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.
When I first moved to Ottawa, long before I started this website, I had just finished a long and (socially) time-consuming graduate program. Essentially I had not taken a break from school in almost 20 years, and summer was really the only time I’d venture out and catch live shows here and there growing up. Plus, I grew up in London, Ontario, which wasn’t the easiest scene to crack and be in the know about. Thus, I made a point to really try and discover some new spots in my new hometown of Ottawa. This story isn’t a show review or anything like that, it’s just a memory placed within the context of a new kid in town looking for identity, community, and some new music.
When I learned about Attack in Black (Dine Alone Recs), I was really stoked to hear that they were from Welland, Ontario. That’s a pretty small place, and you don’t hear of many bands coming from the periphery like that. Before their quiet demise in 2010, AIB got a few really good records under their belt and made a lasting impression on many of us.
They played Mavericks in May of 2009, and that was the first show I ever went to at that venue. That was a big deal to me, because I’d been to Bluesfest, outdoor concerts, and shows like that, but hadn’t broken into the small venues of Ottawa yet. The vibe of Mavericks sort of reminded me of Call The Office back in London, although the layouts were completely different. Semi-grimy, brick walls, and an assortment of concert-goers that despite having different music tastes and backgrounds, came together and fit nicely together.
Opener Shotgun Jimmie drew in the sparse crowd, and although I didn’t know any of his music at the time, I remember really enjoying that man and his guitar on stage.
When AIB came on, it was like a new door opened for me. At times, the band’s set was chaotic and in your face – you could feel the emotion and influence of the gods of punk’s past in their music. However, there was also a counterbalance, where Daniel Romano’s vocals maintained a feeling of ease and restraint. I remember thinking to myself that there was such a great contrast between the gritty, garage-tinted element with the melodic, folk-inspired side of their music. To me, AIB was on the path that Constantines and Weakerthans traveled before them, and it’s a damn shame it had to end. But for me, it was just the start.
Although the band has been on hiatus since 2010 (whatever that means), all of the members have moved on to do great things. Daniel Romano and Ian Kehoe teamed up with Constantines guitarist Steve Lambke to start the label You’ve Changed Records in 2008, and Romano also collaborated with Fredrick Squire and Julie Doiron. Guitarist Spencer Burton released Eulogy of Her and Her and Her under his solo side project moniker Grey Kingdom in 2011, and bassist Ian Kehoe also performs as Marine Dreams.