T’was a Saturday like any other… just kidding. It was a lovely combination of miserable and cold, the first whispers of what will surely be a typically freezing Ottawa winter. But nestled in the heart of the small riverside community of Wakefield is a place of solitude and warmth known as the Black Sheep Inn. When asked if I was interested in venturing out, I believe my response was “Heck yeah,” or perhaps something with a little more profanity, regardless it was a welcomed offer of warmth and music. I will rarely turn down a night at the Black Sheep Inn.
Blacksheep, unlike most other venues in the Ottawa area, requires guests to put in a little more (lot more) effort to actually make out to a show. It never fails to surprise me every time I pull in to the very full parking lot. This show was no different. I knew going out that it was a sold out show, and sold out for Black Sheep means that people arrive hours before doors to grab a seat, and a bite to eat, before a night of music. Wakefield quite literally provides the audience with the full dinner and a show experience. Typically the space will be adjusted for the type of show, I’ve attended anything from sit down lunch shows with audience members under the age of one, to being taught how to dance traditional blues; anything goes. You can also expect that whether there is room at the front or not, you are practically on the stage with the band, and if you weren’t, did you even go to Black Sheep?
The first band up was Lowlands, hailing from Guelph ON, they brought with them a dreamy yet harsh folk set. Combining poetic story telling with full sound drumming, banjo and steel guitar. They were loud, homey, and went well with the warm theme of the evening. They brought songs from their album Huron, as well as songs off their new album Erie, which we can keep our eyes and ears open for its release later this fall.*
The Wooden Sky took over shortly after. The audience energized as they took the stage and it quickly became clear why. They started their set off with a bang and kept up the energy right through to the end. Combining electronic aspects with folk, they absolutely took over the venue. I’m confident in saying that people would have danced had there been room, but like I mentioned, it was very sold out. Along with the electric side of the folk spectrum, they also brought harmonics and violin. They played a diverse set covering songs new and old, debuting some and bringing back some classics. The band took a moment part way through their set to make the night extra special for one couple in the audience and then slowed it down for a few songs, leaving just two band members on stage.** They picked it back up for the final few songs and ended the show on a high note.
Both of these bands are currently touring Eastern Ontario and visited a few places in Quebec. The Wooden Sky hinted at the very real possibility of there being an upcoming holiday show at St. Albans Church, which is something everyone can keep an eye out for, and in a brief conversation outside with Lowlands, they also seemed keen on returning to the Ottawa area in the near future.
*Lowlands has plans of releasing an album titled dedicated to each of the Great Lakes which is super groovy.
**Unbeknownst to everyone, a couple had gotten engaged either just before or during the show (details were unclear) and the band took that moment to dedicate a very cute song to them, and there were tears and dancing.
Whenever someone tells me about a show in Wakefield, I already know it’s worth the trip. Black Sheep Inn, tucked just outside of Ottawa, has played host to names that bring to stage some of the highest quality music that this country has to offer. Buy tickets, sort out logistics later has become the name of the game for many city dwellers like myself. Half the adventure of a show at the Blacksheep Inn is the anticipation of getting there by any means necessary for what is guaranteed to be a good show.
Friday night was no different.
With a name like The Harpoonist & The Axe Murderer, this band already has a lot going for them. Drawing a crowd from as far as New York, Winnipeg, and beyond, the Vancouver based band took to the stage bringing with them their raw blues sound. A stage presence that was quickly noticed due to their lack of an opening act, as well as their ability to play multiple instruments, including harmonicas, percussion and a Telecaster. Shawn ‘The Harpoonist’ Hall, and Matthew ‘The Axe Murderer’ Rogers, as well as a featured vocalist took control of the room and it wasn’t long before the crowd was up and moving to their heavy old-school sound.
Their most recent album, A Real Fine Mess (2014), highlights Hall’s gritty vocals and harmonic lungpower (I’m convinced he didn’t breath for the entire show). Not to mention Roger’s picking speed and coordination as he pounded the bass drum sent their sound deep into the lively crowd. They held the stage for over two hours, creating an atmosphere of sweat and noise, topping it all off with an appearance from Monkey Junk’s Steve Marriner.
Giving literal meaning to their song ‘A Real Fine Noise,’ The Harpoonist & The Axe Murderer fuse together sound in a way that puts power behind each one of their tracks both live and on album. I can honestly say that I am hooked, and will without a doubt, continue to buy tickets and sort out logistics later for many more of their shows to come.
We are very happy to be partnering up with Blacksheep Inn and CHUO to make the inaugural WuFest happen! WuFest is a weekend-long celebration of local arts, music, and culture, named after one of Ottawa’s most prolific and omnipresent concert photographers, Ming Wu. Through Ming’s blog Photogmusic, he has provided us with a de facto photo essay of the city’s concerts, festivals, and cultural events since 2008. In fact, when I first started Showbox back in 2012, one of the first people to help me out and allow me to post his photos was Ming (since his were way better than my crappy phone pics at the time). Many of us know of Ming as an institution in Ottawa, and his photos really do tell a story. His passion for music and all things local is something that we should all try to aspire towards.
We recognize the importance of this kind of dedication and commitment to our city’s music scene, and are very proud to be a part of WuFest. The fest will consist of two days of festivities on Friday, November 14 and Saturday, November 15 (more info below). We will be giving away prize packs every week leading up to the festival, so be sure to try your luck and participate!
THIS WEEK’S CONTEST
Prizes up for grabs…
– a pair (2) tickets to one of the WuFest days of your choice
– A free pass to take the bus up to Blacksheep Inn on the day chosen
– A free copy of an excellent photo taken by Ming Wu, hand-picked by the master himself
How To Enter
Tweet, Instagram, share, or email us the name of your favourite Ottawa band! Be sure to include the hashtag #WuFest2014…. Easy!
* Bus for both nights leaving the Museum of Nature at 7:30PM and returning after the show. Tickets $10ADV, $12 Door, or $15 for a weekend bracelet. Please follow the Facebook Event to keep up with any updates involving transportation.
Saturday marked a highly anticipated night at the esteemed Blacksheep Inn in Wakefield, QC, as Ottawa’s favourite indie rock band Amos The Transparent released their third LP This Cold Escape. The intimate, cozy vibe of Blacksheep was the perfect fit for Amos’s release party, as the crowd reflected what we love most in the band – some calm and unwound, others lively and full of spark. The room was alive and ready for what was to come.
HIGHS at Blacksheep Inn in Wakefield, QC.
Opening things off were a great band from Toronto called HIGHS. I interviewed lead singer Doug Haynes last year upon the release of their (then) new s/t EP, which I have since really come to love. Although only containing five songs, the EP really paints a picture of how good this band is. I know that’s not much to go on, but I liked how there wasn’t much production interference on the record. By that I mean when listening to it, one feels as though they are sitting right beside the band and hearing exactly what they sound like in “real” life. When David Byrne said, “The better a singer’s voice, the harder it is to believe what they’re saying,” I believe he meant that much can get lost between the moment a note is played in the studio to the moment the album is pressed. With HIGHS, nothing is lost – and their live performance on Saturday night proved just that.
First of all, something has to be said about this band’s chemistry and ability to play/sing off each other. Karrie Douglas not only plays keys with precision, her voice is an equally important addition to HIGHS’s music. She and Doug craft their lyrical melodies and phrasing such that they both layer perfectly and weave in and out like a comfy quilt. In no place is this more evident than in their song “Nomads.”
HIGHS lit up the room with their flaring and intricate guitar riffs shared by Doug and Joel, which seem to guide the spirit and feel of most of their songs. Their music has a Graceland-esque quality to it, which may be a result of the afrobeat influences and infinitely catchy rhythm and melody. They also played a surprising cover of Talking Heads’s “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody).” The song started off with Joel on synth playing an indecipherable intro that flowed into a unique version of the song that the band really made their own. Not everyone can cover Talking Heads, not well at least. But the crowd joining in on the words with smiles on their faces meant that it was a hit. Hell, I’m surprised the bar didn’t erupt into an all-out dance party during that one. Don’t forget to catch HIGHS on November 7 as they stop at Mavericks here in Ottawa on their tour supporting Twin Forks (featuring Chris Carrabba, ex-Dashboard Confessional).
Amos the Transparent got on stage not long after, and the room seemed to take on a distinct energy. The Blacksheep Inn is one of those little corners of Canada that will bring out the best in musicians. Its dim, candlelit lit interior and pristine sound creates an atmosphere unparalleled anywhere in the region – visually and aurally.
You know those bands that have certain songs that you wish would just be a little different? Perhaps the band tried too hard to achieve something and got lost along the way. Or maybe they made a bad chord change or phrased the lyrics in a way that made you cringe. I have never heard a song by Amos that is like this. Each song is crafted with strong hands and constructed in a way that keeps people hooked, like a good book. There is a simplicity to the music that is refreshing – not too over the top or pretentious in any way. But there’s also a depth to it that allows listeners to be immersed, particularly a concept album such as this. Since becoming a band in 2007, Amos The Transparent has learned how to draw listeners into their grasp better and better with each album.
This was exemplified a couple of years back when I saw Amos for the first time at Zaphod’s. I knew that Amos had garnered a following and received generous airplay across national radio, however it wasn’t until I got there and saw the sold out crowd interacting with the band on stage that I realized how special they are. This is Ottawa’s band. There was a love that existed between the crowd and the band that night in 2012, and that same love was present this past weekend.
Their performance, much like their new album This ColdEscape, exuded emotion and demanded listeners’s attention. At the end of the title track we hear screams anda voice fading out, as if going further into the void until out of view. And then there’s hard-hitting, powerful lyrics:
I lay my love down, as she whispers to me – You’re just as much a part of life to me, as death and his certainty.
Seeing the band play the album front-to-back added to my interpretation of it, as the atmosphere and ambiance fit with its presentation beautifully. Opening with what has grown to be one of my favourite tracks, “Out The Window,” Amos dove right into their new material and reinforced to all of us why that love still exists.
The band had projectors set up on either side of the stage, showing random videos from the past that worked well with the old-time feel of Blacksheep. There were also radio broadcasts included in the recording between songs, which feature local Ottawa radio personalities Jen Traplin and Andrew Elliott from Live 88.5 FM.
Amos The Transparent performing their new album This Cold Escape at Blacksheep Inn in Wakefield, QC.
The album has a range of songs, none of which sound too similar. The folk-roots feel of “That’s The Life For Me” or the twangy “Bury My Bones” was contrasted with the darkness felt in songs such as “Death & His Certainty” or aggression of “Out To Sea.” The closest Amos comes to the playful catchiness of past hits “Says the Spark” or “Sure as the Weather” is the title track, which had us all wanting to sing along.
Lead singer Jonathan Chandler’s distinct voice was right on, and in perfect harmony with Olenka Reshitnyk’s backing vocals throughout the set. Lead guitarist Dan Hay showed the degree to which he has mastered his instrument and technique, particularly when taking on elaborate solos and playing difficult fills with ease. I also recall watching drummer Christopher Wilson playing so fast that he almost blew a vein in his forehead, without missing a beat.
It should also be mentioned that another adored local musician, Kalle Mattson, was featured on the song “City of Ghosts.” This came as a surprise to me when listening to the record, and it’s so good to see musicians who have played lots of shows together team up and collaborate in the studio. Both Kalle and Amos are having career years in 2014, as both of their recent releases are their strongest, most impactful works (at least in my estimation). The album was also produced by Chandler himself – it’s always so impressive to me that an entire album can be made with the help of a direct-to-fan album funding campaign (PledgeMusic) and then also take care of aspects such as production on top of actually writing and recording the music. Oh, how the industry has changed!
Amos ended things off with not one, but two encores. The crowd burst into smiles and song as the band played favourites “Lemons,” “Sure As The Weather,” and “Says The Spark” from previous records. In fact, as I was by the door watching, I could see a local guy in his mid-twenties doing a very interesting interpretive dance to the songs just outside the bar. I’m not sure the band could see him, but anyone who was there to witness this impromptu routine surely had their night made after that.
Check out their first single and title track off This Cold Escapehere.
Making your way to the Black Sheep Inn is always an adventure, often simply based on the music you will hear there. On Saturday, March 29, attendees were lucky enough to hear the experimental & experiental collide as Suuns & Scattered Clouds took the stage.
Suuns stand under the umbrella of “serious music” — there is no way to step into their zone without coming to a conclusion. Ours was that this kind of music belongs in an amphitheatre or cathedral. The principal flush of guitars against a power-driven percussion are essential but easily overshadowed by the maestro on the synth & keyboards. They played from their first album and their second, Images Du Futur, which may or may not have been influenced by the civil unrest of student demonstrations in Montreal’s streets in the spring & summer of 2012. Their bio hints as much, just as the name of the first album, Zeroes QC, also offers a clue into their name: “suuns” is the plural of zero in Thai. Their label, Secretly Canadian, seems like another clue… an even weirder one when you realize it’s an American company.
Their tracks are powerful and macabre. “2020” is the future they foresee, brought to terrifying life on the soundtrack to Only God Forgives, directed by Nicolas Winding.
The interpretive dancing of the local flavour was seared into my mind and no descriptive writing is going to help me get over what I saw. “Your music won’t save you,” is the droning mantra of Suuns’s third song, and was the theme of the evening. I saw their vocalist/guitarist Ben doubled over himself but holding his guitar level to the floor, and the first five minutes of their set was monotone distortion with all band members save the drummer Liam hunched over dials & knobs like evil toads. The darkness throughout the set was often pierced by anthem-like riffs and pulsing bass that had the crowd seizuring. Check out Matías’s interview with Liam O’Neil of Suuns here.
Hull’s own Scattered Clouds opened for the double-stacked Québecois bill. The direction of their experiments might be fueled by the ghosts of Jim Morrison & Ian Curtis. Their sounds come from places musicians don’t often look: between the saddles & the bridge of an electric guitar, or along the string tree, or even just within an electric stand-up bass. Their 25-minute set was an ode to their minimalist, effective, nothing-wasted approach. Their single “People Walk” was handed to everyone who walked in the door as a free CD.
After their set, Pierre-Luc the guitarist & Philippe the bassist shook hands, having fended off whatever unnamed horror that only they could perceive. At least that’s how I saw it. “The Music of Erich Zann” definitely came to mind during the opener. Lovecraft must have heard something similar to write in his short story: “…I heard sounds which filled me with an indefinable dread–the dread of vague wonder and brooding mystery. It was not that the sounds were hideous, for they were not; but that they held vibrations suggesting nothing on this globe of earth…”
Scattered Clouds at the Black Sheep Inn, Saturday, March 29. Photo Credit: Ming Wu
One thing we really love here at Ottawa Showbox are bills stacked with local bands. Yes, this night only had two bands playing, but two powerhouses of the Ottawa scene. Pony Girl and FEVERS are sure things, and the promise of a full night of top notch entertainment was planned out from the beginning.
If there’s one thing that The Black Sheep Inn is really good at, it’s throwing a hell of a party. Well, this Saturday will be no exception as some of Ottawa’s premier DJs in the scene get set to man the decks and create absolute chaos. The DJs include:
Fast Romantics are a band that do one thing really well — making great music. That skill set of theirs has been turning heads since the band’s genesis in 2008. They’ve worked with legendary Canadian producer and engineer Howard Redekopp (The New Pornographers, Tegan and Sara, Metric, Mother Mother… the list goes on) on two out of their three albums. They’ve been accepted by our southern neighbours, and even had the chance to play at a temporarily reconstructed CBGB in New York City before the bastards shut it down for good. As their raw sound and substantive lyrical content of their new album Afterlife Blues demonstrate, Fast Romantics are in the business of creating music that people connect with. After having just wrapped up a six-week North American tour, the band plays at Black Sheep Inn on Thursday, Dec. 19, along with Sam Cash & the Romantic Dogs. So with all this romance going down, it’d be a shame for anyone to miss out. Check out our interview with drummer Alan Reain below.
Share this post on Facebook, retweet it on twitter, or tweet at us what your favourite @FastRomantics song is and we’ll enter you into our contest to win:
“How do you like your winter so far?” asked Fiftymen frontman Jeff Hardill to the dancing crowd before him. A sea of blouses & dresses screamed approval and continued to sway. Yes, the entirety of the stage crowders were women. It was full winter in Wakefield last night, light flurries & a solidified Gatineau River below the front steps of the Black Sheep Inn. It was some cold but with the steamed up windows and the arching backs it was also really hot.
Fiftymen performed for a boisterous crowd at the Black Sheep Inn on Nov. 30, 2013.