, and the room went absolutely crazy for it. That is, they went crazy for the parts they could make out over the refractive wall of sound issuing from the stage.
Because, here’s the thing: the Bronson Centre is nice and all, but the acoustics are pretty awful. It’s a square room with nothing on the ceiling and bare, reflective walls. The sound bounces around in there like Flubber, and with a band like The New Pornographers that can really be a problem. There were seven people on stage, with violins, keyboards, guitars and drums all clattering together. Now try adding vocals to that mud, and you’ll see why a melodically-focused band might be better off in a different venue.
However, since Bronson Centre is about the only venue in the city with the right size for the band, we may be stuck with it.
Luckily for Born Ruffians, they had only three members on stage. The band was a good fit as an opener because, besides having risen to fame at roughly the same time, their music is written in service of its vocals. Both Carl Newman and Luke Lalonde put on excellent performances, even if their vocals were largely indiscernible. Born Ruffians even debuted a couple of new songs from their upcoming record, which seemed like a step in a distinctly more dancy-punk direction.
While both of these bands have been around for some time, the fans were going just as crazy for their new stuff as their old stuff. The future is as bright as the past for them.
These days there is so much music out there in the universe, it feels overwhelming sometimes. A lot of bloggers spend hours per day sifting through countless Bandcamps and Soundcloud accounts trying to find the next big thing. We are not those bloggers. We love new music and will usually give an album a listen if there’s a buzz about it, just to see what the big deal is all about. We don’t, however, claim to be the authority on breaking new bands across Canada or the world. Our purpose and drive is centred locally, and our passion really is seeing music live. For lack of a better cliche, music is the soundtrack to the lives of Matias, Eric, and Joe. We’re the kind of people that feel weird when there’s silence, and usually have music playing in some way or another at all times. None of us would claim to have listened to all albums that were released this year, nor would we claim that this list is exhaustive or exclusive in any way.
My first day of the Ottawa Dragon Boats Festival was it’s third. The line-up alone would have made the festival the non-stop summer party it promised to be had the thunderstorm forecasts not persisted. I missed The Balconies & Sam Roberts the night before, but still biked there with my mother to the muddy lawn of Mooney’s Bay.
We arrived at the fourth set for melancholy folk rock in the rain. From start to finish Kalle Mattsonmade us music-lovers smile through the showers. The band comprises of three Ottawans Kyle Woods on drums, JF Beauchamp on trumpet, flugelhorn & percussion, and Jon Chandler on bass & back-up vocals, and the two from the Sault: Rory Lewis on guitar & synth and lyricist/guitarist Kalle. Just poised to give into a summer of first-ever European tours, the four-year-old band was stoked to be at the festival.
Kalle ended every single song with a beaming “Thank you very much everybody!” You can give this modest Sault Ste. Marie native’s new album Lives in Between a looksee with the video to his new track for “Water Falls” below.
Liam Cohl of The Treasuresdeftly covered the absence of The Matinée’s Mike Young. Cohl learned the latter’s bass lines while on the two bands’ road tour together. With close to matching beards to prove it, the hectic summer tour was clearly still at a raging high note. As The Matinée’s vocalist Matt Layzell put it, “We’ve done something like 28 shows in 22 days.”
In the fifth set’s last song, The Treasures brought out three floor toms and bashed out the bridge, as a tip of the hat to dragon boat drummers. If these instruments were the heartbeat of the festival then The Treasures’ Mike Eckert on a bird’s eye maple pedal steel guitar was the brain firing off synapses.
Ironically the awards ceremonies ended with the rain, although organizers still moved the live performances to the beach stage. Toronto-based Great Lakes Swimmers lit a fire under our soggy bums, asking us to get up and dance. Tony Dekker’s is a music that nourishes your sentiments, if not you soul. Cross-dressers and medal-winners let in the melody of banjo, harmonica and violin with songs themed by daily events and human disasters.
Just before the blaze of Born Ruffians, there was an actual fire show by the Fire Weavers — attractive gymnasts with hula-hoops afire. There are three things that humans can’t look away from easily: fire, running water & people working. This was a rare instance that all three things worked in unison.
When Born Ruffians finally found the beach stage, I watched four tracks and left, burnt out. I can’t be certain if frontman Luke Lalonde played “Retard Canard” but it would have been fitting: “Oh I don’t wanna start a flame in your heart! Oh I just wanna set the world on fire!”
For the first time in a long time, the four-person Midland, Ontario band played without their guitar & keyboard player Andy Lloyd. This left Lalonde and bandmates Mitch Derosier & Steve Hamelin to whip the crowd into hooligans without back-up strumming. They did well, although they confessed it was weird to be playing without their fourth counterpart.