On Thursday night, crowds escaped the damp, rainy Ottawa streets and piled into a dimly lit Bronson Centre to witness an evening of ambient, atmospheric music. Headliner Timber Timbre visited Ottawa for the fourth time in 6 years along with support from Ottawa’s own Boyhood Scattered Clouds.
Scattered Clouds took to the stage first, rising out of an ascending red fog. Performing as a 2-piece band with Jamie Kronick on drums and Philippe Charbonneau on guitar, keyboard, and vocals, this band was the most surprising act of the night. In terms of style, Scattered Clouds describe themselves as “dark, experimental, and post apocalyptic.” These characteristics could not be more fitting. Beginning their set with a heavy presence of baritone guitar and an emphasis on drums driving the synths, the band achieved a sound that could easily be equated to a modern day embodiment of a Joy Division b-side album, with an “Ian Curtis- esque” vocal tone. The second half of the set however, transitioned into an emphasis on synth and a precision in instrumentation. Creating an atmospheric 80’s dance vibe, the band achieved a type of lo-kfi sound that left the audience in a state of euphoria. Waking from this set with the harsh Bronson Centre lighting was like waking out of a heavy, romantic dream.
When the lights dimmed again, our good pals Boyhood took to the stage. Clad in flared pants and turtlenecks, Boyhood did not fail to deliver their staple moody, noisy sound. As always Caylie Runciman delivered raw and airy vocals that harmonized beautifully with her band, and provided an emotional and unpolished set completed with songs that morphed and melted into one another. Giving us a taste of what is to be expected from the upcoming album Bad Mantras, which will be the bands first album since 2012, the set featured the bands catchy “Drivin’” and “He Don’t.” Beginning with keyboard, Caylie swapped over to guitar midway through the set where she went to town in an emotional and raw guitar solo. It’s easy to get lost in a Boyhood set, and this was no exception.
Last but not least, Timber Timbre finished the night in almost total darkness, with only subtle lighting sweeping the stage. A glass of liquor sat idled on an amp to the right, Taylor Kirk began playing what seemed like it would be the entirety of his most recent work, Sincerely Future Pollution. However four songs in, the set took a detour towards an intermingling of a huge sample of his work, ranging from his self titled back in 2009 to his most recent. Detouring the set with Hot Dreams, the band’s instrumentation, and deep, sultry vocals, the song was delivered with a raw, sensual and emotional demeanour.
This specific Timber Timbre performance was unlike many others. His previous shows in Ottawa, which included a performance in Ottawa’s first Baptist Church in 2011, a set at Folk Fest in 2012, where he performed alone with a kick drum, and even his set at Jazz Fest in 2015, stuck pretty tightly to the delivery of the songs on the album. However, this set tended to use the style in the albums as backdrops for experimentation and improvisation with melody and pace during the performance, providing unequivocal authenticity. Most notable in this performance was the “Curtains?!” jam session that lengthened the song by about two extra minutes with intense instrumentation. The night ended with a 3-part encore beginning with “Grand Canyon,” that delivered an expressive and theatrical but emotive and raw finale.
This show captured a unique energy that seems to have been strengthened by the uniqueness of all the bands but also the ways in which they played off of one another. They each brought an atmospheric sound and seamless instrumentation, as well as a hard punch in the heartstrings with their raw vocals, lyrical movements, and honest and authentic delivery. The perfect ambiance to fit the creepy environment that is the Bronson Centre on a rainy evening, this show was not one to miss.
Sam Coffey & the Iron Lungs headlined a great show at the Dominion Tavern Wednesday night which featured opening sets by locals Saint Clare and Mushy Gushy.
Sam took to the stage wearing his standard issue jean vest with Sam Coffey & the Iron Lung patch on the back over a a bedazzled jumpsuit, which I later learned was actually part of an Ace Frehley costume. The band is touring celebrating the release of their new self-titled album which they released after signing with Dine Alone Records.
They opened with two tracks off the excellent new record, “Ragnarock” and “Judy.” I love the new stuff, I really do, but was very glad to see they didn’t forget about their first album and the song that made me fall in love with them a few year ago, “Gates of Hell.” The track is a kick-ass rock n’ roll song with a sprinkle of old school, some claps and sing-a-longs, it is the near-perfect song.
Another highlight of their set was their song “Voicemail,” which is about Ottawa’s very own Gary Voicemail aka Ian Manhire of such great bands as The White Wires, The Sedatives, and more. If you have never seen these guys, shame on you. They are a great rock n’ roll band through and through and even better guys.
Same Coffey and the Iron Lungs rocking out at The Dominion Tavern in Ottawa.
Setting the stage and filling the stage was Saint Clare, a 7-piece band from Ottawa. The band has been making waves in Ottawa with their energetic live performance and great releases. They have such a dynamic horn section (sax and trombone) which adds so much to their music, especially on their 2016 single “Cheatin’.” And I don’t know about you guys, but I just love watching a trombone player strum along like a guitar when they aren’t playing.
Taking the importance of the horns even further is their physical arrangement on stage, which had the brass right next to the singer/guitarist, one on each side, putting them at the forefront. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen that anywhere else. The band as a whole is great and I love what they are doing, but I must say the brass really makes them stand out in the crowded rock n’ roll world. There were definitely some new songs during their set so hopefully we will get something new soon to sink our ears into.
Saint Clare bringing the brass and the fuzz at The Dominion Tavern in Ottawa.
Opening the night was Mushy Gushy, a four-piece butt-rock band who are also from Ottawa. I’ll never truly know what butt rock is but Mushy Gushy make you want to bob and dance on every track. I mean this as a compliment—they were the perfect opening band and got the energy pumping. They did not waste any time playing three songs straight without breaks to get everyone in the zone. They then took a very quick break to say who they were and plug their new tape called More Butter and then quickly got back to business playing the wicked track “Trap” off of said tape. Not a lot of talk and a lot of good rock is key when opening a show. Also it is hard to go wrong with songs named “Fucking Awesome” and “Bodybreak.” Eat your heart out Joanne McLeod and Hal Johnson.
Mushy Gushy kicking things off at The Dominion Tavern in Ottawa.
Arriving to line-ups that wrapped around the hallways outside of the Algonquin Commons Theatre was a sure sign that it was going to be a Friday fans would remember. The lobby was buzzing with the VIP ONE OK ROCK fans who had just had a meet and greet with the band, and the crowd ran through open doors to get the best standing room spots. The first band up was New Jersey-based band Palisades who brought high energy to keep the already buzzing crowd in high anticipation. Set It Off was the second band, showing the crowd exactly how they got their name through jumps and crowd interaction. They held their intensity throughout, continuing the build up for the eagerly awaited headliners.
When ONE OK ROCK hit the stage the energy peaked as the crowds sang along to their catchy songs. In Japan, these guys sell out massive venues, and their music videos get tens of millions of views on YouTube. The fervour of the crowd was met with passionate stage presence, including high jumps and hair flips from the band. Needless to say, they made a lasting impression on everyone in the room.
It’s likely that you may have heard about Bluesfest’s seventh day—it was mired by chaos, violence and overindulgence, around 200 people were seen by paramedics and some sent off to the hospital. While it was mayhem off the stage, on the stage it was bumping with hip-hop acts Migos and Lil Yachty, as well as R&B artist Maurice Moore. Our photographer Els Durnford focused on the music while dodging and sometimes catching concertgoers surfing over the security railing, check out the photos in the gallery below.
The Ottawa Jazz Festival saw its 37th year in downtown Ottawa this June. The festival, which takes place between Confederation Park, City Hall and the National Arts Centre, is committed every year to bringing world-class jazz and jazz-rooted music to the region. This year was no exception. With large-scale acts like Feist and Kenny Rogers headlining, local musician and jazz-lover Garett Bass focused on the lesser-known acts that shocked crowds with their instrumental prowess and heart. Read about his favourite moments below.
Thursday, June 22
Tanika is a soul singer from Toronto that I’ve been hoping to catch live for a while now. I was able to catch her band’s set, the very first of the festival, to a sit-down crowd in the Tartan Homes Stage. Though her and the band could have taken a few more risks or offered a bit more energy, it was enjoyable enough. Amongst a set of originals, they played funky covers of “Boots or Hearts” by the Hip and “Money” by Pink Floyd.
St. Paul & The Broken Bones
Fortunately the main stage had the energy I was looking for, and the rain even held off. For those who didn’t catch them at CityFolk in 2015, St. Paul & The Broken Bones are a new soul band in the style of the late 60s/early 70s era, with a talented and energy-fueled frontman. With a new and very different album behind them, I was interested to see if he could bring the same energy as he did touring his first record.
The first thing that was clear: the band has become more versed in the traditional appeals of soul music showmanship. They went through the classic intro: 1) band comes out hot with an instrumental jam, 2) horns break out into an epic fanfare, 3) introduce the singer with a cheesy radio voice, and 4) have the singer enter in a cape. The cape, of course, is a nod to the greats before him like James Brown and Elvis, but lead singer Paul Janeway’s giant and wrapped cape much more resembled something that a Game of Thrones character might wear.
From the point the cape hit the ground, Janeway was a ball of energy. He danced and belted out the tunes with a great ease, interacted with the band more frequently, and even had a David Byrne-ish moment in which he took one of the large red props from the back of the stage and began to roll around on the floor with it, tearing it apart piece by piece. All in all, it was a great way to start the festival.
Saturday, June 24
Lemon Bucket Orchestra
Saturday was a busy day, and I unfortunately didn’t make it out to see Kenny Rogers. Fortunately, I was able to make it just in time to see the Lemon Bucket Orchestra turn a 200 person crowd into true believers.
If you haven’t seen this klezmer dance party band from Toronto before- you’re missing out. They perform classic songs from the Balkans, Ukraine and Serbia with an intense energy. The show has become seamless as each band member is featured- one minute the bass trombone is soloing at the front, and the next the alto sax player is competing in a sexy dance solo with a belly dancer, and a minute later the crowd is being formed into a giant dance chain and pulled every which way.
My favourite part? For the encore, the band unplugged and literally jumped off the stage one by one, and proceeded to play a New Orleans style brass band cover of “I Like to Move It” in the center of the dance floor, with the lead singer shouting and playing police sirens on a megaphone.
Monday, June 26
When the band first started, I have to admit, it was a bit lackluster. I’ve been a huge fan of Mavis ever since seeing her sing on The Band’s “The Last Waltz,” and I had really been building this show up in my head. When the band simply walked on stage and started up with a tame, light-hearted reggae song, it seemed as though they were just going to play it safe.
But with every song, Mavis slowly offered more of her wisdom and her personality, telling stories of her wild adventures with the Staple Singers and her lifelong career. It was a slow burn in which we were treated to the Staples’ classics “Respect Yourself” and “I’ll Take You There,” her best solo hits, and a series of new songs with really great backstories. Mavis even let the stage for a moment to let her rhythm section treat us to a jam where, in a fun moment, the guitarist played his solo lighter and lighter until the guitar signal was all but gone; and then proceeded to play his unamplified telecaster into the microphone. In all, it was a really special show with a really special woman, and the NAC couldn’t have been a better venue.
To Ray, With Love: Maceo Parker & The Ray Charles Orchestra featuring the Raelettes
This performance was nailed. From the first 10 seconds, it was clear that Maceo was prepared to do a perfect impression of Ray Charles in its fullest- from his distinctive crooning to his style of adlibbing throughout each tune. If you let your guard down for even a second, you sometimes forgot it wasn’t the man himself up there.
If you’re a fan of Ray’s “Modern Sounds in Country & Western” era, this show hit home. From medium-tempo shuffles like Busted, slow crooner classics like How Long Has This Been Going On? and You Don’t Know Me, and finally fast swing like Oh What a Beautiful Morning- the first half of the set got through a surprising amount of material and played it exactly as its meant to be played.
The Ray Charles Orchestra, formed only of individuals who had played with Ray at some point in his career, featured a fantastic array of brass and woodwind, a great piano player who maybe was sometimes a little too tight for a Ray Charles show, and a solid swing rhythm section. Even the conductor was full of energy, waving his hands around wildly infront of the band in ways that a purist might snub as unnecessary. I’m going to personally use the word “endearing;” he was really fun to watch! On top of it all, Maceo picked up his alto for a couple instrumental takes, reminding us why his sax tone and chops are unmatched by most.
About 3/4 of the way through, Maceo introduced The Raelettes, who came out and sang on some classics like Hit the Road Jack and Look What They’ve Done to My Song. They did a great nailing the sound of the classic Raelettes, albeit they were the only part that felt a bit ‘canned.’ All in all, it was a great show and I think they were able to appeal to big fans and general listeners alike.
Robert Glasper Experiment
Following this show was the Robert Glasper Experiment. With their back catalogue often backing various singers and rappers, I was unsure of what to expect.
The set started off with a DJ playing Thundercat’s Them Changes slowly turned into Childish Gambino’s “Redbone,” easing our expectations into the greasy R&B to come. The band took stage with Glasper on multiple keyboards, as well as a singer/saxophonist, bassist, and drummer. The DJ stayed on stage for various sounds and white noise. The singer loved his effects as he started the first tune off with a heavy autotune that worked well with his voice, a sound he would use most of the set. That same first song lasted about 8 minutes, with various members taking solos, and Glasper showcasing his classic Thelonious Monk-esque piano sounds. The second song went into a lighter instrumental that slowly built, with the singer jumping on an effect-dripping saxophone. After that, the band flip-flopped between a vocal tune and an instrumental for the rest of the set. The bassist was in the pocket, the drummer was tight, Glasper’s licks and fills were on point- everything you’d want in a jazz R&B show.
My one complaint would be that they didn’t interact with the audience much at all compared to most of the other acts at Jazz this year, whether through anecdotal stories or vocal singalongs. Otherwise, it was a slick, fun and experimental show!
Friday, June 30
I caught most of Bixiga 70’s set in the Tartan Homes tent. I will admit, they had a tough slot, with the excitement in the air bubbling about the upcoming Charles Bradley performance. But despite all that, this Brazillian powerhouse played as though they were the only band in town. Ottawa loves its afrobeat, and it was great to have a band in town that takes that sound and combines it with a spice of their own. From Willie Colon style brass harmonies to very tight latin rhythms, they made the sounds of Brazil, Puerto Rico and Cuba mesh so well with afrobeat that you’d think the genres had always been played that way together. My highlight was lenthy percussion solo played on the tiny percussion kit to the side, with four band members trading off one another and playing wild counter-rhythms. These guys were a great way to start off the night!
Charles Bradley & His Extraordinaires
Charles Bradley is always a treat to see in Ottawa, but even moreso now that he has a few albums behind him. From the second that the pianist came out and gave his “are you ready?” style speech, it was on. Charles ditched the glitter disco suit from last time and this time came in a red 60s-style button up suit, like something from a Sgt Pepper video. The song arrangements weren’t much different than the record, and there wasn’t a lot of extra frills, but with Charles it doesn’t matter. His sheer passion is addictive for audiences, and every person in the audience was a fan whether they started as one or not. In fact, this was the first time I’ve ever seen large groups summoned from their chairs to dance like crazy at the front of the lawn chair section. Classic songs like “The World (Is Going Up in Flames)” and “Changes” had the entire audience singing arm in arm.
As usual, I was extremely impressed by his Extraordinaires. Like any Daptones band, they were tight and to-the-point and let Charles do his thing. Their catalogue is also a lot more expansive than the last time he was in town- by the time they were at the last song, I was questioning what they possibly had left to encore with, and then he pulled out “Why Is It So Hard?” and took us all to church. What an incredible show by a true performer! With the recent loss of Sharon Jones to cancer, and Charles’ recent announcement that he is also struggling with a cancerous tumour, we can only hope every day that this man overcomes his illness and is able to continue what is obviously as important to him as it is to us. Stay healthy, Charles!
My favourite part about Jacob Collier was the crowd’s reaction to the first tune. I’ve been following this young guy’s (22!) work for a couple years, and was well aware of the talent. Placing him after a giant like Charles Bradley was an extremely wise move by Jazz Fest, as hundreds of music fans poured into the Tartan Homes tent without the slightest clue of what they were about to see.
The stage was littered with instruments: a grand piano, a couple synths, an electric upright bass, a bass guitar, an acoustic guitar, a drum kit and various percussion instruments on a stand. But when only Jacob Collier walked out wearing a wireless microphone, I could see confusion in the eyes of the crowd. Where were the other musicians? Within 4 minutes, Jacob had created a rich and righteous funk tune, running from one instrument to the next while singing in his usual high pitched way. I have to hand it to the people behind the scene, as I don’t think the audience truly respected the prowess in whoever had the task of creating these loops. Jacob would grab a tambourine and shake it wildly at a microphone, only to immediately have that tambourine join the song. Next he would strap on the Fender jazz bass and play a funky rhythm, which would be looped perfectly into the tune by the time he was putting it back on the stand. Once the structure of the song was sound, he would make it to the synth just in time for the hook, using his synthesizer to alter and harmonize his singing line.
The second song- a quiet and very Canadian-style fingerpicking piece (think Don Ross) played on acoustic, which at its peak saw Collier running to the grand piano to continue playing his lush, jazzy arrangement. It was totally different from the first song, and huge indication for how all-over-the-map the entire show would be.
Collier’s excitement to experiment is very obvious as he jumps around the stage, begging the audience to clap a complicated beat, only to jump on the drum kit and play a competing polyrhythm. Is it a novelty? Well, yes, a bit. After playing with Snarky Puppy in 2016, I’m sure that a jazz icon like Collier could easily find musicians to take the stage with him. But half the fun is seeing him run around the stage, caught in his own web of insanity. His energy left me wanting to listen to and play more jazz immediately, and if that isn’t the best outcome of a jazz performance, then I’m not sure what is.
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.
Photo of New Swears enjoying a guitar brew – Photo by Els Durnford
It is that wonderful time of year again. That time were we can escape the freezing cold of Ottawa in February by jumping into venues across the city to see some of Ottawa and Gatineau’s finest acts, as well some from out of town performers during MEGAPHONO.
My MEGAPHONO adventure for 2017 began by going to two venues for two completely different experiences. St. Albans Church for Bry Webb, Pony Girl and Trails was beautiful, thought provoking and allowed one to sit down in the dimly lit room, close their eyes and let the brain wander. Afterwards I headed to a crammed Barrymore’s for New Swears and Partner, which was a sweaty, chaotic night cap of a show.
Trails kicking things off at St. Albans Church
My night began with the dreamy psych sounds of Ottawa’s Trails. This was my first time seeing Trails and was I ever pleasantly surprised. The beautiful soundscape and imagery this solo performer creates was amplified by the setting, a 150 year old church. Songs like her opening track “Sun Go” set the stage for what was to come. She made great use of looping pedals to layer her own voice over itself which really blew me away and added so much depth to songs like “Mourning/moaning/morning/snowing.” And just for good measure, she threw in a cover of “Unfucktheworld” by Angel Olsen. Don’t sleep on Trails, I can only assume the sound will continue to grow and wonder.
Pony Girl lighting up our night at St. Albans Church.
The next act desn’t surprise me anymore because I have seen them so many times, but Pony Girl never ceases to amaze me. I have watched the band grow and mature into a very solid act that Ottawa should be proud of. They are wonderful musicians and their collective creativity has really started to take them to new heights. One thing about Pony Girl that can never be overstated, is that they have a clarinet player who is the focal point a few tracks and that is just really cool. The band’s ever growing maturity was on display during their introduction of their song “Dirty Picture.” Singer and guitarist Pascale Huot said of Dirty Picture, “this song is like my Facebook feed in a song and that’s a bad thing…be critical.” Speaking of all the terrible images and hateful text we come across every day on our screens. The band capped off their set with “Please Do.” I think I can count on one hand the amount of bands out there that can transition as smoothly as Pony Girl from rocking a high energy jam in the midst of the song right back into the track in unison without skipping a beat. Pure magic to see live.
Bry Webb capping off the night at St. Albans Church
Capping off my night at St. Albans Church was Bry Webb, known to many as the lead singer of Guelph’s Constantines. This was certainly not a Constantines set and I really appreciate that of lead singers who branch out as a solo act to do their own thing. The set began with Webb, acoustic guitar in hand, and Rich Burnett on lap steel guitar, which resulted in a mellow folky sound which was music to my ears. He treated us to some new songs including “What I do” which had some absolutely beautiful finger picking in it by Webb. A few songs in, they were joined on stage by drummer Nathan Moore (Minotaurs) to play “Rivers of Gold.” Moore then stayed with them for the rest of the set. The addition of drums certainly picked up the pace and made the set become a little more rocking, but still stayed rooted in folk.
Just before beginning to play his great song “Big Smoke,” Webb spoke of how needed this show was in times like this. “This is a good time to play music in a room of people who want to listen to music… it’s important to find opportunities to transcend fear,” he said. “May all your rooms be filled with people free of fear.” Very timely words. For the last song, Moore left his drums leaving Webb and Burnett to finish up covering Michael Hurley’s “O My Stars.” A beautiful track.
Josée Caron of Partner rocking so hard it hurts. Photo by Els Durnford
I then made my way to the ghost of shows past, Barrymore’s Night Club for a very different experience. After the never ending mandatory coat-check line was passed, I got too watch the much hyped Partner. The excitement is certainly not unfounded as they sound great and are a lot of fun live. Their crowd engagement between songs almost always resulted in laughter and their song topics are far from being shy or boring. The band is fronted by two openly lesbian singer-guitarists, one even sporting a “Beers and Queers” t-shirt. They played songs about learning that Ellen Page came out, about eating chips in the other’s room without them and making a mess, as well “Everybody knows you’re high,” which is pretty self-explanatory. They then played a song about their love for passionate amateur lesbian porn that they said they only play for crowds they are having fun with, good job Ottawa. The crowd was certainly having fun as well. Great set by an up and coming Canadian band from Sackville, NB that will certainly be turning heads and pleasing eardrums.
Sammy Scorpion of New Swears covered in the bands mess. Photo by Els Durnford
Now for the last act. With an explosion of confetti and a showering of silly-string, we all became day dreamers in the wee hours of the morning with New Swears as they kicked off their set with “Day Dreaming.” Ottawa’s kings of party-punk certainly held nothing back as they headlined the night. I have seen New Swears countless time and it is always raucous, chaotic, fun and good for many laughs. When you see how hard the crowd goes during a New Swears set you would think they were a much heavier hitting punk band slamming power chords at lightning speed. But, anyone who has seen or heard New Swears knows that is not their shtick. They do however write really catchy songs about partying and romance.
They treated the crowd to a few new songs, which sounded full of potential to grow into favourites, that will appear on their upcoming album which they promised will be released in the spring. One highlight that must be mentioned was the weird moment when the band played “Two Darts” a love song about saving one of your last smokes for your sweetie and Belmont ads were playing on the screen to the left of the stage, which turns out they were playing all night…Can you even advertise cigarettes like that anymore? Well that’s beyond the point, back to the punk show.
The band finished super strong just laying down crowd favourites after crowd favourites like “Paradise” into “See You in Hull” into “No Fun” and capped with “Stay Gold.” Nothing like finishing off a set after 1 am with the line “don’t you wish your boyfriend was a punk like me.” Oh New Swears promise you’ll never change and we’ll promise to stay rowdy.
This year’s CityFolk festival has arrived, and we’re happy to bring you our picks for the 2016 edition. In this one, we’re exploring a variety of artists – some more established and in their prime, some that have been around for ages and still conquering the big stage, and others that are emerging and creating jaw-dropping new music ready to explode onto the scene.
We implore you to have a listen to the artists we’ve carefully chosen, however it is also important to do a little exploring. Sometimes the best part of a big music festival is seeing an intimate performance on a smaller stage, discovering hidden gems on your own. So here they are, our picks for CityFolk 2016.
CityFolk takes place at Lansdowne Park September 15–18, and artists play on multiple stages around the grounds. See the full schedule and purchase your passes here.
City Stage Thu, September 15, 7:30 PM – 8:30 PM
There’s no way that we were going to make this list without giving some love to The Acorn. The brainchild of Ottawa’s Rolf Klausener, The Acorn is easily one of the greatest musical exports the nation’s capital has to offer. Although Klausener began this project as a series of home recordings in 2002, he has shown no sign of slowing down having just released the acclaimed album Vieux Loup last year. While dabbling in other ventures, Klausener has always stayed true to The Acorn and its intimate, textural, and poetic underpinnings.
Guided By Voices
RavenLaw Stage Fri, September 16, 10:00 PM – 11:15 PM
If there’s one band that has been relentlessly putting out music since the 1980s, it’s Guided By Voices. Mind you, the lineup has changed a lot over that time – however principal songwriter Robert Pollard has been the rock that has kept GBV’s creativity flowing. These guys are influenced by a lot of the British invasion garage rock (our kind of shit), psych, prog, and even post-punk, but no matter what you have to appreciate their gritty, DIY approach to music. This band is as genuine as it gets, and a breath of fresh air in today’s current mainstream music industry climate.
City Stage Fri, September 16, 6:00 PM – 7:00 PM
At just 19 years of age, Illinois’ Kwenku Collins has made a big name for himself not only as a songwriter, but as an MC and producer as well. His unique style and approach to making music have garnered him praise from major music critics around the globe – and he’s just getting started. 2016’s Nat Love LP has launched Collins into the big leagues, with ear-melting tracks like “Ghost”, “Vanilla Skies”, and “Stupid Rose” capturing listeners and never letting them go.
The New Pornographers
City Stage Sat, September 17, 6:00 PM – 7:00 PM
When you think of the Canadian indie rock renaissance over the last decade and a half, there’s one band that everyone agrees is a staple – The New Pornographers. Forming in 1999, this band is on an esteemed list of bands like Broken Social Scene, Arcade Fire, The Weakerthans, The Constantines that poured a tank of gas on a national music scene that was largely barely smouldering embers as the millennium came to a close. In 2009, Rolling Stone magazine ranked the band’s second studio album, Electric Version, No. 79 in the “100 Best Albums of the Decade.”
City Stage Sat, September 17, 7:30 PM – 8:30 PM
Basia Bulat has become a household name in Canadian music, proving over the years that she is as talented with her lyricism and songwriting as she is versatile in her sound. Cutting her teeth in the Ontario indie folk scene, she has separated herself from the pack as an artist that consistently outdoes herself. She’s shared the stage with Arcade Fire, The National, Nick Cave, Daniel Lanois, St Vincent, and her Juno/Polaris-nominated LP TallTall Shadow achieved national recognition and regular airplay on CBC. Her 2016 album of sorrow and redemption called Good Advice is shortlisted for the Polaris Prize this year.
BMO Stage Sat, September 17, 7:00 PM – 8:00 PM
Julia Jacklin in an emerging artist that you should definitely keep your eye on. Her debut album Don’t Let the Kids Win is an introspective examination of life in your 20’s, and the minimalism in instrumentation contrasts beautifully with the lyrical depth that Jacklin explores so eloquently. At 25, she is sure to make some big waves, following the footsteps of musicians such as Courtney Barnett and Angel Olsen in her honest and intimate style.
RavenLaw Stage Sat, September 17, 7:30 PM – 8:30 PM
We love Northcote. Why, you ask? Matt Goud a.k.a. Northcote is a hard working and relentless guy with a tough exterior, but on the inside he’s got a spectrum of emotions that spill out through his music and into our ears. This small-town Saskatchewan songwriter brings a wealth of life experience to the table, and tapping into his influences which range from country to hardcore and punk rock. Whether they are anthems or lullabies, his songs of loss, love, small-town living and growing up are themes most of us can connect with. Springsteen and Gaslight Anthem fans are sure to fall in love with this guy.
BMO Stage Sun, September 18, 6:00 PM – 7:00 PM
At 20 years old, don’t think that youth makes Julien Baker naive. Growing up in the Memphis DIY scene, Baker has faced the challenges of coming of age as a queer person in the South. Moreover, she unapologetically discusses topics such as drug abuse and depression on her debut album Sprained Ankle. Through the bigotry and hate that swells in that part of the US against marginalized LGBTQ communities, Baker’s beautiful, powerful voice and songwriting shines through as a ray of hope. She’s the kind of artist that makes writing such emotional, intricate songs look easy. Although short in stature, she is without a doubt one of the most inspirational artists to hit the stage at this year’s CityFolk festival, standing tall amongst the rest in our mind.
The Cat Empire formed in 1999 and have since been touring the world with their unique and eclectic scope of jazz-inspired pop/latin/funk/hip-hop fusion party music. The band released their 6th album Rising With The Sun in March of this year, on their own label, and they play in Ottawa on July 28th at the Algonquin Commons Theatre.
This interview is also being broadcast on CHUO 89.1FM Thursday July 28th at 2:00PM. It will be streamed live online here and archived here.
I spoke with Harry James Angus, lead trumpet player and vocalist in the group, and asked how they continue to be inspired and keep things fresh for themselves.
HJA: Over the years, what we’re trying to do has changed a little bit. Back in the day we were really interested in a lot of different music from around the world and our basic way of doing things was for one song to copy the music of Eastern Europe, then for another song we’d copy the music of Cuba. It was really fun and we got a reputation for being a band that does everything, but after a while we started to feel like we’re just kind of borrowing from everyone else without really being a part of the traditions that we were borrowing from. So the last two records in particular, we’ve tried to find a way to make music that sounds like it comes from everywhere, but doesn’t necessarily delve too deeply into one tradition or another; that is just like a big parade of sounds from around the world. In a sense, what we’ve done is actually focussed more on what I suppose you’d call “nuts and bolts songwriting”, like just melody, lyrics, rhythm and chords, but then around that we’ve just tried to make it really colourful and explosive and interesting, drawing on whatever ideas seem to fit. I would say that We’re not drawing heavily on anything particularly, it’s just the sound.
AC: Does this sound come more naturally at this point?
HJA: Yeah the last two records, which we did with the same producer, have been a really fun process because a lot of the songs grew out of just playing in the studio and getting a rhythm that feels good and creating songs quite spontaneously. Whereas in the past we always kind of rehearsed up before going into the studio. We’re really trying to capture more of the chaotic energy that you get in our live shows and I suppose that kind of helps.
AC: So if you’re trying to capture more of a live sound on record, what can you offer in your current shows that isn’t on this new record? I mean if you’re trying to capture the live sound you’ve established over the last number of years, is there more of a challenge to make the live show even more explosive and colourful?
HJA: It’s a really slippery concept trying to capture your live energy. I don’t think it’s as simple as doing what you do live, on a record. Because often what you do live, when you try to put it on a record, it just doesn’t have the same power to it. Making a record for us has always been a quest to recreate the chaotic energy of the live show, but I suppose in a more palatable setting because our live show’s often devolve into pretty serious chaos, so that’s always been a challenge for us. Everyone has their own idea of what a produced record sounds like. The last two records we’ve done, most of the playing has been almost completely live but I think to a lot of people, it would appear to be a more heavily produced record than what we’ve done in the past, but thats just because we spent more time being creative with what things actually sound like in mixing When it comes to the live show, we’ve never really changed or thought about it too much, we just try and play our songs and try and leave room for spontaneity and thats what we’ve always done.
AC: Yeah one thing I tell people when I try to sell them on coming to your shows, I’ll tell them “They’ll take a 3 minute song and make it 9 or 10 minutes!” and that’s kind of the chaos you’re talking about.
HJA: Yeah that’s right. W’ve never tried to do that on a record. and we’ve had this plan that we’ll make this record as short and concise and mainstream as possible, and then people come to the show and hear the keys do a 15 minute atonal solo and maybe they’ve never seen that kind of thing before but we’ve kind of tricked them into it. I often get this feeling that people who are big fans of our records and our song-writing, who come to our concerts for the first time and maybe that kind of thing isn’t to their taste, and maybe the opposite as well; I think someone people come to our show who’ve heard out record and thought maybe it wasn’t for them, and them when we go deep into that more intense kind of improvised thing, that really resonates with them. So, you know, it’s a complicated band that way because you cant pin it down. I can’t really terll you what the music is, and you you listen to the record and you dont know necessarily what the live shows gonna be like, and vice versa.
AC: I’m sure you get this question here and there, but what kind of band are you?
HJA: I just say we’re a party band. At the end of the day, I believe that all the principles that were at play in early jazz music, are the same principles that we’re using. Which is about improvisation, but also about kind of harnessing energy and building energy with the crowd. Creating something where it’s not just the band doing the thing they rehearsed that’s really cool and they do the same thing every night. but kinda using the crowd as a wave you’re surfing. You have to read it and you have guess when to do certain things. If it works, then it’s awesome and when it doesn’t, the crowd is like “well at least they tried.” I feel like often if we don’t have the right kind of crowd, we can kind of fall flat because we rely on the crowd so much. It’s when people come to see us who have had the experience before, they bring it and without that energy coming from the crowd, we can kinda suck.
Hometown heroes Moroccan Sun gave Zaphod’s a stadium-worthy show as the first opening act for The Zolas this past Friday night. Known for their infectious energy, the 5-piece alternative rock band definitely did not disappoint, and as someone who’s never actually seen them play live, I was wildly impressed and unable to keep my feet on the ground. Still hot off their debut Moroccan Sun EP release, the band kept us on our toes with their driving beats. If you were there and loved what you heard, or have yet to check out this awesome local band, their EP is available on Bandcamp – seriously, download it now.
Toronto-based indie pop quintet Grounders (minus guitarist Evan Lewis) were the second in a phenomenal lineup of Canadian bands, and took over the stage like psychedelic hipsters from space. Kurt Marble (drums) and Mike Searle (bass) were all grins and wobbly dance moves, while singer and guitarist Andrew Davis gazed soulfully into the crowd as he crooned, “Where do you go? Waiting around, where do you go from here?” during the chorus of “Secret Friend,” off their self-titled GROUNDERS LP.
Davis’ eye contact became borderline uncomfortable as he showed off his rock-hard abs to catcalling fans. If the almost-strip show wasn’t enough to win the crowd over, Davis walked off the stage to grab a guy’s cellphone mid-set and congratulated him on the lucky woman who I assume was on the other end of the line. One thing’s for sure: these guys are a riot and everyone should experience their out-of-this-world synth-pop sound at least once before their legs give out and they’re no longer able to dance.
10:00pm finally came around and Vancouver natives The Zolas made their way out of the deep blue fog and onto the stage to open with “Molotov Girls,” a single off their latest LP, Swooner. After gracing the room with two newer tracks, lead singer Zachary Gray greeted the crowd with an exuberant and overwhelmed “Holy shit Ottawa! HI!” He then proceeded to advise everyone at the front that he would only give a maximum number of high-fives (so hopefully y’all made ‘em count). Though the band played many of their new songs, older fans were stoked to hear “Strange Girl,” and even more so when we were asked to clap along until the clapping got awkward (and it did). “You guys need to get frothy enough for Dwight to stage dive, because he’s always wanted to do that,” Zach shouted, and the crowd obliged during “Swooner,” prompting bassist Dwight Abell to ditch his bass and fling himself into the roaring dance party (sorry we dropped you).
We were treated to a sing-along during “You’re too Cool,” an old classic off The Zolas’ debut album The Great Collapse, as Zach conducted the band and the crowd from a whisper to an explosive “I CAN TELL WE’LL NEVER BE SAVED, TIL THE WALLS FALL DOWN.” The crowd wasted no time demanding an encore, as they literally pushed the band back on stage “like the surf rejecting the surfer,” as Gray so eloquently put it. The tri-song reprise was an Ancient Mars special, with “Observatory,” “Knot in my Heart,” and finally “Escape Artist” to end the night on a highly emotional note. “I wanna come back here, this is special,” said Zach as he played the opening chords to “Escape Artist.” Ottawa loves you guys, please come back soon.
Check out Spectrasonic’s upcoming shows in Ottawa here.