Deathsticks, WLMRT, & Dark Plains at Pressed
Words and photos by Sara Osmanovic
I often go into shows with little to no knowledge of the bands that are playing that night. However, upon hearing Deathsticks was playing Pressed, I knew that that was a show not to be missed. Although the show started a bit late, it didn’t have an effect on the length of each set.
Dark Plains, a local band, ripped through the murmurs of the crowd as they began their set. A steady and prominent bass line with a heavy tone dominated the room and the guitar creating dissonant riffs. One of the first things that caught my attention other than the obviously booming sound slicing through the silence was the ability the guitar had for carrying the songs while the drums rattled in your chest. It was almost as if one would take the song apart while the other put it back together and it created a unique dynamic that was easy to get wrapped up in.
Some songs would start out with a drum solo instead of with the bass, and it really set the tone and mood for the rest of the song. The atmosphere was dark but the energy was high in these moments. The uniqueness of the drums struck me, they were loud but in a few places they’d go off beat only to jump back on beat and flow and meld together with what the rest of the band played.
During the guitar solos, the bassline would be the backbone, seeming as if everything would wrap around it and this is a factor that didn’t allow the solo’s to punch you in the face with high intensity. It rather pulled people into it and allowed them to immerse themselves in the soundscape that they were presented with. Sometimes you’d hear notes that were off key but that just pulled you into the intricately orchestrated songs more because it made everything that came after sound that much better.
The vocals are almost a contrast to the music being played. They take a more mellow approach and create an overlay to the aggressive drumming, bass, and guitars; but when unified in harmonies they can pack a punch and emphasise themselves above all else. The combination of vocals mirroring the aggression in the written music got me to move my feet and nod along but it also seemed to get people to lurch their bodies in choppy, staggering, and abrupt motions.
WLMRT burst through with a fiery passion, the aggressive sound making itself present and known despite the songs being relatively short. I noticed people thrashing to it, throwing their bodies into those of others without a care and that goes to describe what the music itself is. It’s an overpowering bassline, reverberated guitar riffs, odd electronic sounds via soundboard, and the drumming that packs punches in quick succession.
Vocals cut right through the medley of sound and it’s something you try to decipher through the reverb – and maybe you manage to, or you don’t, but it’s enough to grasp your attention and drag you in by the collar of your shirt. Shrill when the songs progress and unfold but they’re no strangers to a more melodic approach. Delivered with a twitchy but fun-loving carefree attitude, the vocals really help loosen you up and get you into the weighted sound of the bass, the fuzz of the guitar, and the manic drumming.
WLMRT is a band that smashes everything together in ways that you wouldn’t imagine. It’s like that one weird combination of food that you never thought would work but does. I find that this is because there’s so much going on and because everyone seemingly marches to the beat of their own drum but that’s very far from the case. It’s something that’s so close to old school punk—pure distorted noise that throws you dead centre into the scene that they’re creating, and that’s something that keeps drawing me in.
Don’t even bother trying to deconstruct any Deathsticks song because it’s not something you’ll ever be able to do. The Ottawa band is confusing, aggressive, and beautiful, and brings genuine meaning to the name Deathsticks. By the end of the night, I’m sure only one pair of drumsticks didn’t end up broken in half.
The band sounds like a fully formed band, and I suppose they are, but if you’ve never heard or seen them, you’ll be shocked to know that they’re a duo. Every component of their music is well timed that it shocks the listener, you can’t try to listen to them, just listen, observe, and let yourself be swept away by the aggression and anger.
There’s not a single aspect that seems traditionally composed. Every musical “rule” has been rejected—from the very first song they played, where Matt rubbed the guitar strings with his hand, a technique that is seldom used to the very end of the set. Deathsticks strayed from any rules that would have been imposed and transformed intros into messy white noise.
The drumming is chaotic and the guitar steady but completely unstable. Laura knows exactly what to do and how to keep it in control, almost as if the instrument is just an extension of an arm or a leg. It seems to come as second nature and watching it is mesmerising. The consistent use of the ride and crash cymbals adds a contrast to the deep boom off the bass drum and the rattling of the snare.
Spoken words or off-beat screaming, the duo have seemingly mastered the music. The feedback, crashing drums, roaring power chords and screaming solos, all contributed to something that I had once stated would happen if they were to play in a dingy bar—that’s right, a mosh pit. Not only does the music grow wild but the crowd with it.
The set may leave you wondering “what the fuck was that?” the first time you hear them, but truly the only way to answer that question is with the simple words “controlled chaos”.
So maybe next time that you find yourself in a rut and itching to do something with your night, find a show any one of these bands are playing and let the music drown you. You won’t regret it for a second – not even when you wake up the next morning with your ears ringing just as much as the previous night.
Deathsticks and WLMRT have recently released a split LP with Nushu and Nightbummerz which you can listen to here. Check out the show photos below.
Highlights: Ottawa Jazz Festival 2017
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.
Gallery: Ottawa Jazz Festival 2017
Photos by Els Durnford