On Thursday, Ottawa welcomed Delta Will with special guests Kira May and More Please! to Mercury Lounge. If anyone has been upstairs at Mercury Lounge (which I hadn’t previously), it’s high ceilings, ambient colours/lighting and ominous giant sea monster painted on the wall were a perfect setting for what would be a night of on-stage theatrics, exploration of different musical ideas, and alter egos.
The night opened with Kira May, a Toronto-based musician who seems determined to make an impression not only with superb vocals but also an intriguing way of going about her performance. She rejects the conventional approach to playing music on stage, where energy and showmanship are a big factor in what makes the experience. Instead, she captivated the audience immediately only using looping pedals and her vocals. Her music seemed to draw from Imogen Heap-style songwork, but maintained it’s own character and uniqueness throughout. She also did some beatbox loops that she used as percussion, which added a whole other element to an interesting performance. Sometimes her kneeling down to mess with the effects was distracting, since it drew the focus away from her music. But overall I think everyone in the lounge was mesmerized, and ended up wanting to hear more from her.
The next act to come on was More Please!, a folky-rock band. Band leader Scotty Mack’s songs had a definite classic-rock influence with hints of The Band and Neil Young. I found that this band was a strange addition to the bill, since their music was more standard and wasn’t as captivating as Kira May or Delta Will. I don’t mean this to say that they weren’t talented or good songwriters – just that it didn’t really fit with the tone of the night. I did find the interaction between the two of them great though, a Guild hollow-body and Fender Strat playing off each other beautifully. The sound was off-base with the theme of the night, but their performance was good and everyone seemed to enjoy it.
The headliner Charles Tilden (Toronto’s Parks & Rec) a.k.a Delta Will is billed as a “space blues” pioneer. If you’re wondering what that is, it’s not really like anything you’ve heard before. I didn’t know what it was either, which was a main reason I was excited to see what Delta Will was all about. What I discovered was a really interesting concept. We expect songs to be written from the musician’s point of view, but he takes this a step further with his debut EP Transcendental Visits and takes on the alter ego of an alien looking upon our planet from an outside perspective. And he went all-out with this concept, taking on this alter ego during the performance. When he became thirsty, he asked for “this wonderful hydrating beverage us humans refer to as H20”. Fuse this with a distinct blues influence and you have everyone’s attention. Also using loop pedals and effects, his songs create a symphony of sorts. The way he brought together an old blues sound with the technology of today and a futuristic identity was entertaining on so many levels. Songs like “Darma Blues” and “Ways to Enchant” are perfect examples of this. Sometimes the simple blues riffs are all we hear, and other times layers of instruments and great vocal harmonies take over as the intensity builds. He lets you believe you’re listening to a blues performance and then rips it away with a barrage of modern instrumentation looped through the pedal. By the end of it I was so refreshed, having heard a totally original set of songs inspired by such a bizarre concept. Transcendental Visits appeals to so many different people, whether you’re a fan of Sonny Williams (to whom he dedicated his first song), big on experimental music or just love a good melody.
Here’s Transcendental Visits for your listening pleasure:
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