Ev has synesthesia, and they incorporate their sensory experiences into music reviews. Synesthesia is a condition in which the brain links a person’s senses together in a rare manner, prompting unusual sensory responses to stimuli. People with synesthesia, for example, might see a certain color in response to a certain letter of the alphabet. Those who experience synesthesia “hear colors, feel sounds, and taste shapes” in a remarkably consistent fashion.
Live on Elgin has a very different vibe from other venues I’ve been to in the past. More interactive while reserved, it held a fresh energy.
The first act to go on was Charlie the Kid – and while he did host, he put on a comedic and upbeat show. While maintaining a Beans on Toast kind of folk sound, Charlie not only told personal anecdotes but created a youthful vibe. He painted the scene with chalky oranges and vivid mustard yellows. His voice, though unclean, created a wash of yellow-green – almost a pear colour. The higher notes painted peachy streaks through the air. His performance was vivacious and lively, not having missed a beat.
The guitar he played was light and airy – an acoustic performance polished but holding an authentic vibe. It held a hollow sound, a little dissonant at times, but bright. At times Charlie the Kid played choked chords that slowly transitioned to ones that hung in the air. His technique added splashes of rusty red to the yellow atmosphere. The occasional blue snuck its way in with the license plates he used as a makeshift drum.
Steph La Rochelle performing at LIVE on Elgin in Ottawa, ON.
Next up was Steph La Rochelle, a pop singer whose music borders on country. Her soft and melodic voice sent waves of serenity through the audience and painted the scene soft pinks and peachy oranges. It carried and had a hard edge despite how mellow it was. The covers she performed were outstanding with the way she controlled her vocals – high notes with a gentle vibrato, and drawn out lyrics. Her originals came directly from the heart and you saw it painted on her face.
Her guitar playing combined alternative picking and strumming of airy chords. It was bright and metallic, the steel strings truly emphasized throughout. Tapping the wooden surface of the guitar for a drum-like sound added earthy reds to the atmosphere that Steph painted with her voice. Beautiful, mellow, and calm, her performance took you away with her.
Headlining the show was Kyle Ivan joined on stage with a band. High energy and loose fun, there wasn’t a moment where he didn’t seem to be having a good time. He immersed the audience in his performance while creating a space where people were free to dance as wildly as Peanuts characters. His voice was smooth and the harmonizations he created with the bassist were riveting. The vocal range Kyle holds is impressive in itself, tainting the atmosphere a wide range of blue-greens and electric orange.
While Kyle played an acoustic guitar and the melodies created started mellow and slowly built up, the bass added a depth that wouldn’t be achievable otherwise. It added bold reds to the otherwise slightly colder atmosphere. To add to the bold colours, the drums came in with warm toms and cold cymbals, taking over the soundscape. The drummer and bassist only added to the performance with their evident enthusiasm.
If you’re ever in need of a good time with performers who will crack you up, you can always rely on these guys. They have a way with the crowd and a knack for humour that you won’t want to miss out on. Not only are they humourous but they woo the crowd with their amazing tunes and unique voices.
With the snow lightly descending on the nation’s capital, the NAC’s Fourth Stage was a perfect setting for a Friday night Megaphono showcase featuring Trails, Luka, and Keturah Johnson.
This was my first time at the Fourth Stage in a long while, and what a beautiful room it is. It really helps create a very intimate setting for a performance, especially when it is a sold out standing room only show like this one.
Trails performing on the Fourth Stage of the NAC during Megaphono 2018 in Ottawa.
Headlining the night was Ottawa’s Allie O’Manique, better known to most as Trails. In just a few years she has really gained a lot of momentum in Ottawa as one of the truly up and coming artists in town. Now you may find it hard to call someone up and coming when they have already opened for Andy Shauf in the UK, but Trails stills feels so new and fresh to me. She has so much potential, which in itself is pretty scary but mostly exciting.
O’Manique certainly knows how to turn on an eerie haunting edge to her vocals which melds perfectly with the instrumentation of the backing band on this night, Especially on songs like -“Mourning/moaning/morning/snowing ” from her debut full length album The Past Is Coming Fast. Of course, it certainly doesn’t hurt to have local musician extraordinaires—Philippe Charbonneau, Pascal Oflaki, and Jamieson Mackay—as support on stage.
While much of the music has a much more mellow and psyche feeling to it which can both serenade you to sleep or ease you into deep meditation, the band did switch things up a little on one song. The rowdier jam was maybe a little too much for them though, as guitarist Jamieson Mackay blew a string. Like a true champion he powered through. However, there was a moment of worry when he told the crowd he might not be able to play the “sweet lick” at the end of their powerful finale “Leave Her Be.” Luckily for us, he found a way and capped off the absolutely song which she wrote and arranged with Jonas Bonnetta of Evening Hymns, and really shows the growth and immense potential for more.
Luka impressing the NAC crowd at Megaphono. Photo by Els Durnford.
Setting up Trails’ set was poet and crooner Luka Kuplowsky and a group of smooth rock n roller from Toronto who perform as Luka. Kuplowsky, rocking an acoustic guitar with no strap, reminds me of early Lou Reed in how he almost speaks over the music more than singing most of the time and delivers poetry with the upward intonation in his voice at the end of his lines. I was immediately hooked from the first song “City By My Window” to the amazing closing track “O My Heart Is Full” which is a near perfect song in my opinion, have a listen.
If the singer’s smooth stylings weren’t enough, he is surrounded by very talented musicians, including an extremely entertaining drummer and a dynamic flutist—yes, a flutist. I believe there were more flute solos in the performance than guitar solos, which is not something you see every day. One of my favourite songs from the night was “Quick Reflex” off his latest album What Kind of Animal, which tells the story of a hand-me-down baseball cap with a beautiful melody and finishing with a roaring crescendo in the live performance. This was just one of many very impressive moments of pure chaos with the soft vocals, off beat drumming, rapid guitar and bass strumming and racing the flute that really took the performance to the next level.
Keturah Johnson serendating the NAC crowd during Megaphono. Photo by Els Durnford.
Opening the night was another stellar local performer, Keturah Johnson, who on this night was flying solo and without her The Heavy Medicine Band companions. Johnson is absolutely masterful at looping her own guitar and incredible vocals, then playing and singing over those loops. It had my jaw dropping right away. Johnson’s vocals are so powerful and filled with passion and sometimes darkness that there are moments that make your spine tingle.
Her solo performances takes the time to fully craft the song, but the end result is beautifully layered beyond any a regular solo performance delivers, and the process is like watching someone play a bunch of smaller tracks that perfectly fit together. It is comparable to watching and old-school DJ craft a mix on vinyl from scratch, except this is being performed with very different instruments. And Johnson has no fear of the sounds of the classics even with the “modern” looping technology songs like her finisher “Conduit” shine on her influences like Pink Floyd in all the right ways.
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.
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.
House of TARG was the place to be on Saturday, April 4th – for all things pinball, perogi, beer and metal. Metal Blade Records’ metal band, Allegaeon, stopped in Ottawa on their cross country tour with Product of Hate – to an absolutely insane audience.
Local bands Maou Mindu and Signs of Chaos took the stage around 9:30 p.m. to a barely energized crowd, although it didn’t take long for Maou Mindu’s topless frontman, Bryan Lomas, to get the people moving. While we do enjoy praising Satan from time to time, you really had to throw up the devil horns for these guys. I saw them a while back opening for Sovereign Council at Cafe Dekcuf, and the singer was topless during that show, too.
I think while listening to Maou Mindu, it is required that you hail the Dark Lord while headbanging. It’ll make it so much better.
(Maou Mindu – Photo credits to Matt C.)
Signs of Chaos, whom I had never seen before, surprised the hell out of me. I knew about them for so long, but never got around to seeing them live. All recordings on their part do not do them justice. “Break You”, one of the band’s newer tracks, was an absolute headbanger. Signs of Chaos was the first band I have seen to actually get a crowd moving so early in the night.
I moshed for the first time to Maou Mindu and Signs of Chaos, so thank you guys for turning me into a rage-fueled mosh monster. Signs of Chaos also announced they’re working on their new EP to be released relatively soon – and after “Break You”, I am pumped.
(Signs of Chaos – Photo credits to Matt C.)
Napalm Records’ Product of Hate, a band I am incredibly glad I saw live – really set the bar high for Allegaeon. My main appraise of this band is Adam Gilley, the band’s frontman and guitarists Gene and Cody Rathbone (best name ever). A theme I noticed throughout the whole night was the amount of insane guitar playing. SO many solos.
Adam Gilley also totally looks the way a rock star should. All he needed was the bright red leather pants. I noticed his white Right Hook Microphone, as well – so that made them even more stellar.
(Product of Hate – Photo credits to Matt C.)
The show’s headliner Allegaeon, who has even more ridiculous guitar playing, blew my mind to a new level. Michael Stancel and Greg Burgess (whom I interview here!) took the cake for guitar solos. Stancel is a stupidly impressive guitarist with his sweeps, almost to the point of being unfair.
My brother and I chatted with Ezra Haynes during one of the intermissions (who casually flirted with some chick at the same time). Incredibly nice, sarcastic and hilarious – which is pretty much what I hope most musicians are when I talk to them.
I am so happy they opened with “Threshold of Perception”, because that was the first song I ever heard from them. They won over my cold, metal heart. Ezra accidentally split open his lip, so double awesome for involving blood in the headliner’s set.
(Allegaeon – Photo credits to Matt C.)
A huge shout out to House of TARG (which has quickly become Ottawa’s best venue), Black Widow Promotions and The Diamond Mine Agency for putting on this killer show. You can check out any and all upcoming shows on their respective websites!
A special thank you to Sarah Lutz and Metal Blade Records for hooking up this whole tour as well as getting Dark Matter Relations to cover the show.
Over the past years I developed a strong relationship with Rich Terfry. Within the timeslots of R2 Drive the CBC personality had quelled my outbursts of road rage and entertained me for numerous hours driving along the Trans-Canada Highway, setting my adventure through music. Having never seen him perform as Buck 65, my friends told me “GO” and experience Rich as his alter ego. Seated up high in the NAC Theatre, I grew eager awaiting his arrival.
As the lights dimmed, a fly Buck 65 waltzed onto a pitch black stage in a slim black suit and tie. Accompanied by two microphones, a laptop, sampler and a turntable he promptly opened the show to the “Gates of Hell,” the opening track of his newly released Neverlove. Unleashing into the microphone, he brought energy into the theatre as red and blue lights danced all around him. The initial blast dissipated into “Zombie Delight” with Buck letting loose on stage, limbs flailing, parading as a mindless zombie, kept erect only by the mic stand. Several songs in he gave a brief formal introduction before continuing to unpack vacuum-sealed rhymes, “So Fresh.”
The evening’s presentation came on the heels of his new studio album Neverlove (released September 30, 2014). After 20 Odd Years, Buck’s musical experience is a vast blend of distinct audible elements with rich Canadian roots anchored by Halifax’s fabled hip hop scene. Neverlove, a departure from his early style, sees him using his lyrical abilities to express the deep emotions from his recent divorce — stepping through the “Gates of Hell” to learn how “Love Will Fuck You Up.” Infused with an electronic base, the composition of uptempo rhythms and a thumping club-style bass accompanies a melodic Buck who using his rhymes to elucidate his state of mind. In finding the key to his struggle, the album allowed Buck 65 to stretch his musical capacities and in turn developed an album that stands apart from his previous forays. Nevertheless, for those distressed to find a sombre Buck 65 can rejoice with Laundromat Boogie, an EP released a day before Neverlove in collaboration with one of Halifax’s legendary personalities Jorun Bombay. Laundromat Boogie is a comical allegory of Neverlove, explained through the art of laundering. Although the show was concentrated with songs from both albums, however he still found the opportunity to rip through his older catalogue.
The hour and a half long set saw Buck 65 in full command of the NAC theatre, with the occasional assistance of Tiger Rosa on back-up vocals — a contributor on Neverlove. For the most part he roamed the expansive stage presenting his play, a one man hip-hopera on point like a metronome, scratching, sampling, spitting bars while flashing his personal repertoire of dance moves. A consummate professional whose time spent honing his craft radiates each time he stepped to the mic, flowing with a continuous stream of beats he rode endlessly across a blend of tracks intertwining seamlessly. With command of his craft, he took control of the audience fastened in the Maxwell position. The room was quiet for the most part, with exception to Buck acolytes mouthing his words with arms in the air, but tracks like “Wicked and Weird” and “Gee Whiz” made you want to tear the seats from their place and rampage with Buck on stage. The venue befitted the mood of his Neverlove album, accentuating his abilities and providing an ample space to put on a performance as varied and creative as his music.
During the set he paused for interludes and indulged the audience with storytelling that has endeared him to listeners of R2 Drive. He admitted the venue presented a weird vibe however it was our mission to rise above it. He cracked jokes and told a story or two — most memorable an omitted excerpt from his upcoming book, expressing his adoration, as we all have, for Bob Barker and the moment he came face to face with the silver haired legend and his majestic slim microphone. Using each interlude he set the tone for the tracks to come. During the second interlude he warned us the show was about to get weird and wished to not be taken out of context, like a former colleague, right before picking the music back up with an ode to side boobs.
Along with deep emotional explorations and witty banter, hardier tracks saw Buck 65 hunched over, bobbing up and down as he spat audacious rhymes filled with the wistful rebellious nature which has forever been the cornerstone of hip-hop prior to the quest of the post-Pac/BIG throne. His style is a throwback, a combination of the stellar Atmosphere with the vocal stylings of Slug and the rhythmic mastery of Ant, with Beastie Boys/Rage Against the Machine hybrid flow and Biz Markie antics. The entirety of the performance was manic, chaotic and wildly creative — able to induce a hallucinative state through unique blends of sounds and lighting that matched his frantic pace. Not many hip-hop acts would have succeeded in such a venue, but Buck displayed nothing but utter confidence as an artist. Not holding back, he gives in to every creative impulse to explore the many facets of music, not only hip-hop, but country, blues, and R&B among others, all while maintaining his original essence — some buck from Mount Uniacke.
It felt like a trance was lifted when his impressive set ended. As he walked off stage we the audience, now addicts, grew to a raucous applause in an attempt to lure him back on stage. The crowd cheered loudly when he re-entered the room followed by Tiger Rosa to close the show with two more tracks. As he left the stage for the last time, the crowd rose to its feet to bid farewell to a phenomenal performance.
A drunk and entertaining Jon Creeden, a moving and very real Jesse LeBourdais, and a “loud” Fresh Hell played the first ever show at Minou’s House Monday night.
Cory Levesque getting ICED.
Setting the stage was Jean-Sebastien getting revenge on Cory and one-litre icing him. For those that don’t know, icing is when you present someone with a Smirnoff Ice and say “iced” to them. They must then chug the bottle. This excited Jon Creeden who said, “You’re bringing icing back? Sweet! I’ve been waiting two years for this.” Cory chugged down that one litre and as much as it hurt me to watch, it was clearly a much worse experience for him.
On the crisp fall night Fresh Hell got things started in the backyard. What could possibly go wrong having a punk rock band amped up and play in a subdivision in Little Italy? We were about to find out. The band opened with their “bangers,” to quote drummer Vance McBride, playing “Surrounded” as they were surrounded by 20 or more of their friends and then “Home” which they were playing outside of guitarist Cory Levesque’s house. Well played gang. Fresh Hell then played “Not Alone” and seamlessly transitioned into “Things Go Away.” So smooth. Then came the shouting from some neighbour, “Sounds like crap,” and then depending on who you ask, either “turn it up,” or “turn it down.” The band played a few more songs and began to tear down as a police officer came up the driveway. He issued a warning informing them that four noise complaints had been placed, but said if the rest of the fundraiser was acoustic it could continue.
The show was in fact a fundraiser for Ottawa Rock Camp for Girls and Cory’s girlfriend Megan Snider made amazing vegan chili, curry and home-made pita bread.
Next up was the very talented Jesse LeBourdais. I have always been fascinated by these solo punk rock acoustic guitarist types. They always deliver such awesome lyrics that ring close to home no matter where they are from. Case in point, LeBourdais is from B.C. and the amazing opening lines to the first song he played “Welcome” were, “There is a pile of records sitting on my floor right now, they’ve been waiting for my dirty hands to get clean enough to hold, somewhere in that pile there is something that will hold me and won’t let go, when the needle finds a vein in the groove it goes right into my soul.” Now those are lyric after my heart. LeBourdais continued with another song off his latest album Long Winter, playing “Breathing In/Out.” He probably felt right at home as a slight drizzle started during some of his songs about B.C. He concluded by inviting Jon Creeden to join him on guitar and Cory Levesque on harmonica to play “About Right” (video above). So glad to have finally met and watched LeBourdais play – go see him when he plays a city near you.
Jon Creeden surrounded by his friends at Minou’s House in Ottawa.
As Jon Creeden began his set, LeBourdais stayed up with him and they opened with the song everyone always wants to hear, “The Captain.” Just as they finished, the rain began to come down much harder, so Creeden moved beneath the lip of the garage to protect his guitar and leave his adoring audience in the rain. Jon had had a few, including the Beau’s Hardcore 8.1 I brought him and was feeling good. “I thought I could get drunk, love my friends, play guitar and entertain,” he said. “Think I’m only doing 1 and 2.” He took requests from the crowd so we got to hear a lot of our non-Captain favourites like “Dominoes,” “Movie Song,” and “Take That Steve Perry.”And in his new Ottawa tradition, Creeden played the three songs he wrote about awesome Ottawa people and places. First the song about Jean-Sebastien, which he requested as he stood by Creeden’s side, then “558 Scum,” about Scum House, and finally the song about Robot House! We all sang along and had a blast, as Ottawa always does when Jon Creeden is in town.
As a prelude to the long weekend that has now blurred into the first days of Bluesfest, Centretown’s cherished Raw Sugar Café hosted on June 27th a medley of Ottawa’s experimental folk and art-rock bands. Bosveld, Tindervox, Pony Girl, and Flying Hórses united in an intimate concert with the intention of fundraising for equipment to replace what was stolen in a break-in to the home of Flying Hórses’ musician, Jáde Bergeron. The space created around each featured musician’s artistry enabled the potential for unity and healing, while also successfully raising enough funds to purchase a laptop for Bergeron’s continued recording.
An entirely acoustic set from Théan Slabbert, of electro-acoustic folk act Bosveld, came as a delicate introduction to the night. Appropriately reflecting the topographic symbolism of the band name’s Afrikaans origin, Slabbert enchanted the audience with the panoramic character of his soft vocals and arrangements. Removed from his usual accompanying sheen of synth, Slabbert’s voice echoed instead of warm wood, its hushed tones fading into the grain of the guitar. Lyrics and melodic shapes reflected geographies familiar to listeners – those of swelling riverbeds as much as the changing crests of emotions.
Bathed in stillness after Théan Slabbert’s performance, the atmosphere of the tightly packed café was transformed by neoromantic rock band Tindervox. Performing tracks from their self-titled EP, released this past January, the group hypnotized the audience with theatrical melodies and the magnetic vocals of singer Kara Askwith. “Hanging onto faces in the crowd,” sang Askwith, revealing unembellished wisdom throughout Tindervox’s poetry, “Holy love is hard to find when you’re searching with your mind.” Kara’s soulful vocals — and elemental references of pine, fire, and ash — were punctuated by guitarist Justin Black’s classic rock character.
Transitioning the audience from the steady rhythms of Tindervox into a more abstracted fantasy, art-rock band Pony Girl played an uncharacteristically small, acoustic set with only four of its usual eight members. Jazz-tinged harmonies filled the café. A coalescence of symbolic lyrics and liquid polyrhythmic arrangements dissolved the audience. Each myth weaved between Pascal Huot’s serene voice and the fay vocals and oboe of Yolande Laroche, to the coiling phrases of Julien Dussault’s guitar and Isaac Vallentin’s expressive supporting vocals.
“There are dreams where no one dies,” hover the opening lyrics of Pony Girl’s 2013 album Show Me Your Fears, “Confined in bodies, what shape is mine?”
The presence and absence of light were inescapable in Pony Girl’s allusions to the dawn, the morning star, sunlight, and golden hues. Even the passage of each song’s rhythms into the next seemed to incline in the patterns of the morning to dusk. Intricate, metaphysical and modest, Pony Girl’s set weighed with the gravity necessary to approach the night’s closing performance by Flying Hórses.
In a signature ritual, keyboardist Jáde Bergeron opened her set with cellist Raphael Weinroth-Browne by invoking the chant of miniature music boxes. Fragile figurines of horses spinning in carousels alluded to themes of childhood innocence in which Bergeron firmly grounds her music. One cascade of notes falling eerily into the next twisted the ambiance into a fairy-tale trance. Bergeron and Weinroth-Browne developed the preceding narrative of light into a disturbed measuring of time. Sombre cello variations were performed by Weinroth-Browne with a poet’s thunderous energy, accenting Bergeron’s persisting celestial melodies. At times, one instrument threatened to overtake the other, only to subside again into complete harmony. In silence, the audience was spellbound by the instrumental surge of Flying Hórses.
It was easy to lose direction in the mazes constructed by the talented duo. Even more so, with the evening’s entire roster successfully captivating the assembled crowd at Raw Sugar, it might have been easy to also forget the tragic context of the show. Yet, the urgency of bringing the community together to support a musician in hardship was gently reaffirmed in the brief moments when Bergeron gracefully pushed through tears.
Jáde Bergeron of Flying Hórses. Photo: Jonathan Lorange.
Q & A with Jáde Bergeron of Flying Hórses
As Flying Hórses, you perform mostly with Raphael Weinroth-Browne. What drew you to collaborate with him? And what parallels do you see between his dramatic style and your ideas?
Raphael and I have known each other for five years now and before we started playing together, we would always have endless conversations about the depth of music. How music isn’t something you do or play, music is its own spirit and sometimes you luck out and it pays you a visit. I think we’ve always had an understanding for the type of music we play together now. Raphael and I are pretty meticulous and are on the same page about making each note count. We both feel the importance of performing from deeper levels, especially that our sounds are delicate and instrumental. It continues to amaze me just how talented and hard-working he is. He is an integral part of this project.
You’re going to Iceland. Why there? Does the Arctic landscape influence your vision in any ways, for your upcoming project?
Iceland, to me, is a feeling. Not to worry, I’m well aware it’s also a beautiful Island with magnificent landscapes, geothermal energy, and some of the best fish in the world. This feeling that I’m talking about is something we all have, for one place or another. It could be a country far away, a childhood home, or a patch of tall grass in your dreams. A place where you can breathe and connect with the peace in your heart. Sometimes there are no words to express what something truly means to you, and that’s why I’ve created this music. This project is purely based on childhood memories of safe spaces and feelings such as Iceland.
As much as you can share, what are some of the themes that are going into your new project? What can we expect that might be new or evolved from your existing work?
Flying Hórses came to me in a dream a few years ago after falling asleep to cranked music boxes by my bed. Music boxes play an important role in the project as they reflect nostalgic memories of innocence and simplicity. Alone, a single music box may sound soothing and peaceful but throw in five or six other boxes and the notes become dissonant and complicated which can also evoke memories of confusion and uncertainty. A greater part of being a child and not understanding why things are the way they are. Is memory a theme, I’m not even really certain.
You will be recording at Sundlaugin Studio in Reykjavik. You did mention that you can’t speak much about it, but how do you think recording in this studio will affect this new project?
We are beyond blessed to have the opportunity to work with Biggi from Sundlaugin. Although my time in Iceland will be brief, I plan on bringing back with me sounds from one of the most magical places on earth. I’m hoping to be able to get my hands and heart on some pretty rare instruments for the recordings. There is indeed, a lot of work to be done. Listeners can expect layers in addition to the music we have been performing live for a little over a year now. A few little surprises in-between songs even.
As you prepare to leave, are there any influences specific to Ottawa that you will be bringing with you to Iceland? In what ways do you think the artistic scene in our city has coloured your work?
Ottawa’s artistic community is like no other I’ve ever been a part of. Support is what grounds us, and the production value in the city amazes me. There’s always something really fun going on, sometimes it’s hard to decide how to spend your time. Regardless of what’s happening, you can be sure to bump into someone you know and before you know it, you’re collaborating on a new project. We do all of our best to connect with one another and respect each other’s work and passion. Some of my favourite bands are here in Ottawa, and knowing they’re off doing what they love, really inspires me to follow my dreams.
In retrospect, what do you think the concert reflected of Ottawa, both in terms of musical appreciation and the community? What were your impressions?
Unfortunately I experienced a hardship recently. I had a break and enter in my home and goods were taken. When you’re a musician and life gets tough, you play music, so that’s what the show was about. Pony Girl, Bosveld and Tindervox are bands that I have a lot of respect for. Their sounds are unique and I knew that sharing the stage with them would help me heal, and it did. We are so humbled by the turnout and beyond grateful for the donations that were given to us. I was able to purchase a new computer so that the recording of this project and other projects can run their course naturally. As mentioned previously, the Ottawa community is incredible and it is without a doubt, home sweet home.
Swearin’ is one of the bands I’ve listened to most in the last year. Songs like “Dust in the Gold Sack,” “What a Dump,” and “Just” (with its unbeatable chorus of “I just want you to love me, woah-oah-oah-oah-oah”) are burned into my psyche. Swearin’s songwriting style, which is both universal and extremely specific, makes for choruses and verses which I’ve come to associate with moments in my own life. I’m pretty sure anyone can relate to a song like “Loretta’s Flowers”, a slower number which singer Allison Crutchfield describes as being about “watching your friends make mistakes in their love lives”. This is all a slightly tangential way of saying that I went to this show with high hopes and was not disappointed. The band seemed appreciative of the packed, lively house at Luneta and returned the favour with an energetic, highly enjoyable set.