On a humid and muggy day like this one, arriving early to a show at Black Squirrel Books and Espresso Bar in the heart of Old Ottawa South was nothing short of a blessing to me. Two reassuring words: air conditioning.
The venue was filled with an overwhelming sense of warmth and togetherness—welcoming faces, friendly reunions and collective enthusiasm for the closely approaching show. Three terrific bands, all of them seemingly close friends of one another, about to rock the fuck out of this cozy cafe.
Nashville, Tennessee’s Sad Baxter blasted out their first number under the dim lighting of Edison bulbs. Nirvana was the first thought that popped into my head—the 90’s grunge influence was clear as day. Their light-hearted banter contrasted with the gritty and sludgy tone of their music. The guitar was distorted and heavy, the bass controlling, and the drums (played by Alex Mojaverian) calculated and simultaneously chaotic. Deezy Violet’s vocals meshed with the instrumentals, her voice raspy and filled with longing and understanding. Her goosebump-inducing growls through “Sick-Outt” carried so much sincerity, and during “Baby” were supported by harmonizing from the bassist. Sad Baxter kicked off the show strong and confident, and were a good start to a night of great music and genial people.
It was hard for me to not smile like an complete and utter idiot when Montreal’s BBQT got onto the floor for their set. The power pop posse, ecstatic to be playing back in Ottawa since performing at Ottawa Explosion Weekend (R.I.P.) back in June, also came on with smiles on their faces. BBQT’s charismatic personality seems to possess the power to lift your mood no matter what and make any group of people feel like a family.
The band started off with “PEPSI”, a short n’ sweet upbeat song like many of their tracks. The sound from bassist Mikey Melikey was a thunderous quake that acted as a foundation for the fun, tweety instrumentals accompanying it. It blanketed the strong, catchy melodies and riffs. The sweet twangy-ness and slightly distorted guitar surfed around the bass, baiting it back and forth and up and down.
Bopping to the beat and sporting a string of fairy lights around her guitar was Amery Sandford, who absolutely killed the solos habitually played by guitarist Jack Bielli. Sandford giggled off the occasional slip-ups (which somehow added to their style) and jammed on. Solos mimicked her honest and carefree vocals, which she performed with the occasional wink to friends and family in the audience. Allison Graves passionately drummed a delicate surf beat as the whole venue belted out the lyrics to “HIGH WASTED”. Fun and punky and almost “post-ironic”, BBQT’s vibe made me forget just how damn quickly summer was coming to an end.
Last but undisputedly not least was Lonely Parade, who tonight celebrated the release of their newest LP “The Pits” with Buzz Records. Also based in Montreal, Quebec, Lonely Parade is a post-punk trio composed of long-time friends Augusta Veno, Charlotte Dempsey and Anwyn Climenhage. Going into this set, I wasn’t sure what to expect. To say the least, I was blown away. Their sound was weighty and almost unsettling, but in the best way imaginable. Droning, layered vocals gave me hints of That Dog—though tame, one could catch undertones of angst, determination and yearning. They begged to not be underestimated. Lyrics touched on the struggles and thrills of everyday life, and invoked a strange feeling of nostalgia.
Occasionally we’d get a fun sort of prologue to a song, a story or experience that inspired the music. For example, “I’m So Tired” was introduced with an anecdote about falling asleep in the car. You could envision yourself there: the stern and fluid bass steering you down a dark road, the guitar intertwining itself with it, often drifting away but always in sight. The guitar riffs kept you on edge, abruptly turning corners but always ending up back where they started. Moods would change as well as tone.
They’d go from a sort of calculated math rock to utter noise and spacey hysteria resonating Pavement instrumentals. It was fucking hypnotic. The drums kept everything moving. They were crisp and frigid and intimidating, sending shocks of icy blue through your veins. The temper the band created was so intriguing that the crowd refused to let go of it. After some eager persuasion to perform an encore, Lonely Parade closed effectively with “Grilled Cheese”, and it was time to return to the oh-so-fun humidity of the outdoors.
A truly stellar night it was. I urge you to catch at least one of these bands live when they return to Ottawa. Each band, though showcasing different styles, tied together seamlessly and turned the night into a fluent story. Each band was a new chapter and resonated a different mood, but all with the same underlying likeness. An experience like this is totally worth subjecting yourself to the ringing in your ears you’ll hear the next morning. No doubt.
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.
Taking the Legion by storm, The Nailbiters played their first show and moulded their own unique energy that would leave impressions on everyone attending. From their soundcheck to their proper set, the band ripped right into the atmosphere. Sounding like they were thrown into a dingy garage, The Nailbiters absolutely had this to their advantage.
The vocals shrieked, raw and raspy. They were rough and unlike anything previously heard—anger and soul drenched them. Almost lost within the raging of the other instruments, they came through nonetheless and with a wild energy. Painting the soundscape bitter greens and maroon reds, the colours add to the intensity of their riveting sound.
The chugging of the guitar and bass in combinations played with orange and vivid reds. The two melded together and while you could feel the difference in your chest, it’s so tightknit that you need to listen to distinguish the two because they follow and hold each other together. The pick scrapes, however, are ever prominent and executed flawlessly. The solos played left room for the bass to hold the songs together while allowing the guitar to shred.
The drums came in cold and brutal, painting the scene all shades of blue. The cymbals crashed wildly and it ensued thrashing from the crowd. Unellegant suited the vibe given off.
Next up were Death Exclamations, a band filled with well-loved Ottawa punks, all who have been in at least four different bands at a time. Little smiles and energy through the roof, the guys crashed through the silence and tore the Legion apart with their ferocity.
The bass rumbled loud and proud right up in the foreground and managed to meld between the guitar. Once the guitar came in, the place was ripped apart the last bit of calm that would have been left. Steady and reminiscent of Discharge, there was that muffled aspect to the guitar while it maintained anger. The solo’s seemed to egg on a challenge of sorts that tied everything together.
The drumming was quick and cold, a bitter bite behind it. The snare sounded flat and full instead of resonant and hollow. Meanwhile, Sammy’s vocals ripped through the irritated instrumental and while they were hard to decipher, they were delivered with extreme passion. Scrapped from the back of his throat and spit out into the microphone, not a single beat is missed.
Up next were Ottawa’s, Omerta, who yet again redefined ear-splitting chaos. The vocals packed an extremely powerful punch, each word hitting you like a brick to the head. Sierra stomped around from one end of the “stage” to the next, passion and rage mixing into the performance. The vocals turned everything blue and drenched the very middle of the scene.
The guitar played with a controlled feedback while it spat out heavy melancholy as buildup to what was to be unleashed. The power of the weighted chords and the dark aquamarine they created clashed with the drums and the yellow produced by them. The drumming and guitar played an interesting game—thrashing against solo’s, silence against a roar of power chords.
The bass shook your core and you could hear the deep rumble in the background, slight tonal differences or riffs than the guitar would play over, it remained pronounced. It added a strong backbone to the songs. The drumming, which came with enthusiasm and unrivaled vexation tainted each open area a stark magenta. It was hard to rip your ears away from it.
After Omerta, Tightlip took to the stage and completely obliterated any notion of limits to their capabilities. Belting out the vocals with a grit an weight to her voice was Ashly all while playing the bass. Her quick basslines shred and remained booming throughout the set. Reds tainted over my vision as the bassline peeked through more and more, raspy and deep vocals adding an orange dimension to the pieces.
James’ drumming sent a frigid chill down spines and contrasted any warmth that emanated from the bass. Skeletal and heavy, there was absolutely no apologies for how assertive each beat fell. It intermingled with the colours the guitar emit while playing solo’s and added incredible power.
The guitar lashed out untamable energy, crushing blue’s for solos transitioned to deep magentas the deeper the chords went. It had a bite to it that radiated a bitter vibe.
Moreover, Tightlip made sure to call out those who moshed too aggressively —you know who you are. They tried to bring more safety into the scene while playing their set and remained unapologetic about it.
Pen-ultimately were Zymotic from Montreal, Quebec. They tore into the set like no tomorrow, thrashing about, rasping out line after line. They brought out the second most intense pit of the night.
The guitar burst through the basslines with scarcely any mercy and blew roaring greens into the soundscape. With the more metallic sound to the strings and flat sound to the guitar it really took over the space. The bass stood out for the fat and round sound it carried. Weighted and packing a punch it was hard to miss the strong basslines. Muddy army greens drenched the place with bubbles of it.
The drumming stood out on its own—hollow and fucking loud. Standing out was not the snare but rather the heavy usage of the toms. Reminiscent of drumming you might hear in metal, it did not fail to entice. It came out as murky yellow and sunburst oranges while the cymbals seemed to add a few spots of a dirty pastel blue.
Lastly, all the way from Mexico were APÄRÄ. The band, whilst expelling an intense amount of raw-as-fuck aggression, absolutely encapsulated the energy that a show needed. Having kicked off the end of the night with rapid drumming and quick fills, pick slides drenched in feedback, basslines that boomed, they worked the crowd.
The vocals tore through the instrumentals with the punch they packed—weighted as all hell and coming out as elongated screams, they followed and fell from rhythms systematically. Drumming crashed right into the vocals and set the rhythms that broke and were restitched. It was hollow and commanding.
The guitars droned on, overdriven with feedback dripping into nearly every note. Deep power chords completely took over and superimposed one another, chugging on in a fit of dominance. Inserting itself into the chaos was the bass, which added a dimension to the guitar playing that wasn’t otherwise found. It acted as a wild backbone.
It’s safe to say that these bands are all nes you should get your asses out to see. They’re incredibly wild and wreak havoc on just about everything. Just keep in mind to hold yourself to pit etiquette and keep each other safe. Respect the space and respect others.
Last weekend was stacked with good shows. No matter what I chose to do there was an equally solid show happening elsewhere. One of the options was Mushy Gushy, No Aloha, and Casa Lagarto at Black Squirrel—and there are no regrets.
The night started off with friends hugging and smiles abound. It’s always nice to see a lineup where the bands know each other or have worked together in the past. The weather was warm and soggy, but the sky was clear and folks began to trickle in as local garage-psyche marvels Casa Lagarto took the stage.
Casa Lagarto is a mashup of well-seasoned artists in the community, including Jonny Yuma (formerly of The Yips), Arturo Portocarrero (Lost To The River), Grant McNeil (Tropical Country), Jason Barkhouse (Black Lab Studios), and Jonathan Pearce (Winchester Warm/Mushy Gushy) filling in for Travis Kinnear who just recently celebrated the birth of his first daughter. Their set was tight and their arrangements came through crisply into our ears.
Casa Lagarto at Black Squirrel. Photo by Matías Muñoz.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again—Casa Lagarto’s music could be the soundtrack to a Hunter S. Thompson novel. I mean that in the best way possible. I feel like their music would fit perfectly into an acid trip on a desert highway in Nevada somewhere. Casa’s sound is clearly influenced by psych and rockabilly, taking elements from various styles and making them their own. Johnny Yuma’s low, brooding vocals enthralled the audience and his exquisite clean guitar tone could give you goosebumps. Jon Pearce filled in perfectly, and somehow knew the songs like the back of his hand. Some key tracks they played were “Lights Out” and “Scarecrow,” and I highly recommend you go dive deep into Casa’s albums on Bandcamp. The group layered their sound well in the live setting, using the intimacy of the bookstore to enhance their individual instruments to create a warm and rich atmosphere for us all to enjoy the show.
Next on deck was No Aloha, a summer-friendly garage rock group from Montreal that has some loving fans here in Ottawa. As an aside, we presented No Aloha at Mugshots back in 2015 along with Bonnie Doon and Nightshades and it still remains one of the funnest shows we’ve ever done to date. They are fresh off the release of their new EP Cigarettes for Optimists and rocked the house at Black Squirrel.
No Aloha at Black Squirrel. Photo by Matías Muñoz.
This group may seem like a bunch of slacker rock dudes, with their long hair and rarely-groomed faces. However, they’re anything but. This band is well-rehearsed and have a chemistry that is instantly noticeable when they hit the stage and start playing together. With flying guitar riffs, impactful percussion, and Ben Griffiths’ smooth vocals, this group injected some energy into the room. They dug into their impressive catalogue from the past few years throughout the set and pleased the audience and got some bodies moving. Black Squirrel is a versatile venue for all kinds of shows, and the place was perfect for the diverse sounds of this lineup. Lets hope these dudes come back to Ottawa soon, because they’re a party.
Last up was Mushy Gushy, an Ottawa “butt-rock” band that takes a fun spin on rock and roll. While it’s hard to imagine these guys ever not having fun, this night was bittersweet. Kyle Woods, the original drummer and founding member of the band has recently moved to Toronto and got a job there (congrats to him!). But the show must go on. Thus, this show was to be his last as he moves on to new journeys. While this kind of mutual parting is difficult for friends and band mates, it was clear that the sweet outweighed the bitter. Kyle was radiating smiles and hugs, and obviously this was to be a memorable night for him and the band as they decidedly wanted to end his tenure with a bang.
Mushy Gushy consists of more music scene veterans here in Ottawa—bassist Jon Pearce (Winchester Warm), drummer Kyle Woods (fmr. Kalle Mattson), guitarist Cory Lefebvre (fmr. Baberaham Lincoln), and vocalist Dave Gervais (fmr. The Gallop). But more than anything, this group of buds just wants to have fun, and that is evident in their compositions. They don’t take themselves too seriously, and that’s refreshing.
Mushy Gushy at Black Squirrel. Photo by Matías Muñoz.
The ‘Gush have released two excellent EPs so far since coming together in 2016—Tight Snake and More Butter. I just can’t wait to hear what their third release will be called with titles like that. We presented their tape release party at Bar Robo a few years back, and let me tell you—it was a time. Kyle carried the whole set through, and he played the drums more fervent than ever. His rhythm was flawless and his beard was flying to-and-fro to the uptempo rock and roll his group performs. Cory’s fluttering guitar riffs flew over Jon’s steady bass lines as the tracks kept the crowd energized and engaged. They had the crowd singing the irresistible catchy “Oh Oh Ohs” in “Heartbreak Motel” and had booties shaking during “Summer Lusting.” Closer to the end of their set they played their most well-known jam, “Schemestress,” at which point the night hit its climax. The song is a feel-good summer tune, and the hook will grab you and hold on tight. David Gervais’ songwriting is on point, and his vocals add the finishing touch to their part pop, part-garage rock sound with just enough catchiness and grit to go around. All in all, it was a night of good vibes and good memories were made.
What’s the best way to cure the Monday blues… well a rock show of course. Black Pistol Fireand Thunderpussy took over the Algonquin Commons Theatre a few weeks back with enough guitar and drums to shake the depths of Nepean to its core.
Touting their debut self-titled album, Thunderpussy—an all-female rock band from Seattle—started the night off with a sound that instantly demanded the crowd’s attention. Frontwoman Molly Sides, with her dynamic voice, belted out songs exuding power and pure rock n’ roll. All the while, she commanded the stage with moves that kept the audience glued to her every step, kick, and head bang. Lead guitarist, Whitney Petty, hit the stage decked out in metallic clothing, and played riff after riff, complemented perfectly by Leah Julius on bass, who took her place on the other side of the stage. The drums were no different. Ruby Dunphy, punished her drum kit, and kept the ground shaking as the rock quartet showed that their presence in Ottawa would not soon be forgotten. All in all, Thunderpussy slayed their set and had everyone in the crowd amped up and dreaming of hitting their level of rad.
Shortly after 9pm, Black Pistol Fire took the stage to an audience that was full of anticipation. The Canadian duo, originating from Toronto, are known for their unbelievable high-powered live performances. I knew they would be good, but hell, I didn’t know they would be mind-shattering. The pair, Kevin McKeown, guitar and lead vocals, and drummer Eric Owen, played harder, louder, and with more intensity than could ever be imagined from a two-piece rock band, on a Monday night. With influence from bands like the Black Keys and The White Strips, Black Pistol Fire has made their mark on rock n’ roll. Their hit song, Lost Cause, from their 2017 album called Deadbeat Graffiti dominated, having secured the number one spot on Billboard’s Canada Rock National Airplay for several weeks running.
That Monday night McKeown surpassed all the hype that surrounds his stage presence. He tore through guitar solos that had the crowd mesmerized and jumping along with him. His stomps of sheer energy bled off the stage as he climbed over the security gates and joined the crowd, never once missing a chord. Every solo brought more intensity and ignited roaring cheers.
Owens, who of course went shirtless, was no different. He pounded his drum kit and kept us focused on his larger than life beats. Playing off each other’s energy, Owens triumphantly led a full-blown attack throughout every song, leaving no survivors. Owens left it all on the stage and brought moments that will be impossible to forget, such as jamming out with a maraca in one hand, while still pounding his drum kit with the other, hitting every beat with impeccable precision.
Black Pistol Fire struck a perfect balance between blues, soul, and rock n’ roll, with songs like “Speak of the Devil,” that satisfied your craving for their unique sound, while dishing out flawless guitar riffs. Playing “Bully” as their pre-encore set, the duo victoriously tore through guitar solos paired with drum beats that reverberated through your spine. Owens tossed his drum stick to eager fans and exited, with McKeown by his side, only to be summoned back by a chant of “BPF.” As the guys played one last song, I could still feel the blood pulsing through my temples—looking around the room, I knew I wasn’t alone. Dazed and confused, in a moment of haze and amazement, my ears ringing and heart pumping, I could tell the crowd was awestruck. If you appreciate raw unearthed talent paired with an energy that will keep you on the edge, begging for one more song, BPF is the band for you.
We finally got around to checking out the latest release by Ottawa’s own Worn Robot, called Worn Robot 3.
The 19-track album, their third, starts with the first track “More Than You Know” sounding reminiscent of the brooding darkness of Elliot Smith but then quickly shift to more of an industrial and heavy sound in the second song, “Astral Leaf.” Then just as you get used to the change of pace, the next track is right back to those sombre acoustic sounds for a few tracks.
The fifth song, “Glitch in the Shell,” revs up the intensity again with its instrumental industrial edge, taking the listener to a completely different place. The harsh breaks between songs and the changes of pace becomes a noticeable pattern throughout the album. The experimental pieces that appear every couple songs gives the impression of an alter-ego creeping out of everyone once and while, taking some risks and pushing the limits of his thoughts and sound. It really keeps listeners on their toes, and I am very intrigued to see how this plays out live.
A song that really stuck out after a couple of listens, through, was “How Many More Times” with its acoustic-grunge feel to the chord progressions and the sound of fingers sliding between chords. The first slide gave me chills. The song also really flows well into the next instrumental, which is heavier and a little more rocking but still grunge-laden in sound. You really don’t hear enough instrumentals in that style.
Worn Robot 3 was definitely influenced by grunge but there is also those aforementioned industrial elements and even some modern hardcore that breaks through. I encourage you to carve out some time in your busy schedule and actually sit down and take in this album from start to finish. This album is an experience, not just ambiance.
On Thursday night, crowds escaped the damp, rainy Ottawa streets and piled into a dimly lit Bronson Centre to witness an evening of ambient, atmospheric music. Headliner Timber Timbre visited Ottawa for the fourth time in 6 years along with support from Ottawa’s own Boyhood Scattered Clouds.
Scattered Clouds took to the stage first, rising out of an ascending red fog. Performing as a 2-piece band with Jamie Kronick on drums and Philippe Charbonneau on guitar, keyboard, and vocals, this band was the most surprising act of the night. In terms of style, Scattered Clouds describe themselves as “dark, experimental, and post apocalyptic.” These characteristics could not be more fitting. Beginning their set with a heavy presence of baritone guitar and an emphasis on drums driving the synths, the band achieved a sound that could easily be equated to a modern day embodiment of a Joy Division b-side album, with an “Ian Curtis- esque” vocal tone. The second half of the set however, transitioned into an emphasis on synth and a precision in instrumentation. Creating an atmospheric 80’s dance vibe, the band achieved a type of lo-kfi sound that left the audience in a state of euphoria. Waking from this set with the harsh Bronson Centre lighting was like waking out of a heavy, romantic dream.
When the lights dimmed again, our good pals Boyhood took to the stage. Clad in flared pants and turtlenecks, Boyhood did not fail to deliver their staple moody, noisy sound. As always Caylie Runciman delivered raw and airy vocals that harmonized beautifully with her band, and provided an emotional and unpolished set completed with songs that morphed and melted into one another. Giving us a taste of what is to be expected from the upcoming album Bad Mantras, which will be the bands first album since 2012, the set featured the bands catchy “Drivin’” and “He Don’t.” Beginning with keyboard, Caylie swapped over to guitar midway through the set where she went to town in an emotional and raw guitar solo. It’s easy to get lost in a Boyhood set, and this was no exception.
Last but not least, Timber Timbre finished the night in almost total darkness, with only subtle lighting sweeping the stage. A glass of liquor sat idled on an amp to the right, Taylor Kirk began playing what seemed like it would be the entirety of his most recent work, Sincerely Future Pollution. However four songs in, the set took a detour towards an intermingling of a huge sample of his work, ranging from his self titled back in 2009 to his most recent. Detouring the set with Hot Dreams, the band’s instrumentation, and deep, sultry vocals, the song was delivered with a raw, sensual and emotional demeanour.
This specific Timber Timbre performance was unlike many others. His previous shows in Ottawa, which included a performance in Ottawa’s first Baptist Church in 2011, a set at Folk Fest in 2012, where he performed alone with a kick drum, and even his set at Jazz Fest in 2015, stuck pretty tightly to the delivery of the songs on the album. However, this set tended to use the style in the albums as backdrops for experimentation and improvisation with melody and pace during the performance, providing unequivocal authenticity. Most notable in this performance was the “Curtains?!” jam session that lengthened the song by about two extra minutes with intense instrumentation. The night ended with a 3-part encore beginning with “Grand Canyon,” that delivered an expressive and theatrical but emotive and raw finale.
This show captured a unique energy that seems to have been strengthened by the uniqueness of all the bands but also the ways in which they played off of one another. They each brought an atmospheric sound and seamless instrumentation, as well as a hard punch in the heartstrings with their raw vocals, lyrical movements, and honest and authentic delivery. The perfect ambiance to fit the creepy environment that is the Bronson Centre on a rainy evening, this show was not one to miss.
Japandroids made their triumphant return to Ottawa this past Sunday after nearly a decade away. They brought with them Cloud Nothings, a gritty garage rock band from Cleveland, Ohio, who made their Ottawa debut at the Bronson Centre.
I fell into Cloud Nothings as they were dropping their third album, Attack on Memory, back in 2012 and never looked back. Their 2014 followup Here and Nowhere Else and their 2015 split with WAVVES called No Life For Me were equally impactful—each had their own character and feel that I thoroughly enjoyed. This is one band I had somehow missed at all the festivals and shows I’d been to over the years, and their perceived avoidance of Ottawa was truly a bummer.
But that all changed Sunday night, as this stacked bill had no problems packing the Bronson Centre’s main floor. Cloud Nothing have seemed to always tow a line of self-defeatism, the “down-and-out” rockers on Attack on Memory finally pulled through and found a semblance of purpose on the gritty followup Here and Nowhere Else. So when Life Without Sound emerged earlier this year, it was exciting, yet I was skeptical and unsure of what to expect. However, when the needled dropped for the first time, it was like a breath of fresh air. The band’s new songs translated incredibly well live, and band members fed off each others stage energy. The album itself comes off as more refined, more direct, and less chaotic than their previous efforts. Songs like “Up to the Surface” and “Enter Entirely” are more restrained than much of their catalogue, and the John Goodmanson’s production gives Life Without Sound a more cohesive and refined feel.
On the stage, Cloud Nothings were tight as hell and nailed every moment of their performance. With this kind of music, it’s easy to get lost in the fuzzy riffs and percussive thunderclaps, but the band strung their set together with ease and precision. Dylan Baldi let loose on a number of occasions and didn’t hesitate to crank up the rasp and scream into his mic. One feature of the set that stood out was drummer Jayson Gerycz’s total domination of the kit. On multiple occasions, he took the spotlight and commanded the drum set with reckless abandon. His tirades were a welcome fixture in their performance, particularly at the end, as he seemed to lock eyes with the all audience members at the same time while pounding our senses with his kick. If Ottawa didn’t know Cloud Nothings before, they sure do now.
Japandroids rocked the Bronson Centre on Sunday Night.
Next up was Vancouver’s Japandroids, pleasing the audience with their much anticipated return to the capital. Lean vocalist and guitarist Brian King noted the long absence, and shared a funny story with the crowd about their last Ottawa gig. The duo formed in 2006 and slugged it out in the Vancouver scene for years, often taking a DIY approach to music and putting together their own shows and do short tours in the area. They put out a couple of EPs in 2007 and 2008, but started to turn heads with their debut LP Post-Nothing. With irresistible jams like “Heart Sweats,” “Young Hearts Spark Fire,” and “Wet Hair,” this is about the time that I fell in love with the band.
Their second LP Celebration Rock was released in 2012, and was almost universally acclaimed by major music publications. It is also pretty much my favourite album of all time, but I digress. Japandroids dug deep into their catalogue and played songs spanning their 3 LPs and gave fans old and new everything they wanted. The tone was set right away as they opened with the title track of their latest record Near to the Wild Heart of Life, an all-out rock and roll anthem that immediately unleashed the energy of the crowd. The crowd indulged in the vocal refrains (“oh oh oh’s”) which has become such a staple in Japandroids tracks, and a truly unifying force. Given the current state of things in the world, picture hundreds of young folks yelling the chorus:
“And it got me all fired up / To go far away / And make some ears ring from the sound of my singing, baby”
The group played older tracks such as “Heart Sweats” and “Young Hearts Spark Fire,” as well as many off of Celebration Rock like “The Nights of Wine and Roses,” “Fire’s Highway, and my personal favourite “Younger Us” (which I would like to be played loudly at my funeral, but I digress).
Japandroids delivered a full dose of raw and unhinged emotion in every song they play. David Prowse’s drumming was as great as ever, but his vocals were noticeably improved since the first time I saw the band back in 2013. His back up presence boosted the overall impact of each song, and it was clear that the two of them had each song down to near perfection. King kept the audience engaged at all times, and didn’t let up throughout the set even though the heat and lack of ventilation in the Bronson Centre was getting noticeably worse as they played.
Even new songs with a different instrumental approach such as “Arc of Bar” and “North East South West” were performed immaculately, and if anyone in the crowd was not on the board with the new record, they were hidden by bodies flying and silenced by the screams of many.
King took a quick pause to share an anecdote about their last time in Ottawa:
“It was at Ottawa Bluesfest in 2009, I think. And it was pissing rain. We were having the best time, but the stage crew was rushing to cover all of our gear with tarps to get the hell out of there. They just wanted us to stop so they could go see Kiss play on the other stage.”
All in all, the group did what they do best—giving the audience the best possible performance. Coming off a raucous night in Montreal (which my friends and I also attended), the Ottawa show was just as impactful—if not more so, only because anticipation had been building for almost a decade. They closed out with one of their biggest songs, the triumphant anthem “The House That Heaven Built.” With fists pumping in the air, shirts soaked with sweat, and vocal cords bursting at the seams, we all sang our god damn hearts out and yelled like hell to the heavens.
My only advice is this: if you haven’t listened to or seen Japandroids before, do it. They are what rock and roll infused with punk rock look like in 2017, and their music will pick you back up on your feet when the world knocks you down.
In this age of easy knowledge, there are hardly any corners of the cultural map still under shadow. It takes an increasingly more impressive sense of novelty for an act to rise above the waves of ‘lost’ artists and be noticed. The 1980 EP Transportation by Chandra boasts a backstory that threatens to become more interesting than the act itself. Fortunately the EP and it’s central artist, Chandra Oppenheim, are singular and brilliant enough stand apart from their remarkable origins.
That first ripple away from the centre of punk, so-called post-punk, is an amorphous and difficult thing to define. It is not a genre (genres be damned), but a moment in time – principally the years 1979 and 1980. In England it fused paranoid punk experimentalism with dub, funk, and more, while in New York it cleaved unto another side-lined genre – Loft disco. And in Transportation, the wiry talents of art-punk band the Model Citizens combined forces with a twelve-year-old songwriter to create an anxious and hyperactive masterpiece. But we will not fall prey to genetic fallacy, regardless of who made this record and when: it is outstanding.
Oppenheim has now decided to revisit her pre-teen career with the help of a six-piece backing band including among its ranks the Toronto experimental electronic duo, Bile Sister. And so, inside the bare stone walls of Gabby Hey, perched over the stretching City Centre, we interred ourselves alongside shades of the past to see what might be resurrected.
Inside I stood in an empty space while the steady pulse of DJ Jason Skilz reverberated off of the dark concrete. Slowly more of the curious crept in to stand in the shadows while the first act, Doves, took the stage. The low-set peripheral lighting threw expressionistic shadows high on the wall behind the three performers. This was the trio’s first live appearance and they pulled us down into a lowland of glacial and brooding shoegaze. Over a palpitation of bass and kick drum, they sent up cloudy sprays of guitar chords and silver pads of synth; washing the walls and our ears with abrasive strokes, while the dual vocals ranged in dynamic from fey croon to stentorian bark. It was a confident inauguration for the group, and left more than a few ears twitching.
Swiftly began the set up for Bile Sister which was as alchemically obscure as to warrant a circle of salt and sacred names around the stage. Wires and pedals, synths and synth drums, bass and vocals; missing only the bubbling phials of bright liquid and scrying mirror. The duo had descended on us from Toronto in a sickly spray of experimental pop, using live percussion loops, electronic invocations and mad, commanding vocals. Vocalist Julie Reich’s voice expands elastically, ecstatically from squeal to croak to doleful and dramatic croon, flying through the room and drawing everyone toward. The band waved their wands around and we were under their glamour in a world of sounds both brackish and sweet, with looped beats moving the body while the electronics addle the brain. The stage was cleared and the splatter was cleaned and soon the duo returned to aid in bringing Chandra back to life.
When Chandra took the stage, there was a palpable uncertainty and anticipation among the crowd. Who in their right mind would sing songs written by their twelve-year-old self, over thirty years later? The answer: only one who wrote such great songs. As was to be expected, the back catalogue was exhibited and the re-enactment was executed with bubbling, bouncing, freak funk precision by the seven assembled musicians. There were holes in the mix initially: the guitar was plucked but unheard and the backup singers sang mutely into their mics, but this was gradually rectified and the band found their cohesion. If anything the set served as a reminder for an album that deserves so much more recognition than it was afforded upon its original release. Bodies moved to the slithering bass line that bears aloft the discordant organ stabs and maniac disco clap of Opposite; and who alive could fail to be stimulated by the queasy groove of ‘Kate,’ with it’s unforgettable opening line. It would suffice as any for a signature song and boasts a lyric that, at first seems like simple juvenile prattle but which reveals a surprising depth and myriad inference.
The representation of these artifacts will hopefully remind listeners that one of the most important elements of the post-punk period was it’s attempt to move away from the increasingly ugly boys cult that was (and still is) much of the punk rock scene and to include a wider variety of voices. Yes we remember Joy Division and Gang of Four, but let’s not forget the racial politics of Two-Tone, or the feminist art-punk of Delta 5, Au Pairs and the Raincoats. Though the era has been tirelessly plundered, with the remount of Chandra we are reminded that there is still some mystery left to the world and who knows what else, what other voice seemingly less than suited to mainstream digestion, lies buried under the sands of the years?
Hometown heroes Moroccan Sun gave Zaphod’s a stadium-worthy show as the first opening act for The Zolas this past Friday night. Known for their infectious energy, the 5-piece alternative rock band definitely did not disappoint, and as someone who’s never actually seen them play live, I was wildly impressed and unable to keep my feet on the ground. Still hot off their debut Moroccan Sun EP release, the band kept us on our toes with their driving beats. If you were there and loved what you heard, or have yet to check out this awesome local band, their EP is available on Bandcamp – seriously, download it now.
Toronto-based indie pop quintet Grounders (minus guitarist Evan Lewis) were the second in a phenomenal lineup of Canadian bands, and took over the stage like psychedelic hipsters from space. Kurt Marble (drums) and Mike Searle (bass) were all grins and wobbly dance moves, while singer and guitarist Andrew Davis gazed soulfully into the crowd as he crooned, “Where do you go? Waiting around, where do you go from here?” during the chorus of “Secret Friend,” off their self-titled GROUNDERS LP.
Davis’ eye contact became borderline uncomfortable as he showed off his rock-hard abs to catcalling fans. If the almost-strip show wasn’t enough to win the crowd over, Davis walked off the stage to grab a guy’s cellphone mid-set and congratulated him on the lucky woman who I assume was on the other end of the line. One thing’s for sure: these guys are a riot and everyone should experience their out-of-this-world synth-pop sound at least once before their legs give out and they’re no longer able to dance.
10:00pm finally came around and Vancouver natives The Zolas made their way out of the deep blue fog and onto the stage to open with “Molotov Girls,” a single off their latest LP, Swooner. After gracing the room with two newer tracks, lead singer Zachary Gray greeted the crowd with an exuberant and overwhelmed “Holy shit Ottawa! HI!” He then proceeded to advise everyone at the front that he would only give a maximum number of high-fives (so hopefully y’all made ‘em count). Though the band played many of their new songs, older fans were stoked to hear “Strange Girl,” and even more so when we were asked to clap along until the clapping got awkward (and it did). “You guys need to get frothy enough for Dwight to stage dive, because he’s always wanted to do that,” Zach shouted, and the crowd obliged during “Swooner,” prompting bassist Dwight Abell to ditch his bass and fling himself into the roaring dance party (sorry we dropped you).
We were treated to a sing-along during “You’re too Cool,” an old classic off The Zolas’ debut album The Great Collapse, as Zach conducted the band and the crowd from a whisper to an explosive “I CAN TELL WE’LL NEVER BE SAVED, TIL THE WALLS FALL DOWN.” The crowd wasted no time demanding an encore, as they literally pushed the band back on stage “like the surf rejecting the surfer,” as Gray so eloquently put it. The tri-song reprise was an Ancient Mars special, with “Observatory,” “Knot in my Heart,” and finally “Escape Artist” to end the night on a highly emotional note. “I wanna come back here, this is special,” said Zach as he played the opening chords to “Escape Artist.” Ottawa loves you guys, please come back soon.
Check out Spectrasonic’s upcoming shows in Ottawa here.
When going to shows back-to-back, it is important to remember to keep yourself in check, otherwise you may end up starting the second night picking up the pieces from the night before. In my case, night two began with a meet up with an Uber driver to gather the things I had left behind in his car the previous night. Once I was in possession of all my belongings, we were able to kick things off and head down to Ritual.
I have always really enjoyed Ritual as a venue, the multi-level set-up makes it easy to catch the show from anywhere and you don’t feel pressured to be elbows on the stage, though who are we kidding? That’s exactly where I ended up.
BANNERS at Ritual Nightclub (Photo by Elizabeth Durnford/Ottawa Showbox)
BANNERS kicked it off. Over from the UK, Mike Nelson (formerly known under the moniker RAINES) brought his familiar sound to the Ottawa crowd on this leg of the tour. I wouldn’t have called myself an avid listener of these groups, but as BANNERS worked through their set it became apparent to me that I knew the majority of their music, and actually could sing along to ones like Shine a Light.
After the set, there was a brief turn before Young Empires where we happened upon BANNERS in the basement. He took the time to pause for fans and of course photo-ops, having a laugh on how I took a photo of a friend with a phone, while carrying a full sized camera. It was nice to see him taking the time to stop and talk while performing in a smaller venue, while opportunities may not come around as often when performing at larger festivals in the coming months.
We headed back upstairs just in time for Young Empires. A group out of Toronto, they are becoming very well known on the world stage. They combine electronics with an element of rock creating what has been described as “a fine tapestry of future disco.” This distinct sound paired with the lights and energy on stage made for a very visually appealing set that was very difficult to take quality pictures, as lights went from non-existent to brighter than the sun.
Though this leg of the tour is done, never fear, there’s still chance to catch both of these bands within the next few month. Young Empires is set to play the Dragon Boat Festival here in Ottawa in July, and you can catch BANNERS at Montreal’s Osheaga Festival!
Young Empires at Ritual Nightclub (Photo by Elizabeth Durnford/Ottawa Showbox)