John K. Samson—known best as the lead-singer and guitarist of The Weakerthans, and also considered by many as an unofficial Canadian poet laureate—played a very small and intimate show in Ottawa at Maker Space North.
The BYOC (bring your own cushion) show was held in one of the buildings’ hallways and sold out with less than 50 lucky attendees mostly seated on the floor. Samson didn’t even need to use his microphone as the small crowd sat in silent awe as he made us all melt in one of the most special shows I have ever attended.
One thing that makes Samson so special is how real, honest, and down to earth he is. He thanked us all for being there, thanked his partner for watching their dog and yellow bird Pickle as he toured across the country. He thanked Side Door for helping organize and manage his cross Canada house show tour, while ensuring most of the revenue found its way to him, the musician. “I’ll be making about $1100 tonight,” he said. “So thank you all so much for helping with my mortgage payment this month.” He thanked Shawn Scallen from Spectrasonic who has been involved in essentially every show he has ever played in town and then thanked the real heroes. “I’d also like to thank the two anti-depressants I’m currently taking who are the real reason I’m able to be here with you today.”
Equipped with his guitar and some notes on a stand, Samson played about 40 minutes of songs he had planned out, which started with “One Great City” and included many new tracks off of his latest album Winter Wheat. The set also featured the Virtute the Cat trilogy of songs back-to-back-to-back making the whole room quite emotional. Afterwards he took a short break to chat with us and take requests to build his next set.
Samson returned from the break telling us “Thank you for writing my set list… just so you know, some of them I won’t play very well but I’ll endeavour to do my best.” And his best is what he gave us, playing 11 more songs, some of which were smoother than others, but I’m 100% confident not a single person there was bothered by this. On top of taking requests from us in person, he had also invited people to send him postcards with request, which delivered one of the cutest moments of the night on a night filled with them. The parents’ of someone in attendance sent in a postcard, requesting “The Reasons” for their son who missed Samson in Winnipeg as he is now in Ottawa studying.
The crowd did pipe up breaking its silence during “Sun in an Empty Room” singing the chorus and backing vocals, which made Samson’s face light up in glee. He closed his set with my little brother’s request “My Favourite Chords” which beautifully capped off the wonderful night. Do yourself a favour and follow Samson’s web site closely as he doesn’t really have social media presence and I would hate for you to miss out on such an experience again. I feel so very lucky to have witnessed this performance.
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.
Hurry, a band from Philadelphia, kicked off the night with their alt-rock chord progressions, sweet banter, and self-deprecating humour. Nu-Metal effects applied to the guitar added a tunnelled sound. The drumming came out light and upbeat despite that songs may have taken a more sombre pop-punk vibe. Those vibes in combination with the bass, came out sounding like nostalgic summertime soundtracks.
The band’s movement coincided with the emotion that emanated from each song. Hurry held a solid energy and got into every single song they played. They played a fun style that got you moving your feet to the beat. Boyish vocals added to the effect of the carefree aura.
The guitar blended with the bass in a mash of bright oranges and magentas, swirling together. They intertwined into the blues produced by the cymbals, meanwhile, the light green-yellows radiated from the snare and toms.
All in all, Hurry held a repetitive feeling to their songs. Almost generic but also rather emotionally charged while maintaining a certain lightness to their music.
Next up were Joan of Arc, from Chicago, Illinois. They put on a set that I won’t be able to forget. The very stereotypical “dad” dancing, the off-key and off time singing, and overpowering synths, were just a few things that held their set together. Imagine dry tumblr humour and blend it together with noise and screaming, it’s what you get with this band.
The crowd unfortunately seemed to talk over the performance throughout the set. Credit where credit is due, however, the band put everything they’ve got into their set. The energy is exactly what you wanted to see—not unmatched by any means—however, they were driven by passion.
The drumming was warm, and nearly drowned out the ear-splitting blare of the synth. It solidified the songs and served to hold them in place. Midway through the set, the members of Joan of Arc all gathered around the drum kit and began playing different rhythms on snares and toms. It all synced up and came out as probably the best sounding part of their show. The same could not be said about the vocal stylings, which is unfortunate because Tim has been in bands where his vocals have blown others out of the water in comparison. The very off-key screams about pizza and “fuck” were unsettling. As quickly as they smoothed, they went back into the ragged and near unpleasant off-key notes that made the set hard to enjoy.
Joan of Arc goes places that bands don’t dare, tarnishing any form of reputation and keeping expectations low. They push buttons and certainly make sure you either love or hate them.
Headlining the night were mewithoutyou, a band from Philly. Not having played Ottawa since 2005, they drew in a crowd that belted the lyrics back at them with a vigorous passion.
The raw energy that projected into the performance was remarkable, and they kicked off the night with their song “Torches Together” off of Catch for Us theFoxes which set the crowd into cheers. They powered through older songs before kicking out the new ones which tainted the scenery all sorts of yellows, greens, oranges, and whites.
The poeticism behind the lyrics is prophetic and genius. The ruggedness of the vocals emphasized and strained the importance of the message. Compassion and extravagance found their way into the performance when Aaron Weiss picked up a little kid (I believe his own child) and sang to them onstage. The shouts were painted as greens and the exaggerated hand gestures only added to the artistic quality of the set.
The guitars came from all directions, combining the mellow and warm sound of acoustic and the hard and cold edge of electric overdriven guitars. Much of the sound came through as orange with drawn outlines of whites and light blues flecked the scene. The newer tracks came together throught the oranges, while their older songs were charged with deep blues and purples.
The band brought out an accordion near the end of the set, which added a haunting undertone to their music. It served to transform the soundscape by adding something unique to the electric sounds they played.
The energy was enticing and captivating, incredibly raw and sincere. mewithoutyou find a way to embrace oddities and religious themes whilst spewing them through their alternative sound. Breathtaking and riveting, they tore Ottawa apart after 13 years.
The Pack AD don’t mess around. They have been one of the hardest working, hardest touring bands on the cross-Canada circuit for over a decade, and the grimy garage-rock duo is at it again.
The band is currently in the midst of their “Catch Them While You Can Tour”, which has them traversing across Canada and the US, possibly for the last time on such a large stretch. Their pulverizing and explosive sound has been a constant, both on their albums and live on stage.
They’re supporting their most recent release DollHouse (Cadence Recordings) which was released late last year, along with the re-release of their acclaimed debut album TinType on vinyl, which comes out September 28th via Mint Records. Since its early 2008 original release, the band has played close to a thousand shows and released seven albums.
I caught up with guitarist and vocalist Becky Black in advance of their Ottawa show, which takes place tonight (September 21) at The 27 Club along with support from Basement Revolver and Land Line. More info on the show can be found here. Read the interview and check out the new video for “Woke Up Weird” below.
Interview with Becky Black of The Pack a.d.
The world seems a little darker these days, particularly given the state of things south of the border. At this stage in your career, how do you approach making music in this unstable climate? What is your mentality putting the pen to paper?
That’s a great question! I think there’s a lot of inspiration to be drawn from it, as an artist. You have to find the silver lining, it seems to inspire creativity. Things are pretty terrible, but it’s easy to get down about it. We’re in America right now actually at a travel centre and getting set to come back and play in Canada. Definitely looking to getting back there!
Do you notice more tension when playing shows south of the border these days?
Yeah, normally the people we’re hanging with have similar opinions and are just weathering the horrible situation they’re in. People in music communities are usually on the opposite side of spectrum as those currently in power, so yeah, I don’t know. It is definitely different here, though. It’s strange.
What do you hope people take away from listening to DollHouse?
I think the whole album itself is pretty short, it’s definitely worth a listen. We’re releasing a new video for “Woke Up Weird,” which is about climate change and being a human on this planet. There’s a lot to take away from it.
Is there a sense of hope on the record? Or is it more of a “let’s all get pissed” kind of listen?
It’s sort of in between, I think. Our lyrics always tend to lean towards being dystopian, I guess, to put it mildly. It’s more of a conversation, an acknowledgement. We think that’s a start.
The Pack AD are a band known for being extremely hard working musicians. What do you do to unwind? Any hobbies that not many people know about?
Yeah, we both read a lot. It’s a great way to stay sane on the road. Whether you’re at a hotel, on the bus, or whatever, there’s always a lot of time to read. I’m always trying to learn more about the world around me. But when I’m not reading, I’d say video games and Netflix, too. You know, the usual.
Are there any readings that you’d recommend?
I just read a magazine—Scientific American—that just revealed some groundbreaking new discoveries that could change the course of science. I found that fascinating, it was like the ten greatest discoveries this year.
You two have been playing music with each other for a really long time. If you had one piece of advice to younger bands about how to keep friendships together over the years, what would it be?
Well, you just have to find the right group of people. Sometimes with band personalities it’s like oil and water, and that can be difficult. But we’ve always been able to get along, and I think you always have to maintain respect for each other no matter what. We have different opinions and disagreements all the time, it’s not always happy and fun times but we always figure it out. That’s why we’ve been able to last so long I think.
Do you ever resolve disagreements with rock-paper-scissors?
Ahh, yeah. We have done that. Maya always does rock so she’s easy to beat.
Last but not least—Do you have a go-to place in Ottawa you visit every time you’re here? Burgers? Beer? Beavertails?
I really love the Byward Market, and the last time we played Ottawa we played House of TARG and that was awesome. So those are always great spots to hang for us.
Sept 21- 27 Club – Ottawa, ON Sept 22 Turbo Haus – Montreal, QC Sept 30 Neptoon Records – Vancouver, B.C. – Instore playing of songs from Tintype Oct 11 9th Ward – Buffalo, NY
Oct 12 Pauly’s Hotel – Albany, NY
Oct 13 ONCE Somerville – Boston, MA
Oct 14 Portland House of Music – Portland, ME
Oct 15 Mercury Lounge – New York, NY
Oct 17 Kung Fu Necktie – Philadelphia, PA
Oct 18 Smiling Moose – Pittsburgh, PA Oct 20 The Pinch – Washington, DC
Oct 21 Pour House – Raleigh, NC
Oct 22 Smiths Olde Town – Atlanta, GA Oct 24 Gasa Gasa – New Orleans, LA
Oct 26 The Sundown – Dallas, TX Oct 27 Maxine’s – Hot Springs, AK
Oct 29 Magnolia Bar – Louisville, KY
Oct 30 Ready Room – St. Louis, MO Oct 31 Vaudeville Mews – Des Moines, IA
The show was loud, high energy and exactly what the fans wanted. Every band brought it on stage and the night’s headliners We Were Sharks gave the hometown crowd something to go wild about. It is always great to see so many local bands play together, as well as welcoming a great traveling band, Settle Your Scores from Cincinnati, Ohio. Our photographer Aidan Thatcher was there to capture it all. Check out the gallery below.
Copenhagen’s Iceage brought their post-punk styling to town for an awesome show at the 27 Club in Ottawa, Ontario. They were supported by opening act Mary Lattimore, a harpist from Los Angeles. A little odd as a pairing, but we love to see promoters taking chances and matching artists that don’t fit in the same “box.”
Friday night was full of punk rock nostalgia, as Pennywise, Strung Out, &Modern Terror swung through Ottawa on their tour. The show was presented by Spectrasonic, and people showed up in droves to sing songs of punk’s past at the top of their lungs. Our photographer Aidan Thatcher was there to catch all the action, have a look at his gallery below.
The Bronson Centre was packed Wednesday night as fans eagerly awaited the headliner, Dashboard Confessional, to hit the stage. Arriving early to get a good spot, a crowd was treated to not one, but two awesome openers for the night. Gabrielle Shonk was first on the bill. The Quebec City native provided a chill start to the evening, and will be playing her hometown tomorrow as the tour makes it’s way east.
The Elwins brought with them their usual high energy set as they played fan favourites. A fun personal connection to the Elwins that always brings a smile to my face is that they were the first show I ever photographed, and it took place at House of TARG. Their high energy set got the crowd prepped and ready for the highly anticipated Dashboard Confessional.
When Dashboard Confessional took the stage, they kicked things off with a slower song turned sing-a-long. It was clear by the crowds energy that the whole night would be filled with sing-a-longs even as the songs picked up the pace. The high energy, audience participation and taking requests all made the night more special as the band played through crowd favourites.
When asked, the crowd was made up of a pretty even mix of those seeing the band for the first time and those who are veterans to DBC shows. This mix had no effect on how loudly they were able to sing, each time putting a smile on the band’s faces. Originally from Florida, the band spiked in popularity in the early 2000’s as they released their indie/emo albums including full albums and EPs. In February of this year, the band released a new album Crooked Shadows with Dine Alone Records.
“HOOOLY” was what I yelled onto Bank Street as I exited House of TARG last Wednesday evening. When a Wednesday night show has more energy than a Friday night, you know it was something else. Rich Aucoin never fails to blow my mind and leave me wanting more. His sets are as theatrical as they are magic as he blows the roof off any venue he steps foot in, large or small.
The Halifax native draws people in with videos and inspirational voice overs, throwing himself at you through lights, confetti and, well, he quite literally throws himself into the crowd… known for his signature light bulb and parachute, his songs are catchy and keep the crowd dancing from start to finish.
Taylor Knox opened the night for Rich with their alternative indie sound. Toronto based musician had a full sound for his set before he jumped in and assisted Rich with his set, helping him have synchronized drum kits on either side of the small TARG stage. Overall the night can be described as colorful, incredibly sweaty and electrifying. If Rich Aucoin ever passes through your town, even if it’s on a Wednesday night, you’ve gotta stop what you’re doing and get out there.
Toronto’s Casper Skulls are currently wrapping up with touring their first full length album Mercy Works, released on Buzz Records November 3rd. The band is one of the newest editions to the label’s boundary-pushing roster, and their latest effort follows the dense and complex lo-fi sound played through early 90’s tape decks. Mercy Works is an ambitious attempt to explore the unknown, examine self-growth, religion, grief, and real lived experiences, and was co-produced/engineered by Josh Korody (Fucked Up, Dilly Dally). The post-punk, garage, and art-rock influences are sprinkled throughout, as the album bleeds with thick guitar riffs and intricate instrumental arrangements.
We sat down with singer and guitarist Neil Bednis before their show this Friday to discuss the band’s sound, their new album, best sounding venues and touring as a couple. Check out the interview below.
Interview with Neil Bednis
In just a couple of years as a band you have already garnered comparisons to some of my all-time favourite bands such as Television and Pavement. How did that feel after only a 7-inch and an EP? And do these comparisons come into play when you are writing new music, such as your latest release Mercy Works?
NB: It’s flattering that people would associate our music with those bands. We were really influenced by that kind of music growing up and those bands are part of the reason we wanted to start playing music in the first place. Obviously with our early releases our influences are on our sleeves but I think that was necessary for us to discover our own sound. I think Mercy Works still has elements of those early sounds but we definitely moved into a more melodic direction. “You Can Call Me Allocator” was the first song written for the record and it set the tone of the writing of the record. I think that song in particular is a perfect example of what we are as a band. The verses are talky and the chorus is more melodic and lush. On the record I think we explore the extremes of both those sounds.
Speaking of Mercy Works, how was it to work with Josh Korody and Alex Newport, who have worked on releases by Fucked Up, Dilly Dally, At The Drive-In, Death Cab For Cutie, just to name a few?
NB: We had previously worked with Josh on our Lips and Skull EP, so we already felt comfortable recording with him. After seeing our live show, Josh thought it’d be best to do a lot of the record live off the floor which had never done previously. I think recording that way created a really positive start to the record. We wanted to explore a couple different musical ideas on the record (i.e. strings, acoustic guitars, 12-string, baritone) and Josh kind of let us take the reigns on that stuff. It’s always a really fun time whenever we get to see Josh and I’m really glad he was part of the record.
We heard of Alex from his work he did on the first Weaves record and the Pissed Jeans stuff. Ian from Buzz Records had Alex’s information from working with him on the Weaves record and he was able to put us in touch. Alex lives in Los Angeles so we had to make most of the mixing notes over e-mail but we really love what Alex did to the songs.
Your sound seems like it would lend itself great both in a small club and in the big acoustics of a church. What are some of the favourite venues you have ever played and explored in live?
NB: Just off the top of my head, Lee’s Palace and the Garrison in Toronto are two of my favorite sounding venues. The vibe is always really nice at those venues and I haven’t really played a show where we’ve have had any trouble getting the sound we want. The Townehouse in Sudbury has a lot of sentimental value to us. Mel and I discovered a lot of great music going to shows there and we played our first show ever at the Townehouse as well. I also really enjoy playing this place in Washington D.C. called Comet Ping Pong. Our friend Lisa does a lot of the booking there and she creates a really homey vibe to the shows she puts on. It has more of a DIY vibe to it and you can eat pizza and play ping pong as well as watch awesome music!
For those who have never seen you play, what should they expect live compared to the recording on the album?
NB: I think the live show brings a more lively energy to the songs. I don’t mean to say the record isn’t lively but I think the show has a rawness to it that is different from the record. For songs like “Chicane, OH” and “You Can Call Me Allocator,” we’ll play the songs a little faster just to give the songs a bit more of a bounce. We tried to make the record have more lush moments with the strings and acoustic guitars which aren’t present in the live performance. Overall, I think if you like the record you’ll like the live show.
How has touring the new album been going so far?
NB: The tour has been going well! We’re happy to be playing these songs for people and seeing how they translate live. We’re really excited for the few dates we have with Land of Talk. They’re one of our favorite bands and we’ve been obsessed with their new record. We’ve been playing these songs in small clubs and have been kind of tailoring our set lists toward that. For these shows we’re hoping to play some of the more slow burners off the record that’ll translate better in bigger halls.
I have always been curious what it would be like being in a band as a couple?
NB: It’s really nice not to have to leave each other when we tour. I think sometimes we struggle separating band stuff from our personal lives. For example sometimes at dinner we just end up talking about band stuff so we need to check ourselves every now and then and just talk about other things that have nothing to do with music. Most importantly, we need to be a couple first and band mates second. It’s a really special thing to get to make art and share failures and successes with someone you’re with.
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.