Rich Aucoin at the Corona Theatre, Montreal, Aug. 2, 2013. PHOTO: Pierre Bourgault
For most people in life, there tends to be a direct correlation between age and responsibilities. When we’re children, the concept of freedom manifests itself through tough decisions like whether to get “bubble gum” or “rocky road” ice cream at Baskin Robbins in the mall food court. When we’re in our adolescent and teen years, we actually have to start making decisions that will influence our lives, like whether to become friends with a weed dealer. All this to say that having only partial responsibilities in our pre-mortgage and pre-parent lives allows us to make completely irresponsible decisions with only minimal implications, such as randomly fleeing to Montreal for a night of partying with friends. Not just any party either – an Osheaga afterparty with Rich Aucoin playing a Daft Punk cover set with his band at the Corona Theatre. What more could you ask for?
So the decision was made. My Showbox comrade, Eric Scharf, and I decided to jump in a ride share to the big city and be on our way. The ride was pleasant, and being ride share virgins, it was nice to have a good conversation with other people in the car. Philosophizing and reflecting on lost love and life decisions can happen anywhere.
The beautiful Montreal skyline. I certainly did not take this photo, but someone did.
As we pulled into Montreal, I remembered the feeling I got when I first visited five years ago. A little anticipation, a lot of excitement. Since I hadn’t visited in three years, it sort of felt like I was heading there for the first time again. I’m not going to lie, I don’t know the city very well. I grew up in London, ON, about two hours from Toronto, which never afforded me much opportunity to familiarize myself with Montreal’s streets, venues, and charming cultural hotspots that one learns over time. However, it’s never too late to start.
We arrived at our destination, and my only way of knowing I was near downtown was by seeing the skyscrapers and skyline in the distance, which did not seem so far away. Luckily, I consider myself to be directionally adept, and normally find points of association and landmarks to guide my way. The first landmark was beer. Eric and I made our way to a park after our beer purchase and drank on the bleachers. Apparently the law is if you’re having a “picnic”, then you are able to drink booze (so long as the label is covered). So we brown-bagged it until Liam (of Jackpine) and Ming (Photogmusic) showed up, as our Ottawa entourage fully assembled.
We hung with some people who were playing frisbee and offered them some delicious beer from Beyond the Pale, a delicious craft brew company from Ottawa which provided us with several “growlers” for consumption. Without going into too much detail, we played some music, someone took their pants off, and we did a pretty good number on those growlers.
We proceeded to head to the Corona Theatre, and met up with some friends there. Not too many people had entered yet, so we claimed our spot front and centre right where Diamond Rings was spinning some tunes. It was cool to see him in casual dress, and he came up to say hi and give some high fives. After his set, more people started to make their way into the venue as the festival finished for the day. It wasn’t long before Rich Aucoin came out to do some last minute set up, at which point he came up and hung out with us for a bit. Again, some small talk and high fives were in order, which got us that much more excited.
Let me tell you, the pride of Halifax, NS, Rich Aucoin, is something else. He often plays tiny venues like Cafe Dekcuf here in Ottawa, but no matter what the size of the place, he makes sure that everyone is jumping and partying the entire time. He is manic – running around the stage, firing confetti bombs all over the place, jumping into the crowd and getting everyone to sing along – his performances are on another level, to the extreme. I sort of knew what to expect, but since I’d never seen Rich Aucoin before, I was pretty excited for his over the top performance. Of course, what made it more interesting was the fact that he was interpreting Daft Punk songs all night. With two drum sets facing each other on opposite sides of the stage, and the rest of his band ready to go, the music began.
Daft Punk, a group who needs no introduction, isn’t particularly easy to cover – let alone perform an entire set’s worth of music. The energy was incredible right off the bat, as there seemed to be a unique push-pull type thing going on between Rich and the crowd. He’d give us some, and we’d throw it right back at him. No wonder he can’t stand still on stage, the guy’s music and expression of movement are one in the same. Seemingly, one cannot exist without the other. Perhaps this explains why he has run partial marathons and biked between tour stops.
He played Daft Punk covers like “Human After All,” “Da Funk,” “Robot Rock,” and of course the mega-hit of the summer, “Get Lucky.” With lyrics on screen, he got the crowd to participate in singing, and in return, he participated in being part of the crowd. At one point, Rich climbed up the rafters on the right side of the stage and got up to the balcony. The intensity of the performance and the unique interpretation of Daft Punk’s music made for a really memorable experience. Rich brought out a couple of his friends, including Neil Fridd from Terror Pigeon Dance Revolt to play a few songs. Their fun, let-loose performance fit perfectly into what was becoming a frenetic night of partying.
I dare not say that there was a climax to this show, but one of the high points was the parachute. If you’ve been to a Rich Aucoin show, you know that he almost always brings along a giant parachute (like the ones we used to use at play day in elementary school), which is used as a “party tent” of sorts. As the parachute covered us, we continued to dance, sing, and sweat the night away. He ended with some of his originals such as “Brian Wilson is A.L.I.V.E.” and “It”, which got the crowd into a frenzied fever pitch.
As the night came to a close, we look back at reckless experiences like this one and recognize the importance of random experiences. The romance of Montreal’s streets, the exhilaration of a performer singing with you and hundreds of others, being with people you love and making memories, and the refreshing feeling of getting to know a new city a little better.
Montreal, you have not seen the last of us. From your friends in Ottawa.
So we—Matias, Liam, Ming & I—had the fantastic idea of going to an Osheaga after-party, but decided the day before. It was the long weekend so all car rentals were sold out and Ming stole our spot in a buddy’s car with Liam… now what?
I find Matias and I a ride share, check. Matias, 6’4’’ , myself, 6’2’’ and a very nice woman named Helene, also around six feet tall, crammed in the back of a Honda Accord to Montreal. We had some very interesting conversations on the ride, conversations that varied from relationships to music, women and family.
Being last-minute we also did not have a place to stay, but luckily I bailed out the group by having awesome friends. Catalin let us crash at his place at the very last minute, and all it cost us was a ticket to the event and a few beers! Thanks man!
Oh yeah, you are probably wondering where we were going. We were going to see Rich Aucoin doing Daft Punk with Toronto-based musician Diamond Rings opening up… now back to the story. Once we arrived we headed to a park across from the venue, Theatre Corona, to indulge in a little drink. The park was an extremely well-lit baseball diamond and had me wishing I had brought a ball and some gloves, or a football, or a Frisbee… I digress. While waiting for our partners in crime, Ming and Liam, we got a visit from a skunk. Luckily he had no interest in us and was just looking for food scraps. The team finally united, we indulged a little more and then made our way to the show.
Pepe Le Pew on the prowl
Diamond Rings was doing his thing spinning like mad and getting everyone amped up. We met up with some more friends at the show and were so ready for Rich Aucoin. Just before he started his set, he came by and hugged some of us and shook hands with us. He also posed with some of us for a picture, but unfortunately I pulled a major beer induced fail and botched the photo-op. I’m not sure I will ever be forgiven but I’ll work on it, sorry Jill.
Rich and his merry men blew the roof of the theater. His set-up consisted of two drums, a guitar, a bass, and of course his turntables. Brass instruments also made a triumphant appearance on stage, although how frequently is a little foggy. The energy was unreal, the sound was great, the remixes were perfect and the visuals were awe inspiring, love the rainbow parachute. The highlight for sure was when Rich got in the crowd to sing his heart us with us all around him.
Rich Aucoin with his people. Photo by Jill Krajewski.
The next morning we awoke and set our sights on Disco Brunch at Le Nouveau Palais. Catalin, Liam, Matìas, Ming and myself ventured down for some sweet grub and some flowing tunes. I ordered Fried Chicken and Waffles and an extra spicy breakfast Caesar, which had a freaking quail egg on the tooth pick…so delicious! The DJ was great, playing a bunch of slick tracks and to top it all off he was wearing a Refused t-shirt.
Chicken and Waffles with a Breakfast Caesar… Montreal, never change.
It was now time for Matias and I to say goodbye to our friends and goodbye to Montreal. We got ourselves a ride share back home and high-fived over a most excellent adventure.
Another long day packed with audio stimuli began just after midday on Sunday, July 6, at Ottawa Bluesfest. Entering the gates, I B-lined it straight for the Bell Stage where I got set to catch my first local act of the festival, Steve Adamyk Band. As far as local punk goes, theSteve Adamyk Band are an Ottawa favourite for lots of reasons. They united from former Ottawa punk/hardcore bands (respectively) Million Dollar Marxists and Sedatives, and have released an impressive collection of material since coming together in 2010. Their 80’s-inspired “power pop with a punk edge” has made them a fixture in the Ottawa punk scene and on Ottawa Explosion Weekend, and now Bluesfest. Their sound is undeniably lovable, albeit not overly complex or novel, but is genuinely unpretentious and fun for all.
They opened their set with the two opening tracks “Not a Witness” (one of my personal favourites by SAB) and “Had a Heart Attack” off their latest record, Third, and also threw some older material such as “Not For Long”, “Speed it Up”, and “Landslide” throughout the performance. The band was full of energy and surely would have started a mosh pit had the few people in the crowd not been die-hard Wu-Tang fans (who were scheduled to play on the same stage later that evening). However, there were a few of us there who enjoyed every minute of their set, and were really happy just to see such a good local band on the big stage. I don’t think I’ve heard a bad song from these guys yet.
At this point, I felt a little frustrated that people weren’t showing up to support their local bands. I thought there would be some of the loyal followers in the scene there, but it seemed like there were three of us actually enjoying SAB. I think it’s great that Bluesfest allots space for local acts, but I just don’t understand why people wouldn’t show up for such a good band, especially if they paid for their full pass. In my experience, festivals are a great opportunity to surprise yourself by checking out acts that you may not be familiar with. Here’s a demonstration of how I felt:
Fans during Steve Adamyk Band’s set:
Fans not having fun
What fans SHOULD have been doing during Steve Adamyk Band’s set:
Afterwards, I wandered over to the Claridge Stage to see another local band called FEVERS. I’ve really enjoyed seeing this band grow since the first time I saw them at an acoustic ‘4in1’ Music Session in May of 2012. Their dark, synth-based elecro-pop music captured my attention right away when I began scouring the local music scene, and their upcoming album No Room For Light is a much-anticipated local release this summer (due out August 27th, 2013). Their set consisted of nearly all brand new material, except for their finale “Passion is Dead (Long Live Fashion)”. I hadn’t heard most of these songs before, but I can say that I was thoroughly impressed with the composition and diversity of the new tracks. Lead vocalist Sarah Bradley’s vocals were off the chart, as her confidence and comfort on stage seems to have grown significantly since last time I saw FEVERS live last year. I was really blown away by her performance at Ottawa Rock Lottery 5.o with local one-off supergroup Black Usher, as she didn’t shy away from complete vocal supremacy. In songs like “Monuments”, the power and beauty of her voice helped the audience connect with some of the newer material. The rest of the band also sounded great, as it was apparent that FEVERS had tightened up their new material in anticipation for this performance. At times, the sound seemed to be off kilter, but by no fault of the band. I have come to realize that this is a recurring problem this year at Bluesfest. I was extremely impressed by the band’s performance, and cannot wait for their album release party on August 24th. Oh yeah, there was a dude with a morph suit in front of me too, which looked something like this:
I took a little break in the afternoon due to torrential rain. After eating, changing clothes, and returning to LeBreton Flats, I caught up with my blogging compadre Eric Scharf for Everlast and then saw Wu-Tang (read his experience here). It was pretty cool hearing that raspy-ass voice of Everlast that everyone loves, and “What It’s Like” was one of the first tunes I learned on guitar. Part of me secretly wants to chain smoke until my voice sounds like his, but that’s probably not a great idea. Was really hoping to hear House of Pain renditions too, but maybe that was asking too much. He did play a really funky Johnny Cash cover of Folsom Prison, which he adapted really well with his band. Oh yeah, one other thing. Please don’t bring over-sized golf umbrellas to music festivals, because you will incite hatred in the hearts of true music fans who paid money to actually see the stage. Damn you big umbrella people. Damn you.
Wu-Tang was fucking awesome. We were throwing those “W’s” up like we just didn’t care. The whole clan was great, but Method Man absolutely stole the show. He was pumped up, and he definitely breathed new life into the crowd. One of the highlights was when he convinced fans to start a giant mosh pit during the song “Gravel Pit”, a request to which they quickly obliged. Wu’s DJ, Allah Mathematics, also showed off his skills by spinning and scratching vigourously, doing so behind his back and with his feet (no big deal). I had seen Wu-Tang once before in New York City at Rock The Bells hip-hop festival in 2007 and I can honestly say their set at Bluesfest was equally as memorable. They were playing all the songs we wanted to hear – C.R.E.A.M., Ain’t Nothin’ Ta Fuck Wit, Ice Cream, Gravel Pit, Triumph, and an ODB tribute Shimmy Shimmy Ya. I was thinking of Eric and his brother, who is a huge Wu-Tang fan but has recently suffered from debilitating vision problems, screaming “Wu-Tang Clan ain’t nothin’ ta fuck wit” at the top of their lungs.
It is customary to make these hand signs at a Wu-Tang concert:
Nearing the end of the night, I had to decide whether to see Tegan and Sara at the main stage or stay at the River Stage to see Hannah Georgas and Diamond Rings. I chose the latter, and I don’t regret it at all. Hannah’s voice was impeccable, and the overall sound was excellent at this stage (finally). The instruments didn’t overpower her voice at all, nor were any of them difficult to hear. To my surprise, I looked to my right and saw Ottawa indie music legends Jim Bryson and Kathleen Edwards beside me enjoying Hannah’s set. Kathleen seemed to be enjoying herself by dancing to the music and sipping on a beer, not to mention with a beautiful sunset falling over the river. Hannah also captured the audience by performing a heart-wrenching ode to her father, who had passed away.
Last act of the night for me was Diamond Rings (read my 2012 interview with him here). Diamond Rings a.k.a John O’Regan is no stranger to Ottawa Bluesfest, having played in years past with D’Urbervilles and in 2011 touring off his first album Special Affections (2010). Coming off a pretty monumental performance at Ritual in December of last year, playing in front of an excitable and energetic crowd outdoors by the river seemed like a perfect follow-up. His crew of cool, shade-wearing bandmates came on stage and took their places, as a leather-vested Diamond Rings flew on stage singing “All the Time”. The crowd was ecstatic as he rolled into the next song, “Runaway Love”, which is one of my favourites by him. At one point, he jumped off the stage to come face to face with the crowd and nearly bailed on a tarp covering the front-of-stage speakers. Luckily, he is tall and nimble, and recovered with grace. He played older songs off Special Affections such as “Wait & See”, and “It’s Not My Party”, as well as newer material off Free Dimensional (2012) like “A to Z”, “Stand My Ground, and “I’m Just Me”. The night ended perfectly with O’Regan coming back on stage to play “All Yr Songs”, one of his most lovable tunes, by himself.
This packed day was probably the best experience I have had at Bluesfest since I started going about five years ago. Keep on rockin’ in the free world.
I had the chance to join Ming Wu on his CHUO radio show Photogmusic Live (89.1 FM) on New Year’s Eve. In the hour-long segment, we discussed his Top 12 picks of 2012, playing a track from each of the albums he chose as this year’s best. It was lots of fun, and we also got to talk to Alaska of Yamantaka//Sonic Titan (who will be in Ottawa Jan.11 with Boyhood) as well as Jonas Bonnetta of Evening Hymns. Take a listen to the different segments on the Photogmusic blog, hope you enjoy the show!
Here’s the full version of the exclusive interview I did with Diamond Rings for Where Ottawa as he is set to play Ritual Nightclub on December 7th. Be sure to check out the video for his newest single from Free Dimensional “Runaway Love”, I can’t stop listening to it. Yes, I’m listening to it right now… Enjoy!
Toronto’s John O’Regan, a.k.a. Diamond Rings, has garnered critical acclaim across North America and reached new heights with his most recent album Free Dimensional. His do-it-yourself background has helped him develop a work ethic that pushes him to create different music, both sonically and aesthetically. As the former lead vocalist in Guelph’s D’Urbervilles, Diamond Rings is familiar with the trials and tribulations of being a musician. He turned heads with his debut album Special Affections in 2011, but has unquestionably staked his claim as one of Toronto’s most captivating exports of the year. Although compared by some to Bowie, Depeche Mode and Ian Curtis of Joy Division, Diamond Rings brings a fresh new look and sound to Canadian music.
Diamond Rings was recently the musical guest on Late Night with David Letterman, and will be playing at Ritual Nightclub on December 7. Matías Muñoz speaks with him about his favourite Ottawa food, staying level-headed while on the road, and what it means to be seen as a countercultural figure in this day in age.
Is there anything unique about Ottawa that stands out to you, or things you enjoy doing while you’re here?
I love eating shawarma at Marroush (now called Three Brothers), which is right down the street from Ritual Nightclub where I’m going to play. You kind of get these habits and traditions when on tour, and you don’t want to change them up. That’s my Ottawa thing.
Do you have a favourite spot that you’ve played since touring as Diamond Rings?
Not really, wherever there are people that are excited to hear your music is the best for me. Obviously some places are more scenic or picturesque, or have reputations for being this or that. But I really think I have great shows everywhere.
When you’re on the road and far away from home, do you have ways to keep yourself grounded?
I think the nature of touring keeps you pretty grounded. It keeps you on your toes, in the best possible way. A lot of the work that happens on tour isn’t especially glamourous, it’s all that grunt work that goes into making the one hour I get on stage sound and look as close to perfect as possible. I think it’s that aspect of it that adds to the magic of the whole thing. A lot of people work really hard to make it all possible, the stuff that happens on stage doesn’t happen automatically.
You’ve had the opportunity to tour with your friends PS I Love You, and bands like Stars. What have your experiences connecting with other artists meant to you?
It’s really nice to be on tour with friends. I’ve had the opportunity to tour with bands that I’m now friends with, but at one point earlier in my career looked up to a lot. To share the stage and to get to know some of them personally is a real honour for me. I consider myself a contemporary rather than just a fan, it’s great. I feel lucky.
Do you embrace the idea of counterculture? Is what you are doing part of something bigger associated with your view of the music industry and gender stereotypes, or are you just in it to play good music?
I think at the end of the day I want to connect with people, that’s why I write music and do what I do. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t care what people thought about my work, or if I said I didn’t care if people didn’t like what I do. That being said, what I do and what I project sonically and aesthetically has to feel, to me, real and different in order to present something to the world that is otherwise lacking. Certainly, in some respect, there is a willingness to transform or push peoples expectations of what is possible in a live or recording context, or a visual context, in relationship to the way they view me and my gender, those sorts of things. When I’m playing a show and fans are in the building, the reception to what I do has been great.
There are obviously those who don’t appreciate what I’m doing as much, but that’s something that comes with the territory of doing what I do. Especially when it becomes something that is more out there in the world, with people hearing my music and hearing about me. Along with more people being into it, there’s going to be more people that don’t like it as well. But that’s totally fine, if I were making everyone happy that would be weird. To really make a statement you have to be alienating some people, and what I’m saying and doing feels right and is special to me. But I don’t really worry about what everyone else says.