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.
We’re getting excited to present Sight & Sound: An Audiovisual Experience on March 4 featuring the music of Ottawa veterans Amos The Transparent and the prodigy known as Trails. This will all be going down at The Record Centre in Hintonburg (1099 Wellington St.) and LES666 will be providing a visual art installation that is sure to create the a fully immersive experience for audience members. Needless to say, we’re pretty honoured to be working with the JUNO host committee and OMIC for this special night.
We’re giving away a couple passes for this event, so be sure to enter today!
Last year, A Tribe Called Red put out one of 2013’s best electronic album Nation 2 Nation which has since won them a Juno for Best Breakthrough Group. They just dropped a new video for their track “Sisters,” featuring contemporary Powwow Drum group Northern Voice, where a group of girls from a (presumably) far off town hear about ATCR’s monthly Electric Pow Wow party happening in Ottawa and decide to make the trip. Why not make it fun? They have good times getting dressed up, dancing in a convenience store, and drive through a beautiful Canadian countryside celebrating the fact that they’re going to see the group live. The final portion of the video is the ladies actually in the club, which happens to be their home base of Babylon on Bank Street. ATCR is on stage with a packed house, and you can also see Robbie of Fall Down Gallery doing some live art. A great song deserves a great video!
Here’s what ATCR said about the video’s inspiration:
For the “Sisters” video, we wanted to show that Native Americans are like everyone else, regular contemporary people who are connected, fashion conscious and going to the club on weekends. Starring Kawennáhere Devery Jacobs, “Sisters” shows three aboriginal girlfriends going on a road trip to our monthly party Electric Pow Wow in Ottawa, one of the only all indigenous parties in North America. We wanted the simplicity of the story to enhance this message and shines a light on this all-Native crew. The song is taken from our latest album Nation II Nation and exclusively uses the female vocals of powwow group Northern Voice. This is also groundbreaking as female powwow backvocals haven’t been put at the forefront like this ever before.
The DJ trio from Ottawa are making some of the greatest electronic in the world right now, and we at Showbox are super proud of them. Check out the video for “Sisters” below.
Ottawa’s own A Tribe Called Red just seem to keep getting more and more recognition for their groundbreaking music. On Sunday night the boys took home a JUNO award for Breakthrough Group of the Year, giving a great speech upon accepting the award.
The Juno Awards are this Sunday, April 21st, in Regina. They are being hosted by one of Canada’s most famous exports… Michael Bublé.
But that is not what’s important, what is, is that there are some great locals up for awards on Canadian music’s biggest night.
Kathleen Edwards is nominated for Songwriter of the Year and her album Voyageur is up for the Adult Alternative Album of the Year.
Nineteen-year-old Kira Isabella is nominated for Breakthrough Artist of the Year.
Kristina Maria‘s album Tell The World is nominated for Pop Album of the Year
Ottawa Showbox wishes them the best of luck and Ottawa should be very proud of them just for being nominated. The Nation’s Capital does have some catching up to do though, as musicians from Vancouver and Toronto dominate the list of nominees.
Performing live at the Junos will be Metric, Billy Talent, Carly Rae Jepsen, Hannah Georgas, K.D. Lang, Marianas Trench, Michael Bublé, Serena Ryder, and The Sheepdogs.