Ben Caplan, Ottawa, interview, review

After selling out three nights in a row in Halifax to start the tour, and playing some shows in Quebec, Ben Caplan rolled into Ottawa Sunday night, February 10 for a show at Mavericks.

“The driving was good, we seemed to arrive in every town just after the storm had hit,” said Caplan. “I brought a booklet of CDs full of old mixes I made in high school. So that helps for the drive also.”

With luck and nostalgia on his side, he took to the stage with a guitar, a piano and a Mason jar. He opened the show with Birds with Broken Wings. After this, there was never a moment where the crowd was not either singing along or laughing at Caplan’s banter between songs. If music does not work out for him, which I strongly doubt for someone nominated for two East Coast Music Awards and who is about to tour Australia and Europe, there will always be stand-up comedy.

Caplan soon revealed the mystery content of the Mason jar. He explained it was tea, Tabasco and whiskey to cure the strep throat that he caught the day before the tour began. “Tabasco is your friend.”

The Nova Scotia Music Awards Entertainer of the Year got the crowd involved early with his sing along “I Got Me a Woman.” As he tried to explain the sing along, the crowd sang right back on the first try and blew Caplan away. “YouTube is fucked. I haven’t put that song on an album and you guys know it — It’s the best.” The crowd was hooked.

It is hard to hear Ben Caplan’s voice and not draw connections with the iconic Tom Waits. Caplan made it even harder as he sat down at the piano and delivered a wonderful cover of Waits’ “You Can Never Hold Back Spring.” He then flowed into two new songs “Nights Like This” and “Belly of the World,” delivering on the promise he made me during a pre-show interview. In that same interview Caplan said that we should expect a new album this year.

The highlight of the night might have been when Caplan helped the crowd set themselves free with “Ben Caplan yoga”. “Living within the rules of society is a lot like winter; you gotta put on your parka before going out into public. What that means is you are all bundled up and sometimes you just want to go crazy… Walking around in society you can’t just scream out loud.” He then invited everyone to “unbutton the metaphorical parka and scream at the top of [their] lungs on the count of three… and remember don’t be shy, if we all scream together no one can hear you scream.” The crowd screamed and then joined in and repeated after Caplan’s “ra-dadada-dadadadada-dada” at the beginning of “Conduit.”

To close out the set Caplan played two fan favourites off his 2011 album in the time of the great remembering, “Down by the River” and “Stranger.” During the crashing end of “Stranger,” Caplan had his entire leg pressed on the keys as he threw himself off his bench to the floor.

After regaining his feet he said, “I’m going to kibosh the encore and play one more song.” He then summoned Taryn Kawaja, who had been his trusted merch girl for the evening. She joined him at the piano with a second mic to play a brand new song he wrote a week ago, the eerie “Under Control (far as anyone’s seen).”

Before Ben Caplan was Her Harbour, an Ottawa singer-songwriter you will surely be reading a lot about over the year. Gabrielle Giguere’s voice, which ranges from soft and sultry to harrowing with emotions from deep within, sang her poem-like lyrics that danced over the playing of her autoharp. Be on the lookout for her upcoming album, Winter’s Ghosts in a few months and don’t miss out on a chance to hear her live.

Opening the show was J.P. Hoe. He started his set off with a very catchy track that got the crowd swaying and paying attention from the get go. Throughout the set he interchanged between acoustic,  electric and a ukulele. He sang songs about an uncle the family never talks about because he joined a cult and a song he wrote about the real back story of Ms. Claus. A very entertaining way to begin the evening.