This past Thursday, January 30, marked the second performance of the bimonthly I Can’t Believe It’s Not series. If you aren’t familiar with this series, it’s probably because it’s brand new, a concept that has taken Ottawa by storm over the past few months. To recap, the first installation of the ICBIN series took place on November 25th at The Manx, as a bunch of our best local musicians played The Strokes’ seminal debut album Is This It.
The organizers describe the concept as “Ottawa’s finest (or moderately mediocre) take one album and cover it with care from top to bottom with a slew of local singers taking turns at the mic”. It was a sweaty, cramped romp as we all gathered together in what must have been the busiest night of The Manx’s existence. In my previous post about that show, I gave a pretty detailed account of the night and also got some words from co-curator Rolf Klausener about the ICBIN series.
Jon Hynes, Rolf Klausener, and the rest of the band were back (plus a new addition in Steve Adamyk Band’s Davey Quesnel on guitar) on January 30 to perform Nirvana’s 1994 classic Nevermind in its entirety, from start to finish. For most of us, the significance of this album is monumental and cannot be understated. I suppose it means something different for each person whose life it has made its way into, but for me this album was one of the first to really open my eyes to music as an expression of something. Although I was nine years old when Kurt Cobain died, the album really sunk in a few years later when I was 12 or 13. Not only did it contain songs that were wildly different from each other (such as Territorial Pissings vs. Something in the Way), but each song meant something – in some ways lyrically, but mostly the raw emotion felt in each song’s melody, composition, and sound.
I still remember when I figured out what the lyrics to ‘Polly’ were about, the feeling I got when I saw the video for ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ for the first time, and thinking that I could be in a band because I could belt out the entire album at the top of my lungs before my parents got home from work. And then learning about Neil Young by reading ‘it’s better to burn out than to fade away‘ at the end of Kurt’s suicide note, which I read after Nevermind left me with the desire to find more meaning. Suicide, rape, isolation, despair, defunct relationships – all very new concepts to an adolescent stemming from my experience with the album.
I could go on and on discussing anecdotes of my personal relationship with Nevermind, as I’m sure many kids from my generation can.
Nevermind also marked a major turning point in music history, where ‘alternative’ and ‘grunge’ became the industry buzzwords and it became cool to have greasy hair and wear shitty clothing. Gone were the days where rock bands had to have layers of makeup on, strange clothing, and aggressively over the top hair styles. There seemed to be a changing of the guard, as the zeitgeist in style, culture, and discourse shifted significantly around the time of its release. Rolling Stone listed it as the best album of the 90’s, and the 17th greatest album of all time, stating that “No album in recent history had such an overpowering impact on a generation – a nation of teens suddenly turned punk – and such a catastrophic effect on its main creator.” As with many people, it opened my eyes to new genres of music like punk, and new bands like The Pixies, R.E.M., Sonic Youth, Daniel Johnston, and, of course, Foo Fighters. The cover had a naked baby on it. It had a ravaging, terrifying hidden track (Endless, Nameless). All this to say that Nevermind isn’t just an important album to people – it’s part of our lives in ways most other albums aren’t.
Thus, I, as with many others, walked into Babylon Nightclub with the words and sounds of Nevermind burned into my consciousness. The night as a whole was a huge success, as the larger venue and increased publicity of the event drew even more people out. Although Babylon wasn’t quite capacity, it was pretty damn close as word had spread about this new idea hitting Ottawa. The performance started a little late as a few of us were rushing from the Lief Vollebekk show at St. Alban’s Church, but once Jon Hynes struck the first chord to Smells Like Teen Spirit things really broke into a frenzy.
The band, as expected, were super tight with their performance and hardly missed a beat. As well as they must know the album to begin with, learning it front to back and getting it right is still an impressive feat. This is especially true since pretty much everyone in the venue knows the album in its entirety too, and the band did a really nice job of handling that pressure.
All the songs off of Nevermind are great, but if I had to choose one that I loved the most growing up it would be ‘On A Plain’. Cameron Steacy of Organ Eyes was the singer for that one, and he did not disappoint. Nearing the end of the set, he had me right up front screaming my lungs out as my larynx began to give up. But who am I kidding, all of us up front were channeling our inner adolescent as we belted out each song along with each singer’s rendition.
While all of the singers were extremely impressive and convincing in their unique adaptations of Nirvana’s songs, the one that really stood out for me was “Territorial Pissings” sung by Craig Proulx of Pregnancy Scares. If you’ve ever seen Pregnancy Scares before, you know that Craig is an absolute maniac on stage, his eyes filling with a possessed look while lunging back and forth to the audience. He is one of those singers that seems to really thrive off the chaos in front of him, and there was chaos as bodies were flying everywhere. His rendition took the song to another level, starting with Kurt’s wacky, off-key rendition of the Youngblood’s classic hook in ‘Get Together’. And then this:
We were so entranced that I can’t even remember what happened. That first chorus of Craig’s rendition of Territorial Pissings was the point in which the night hit a critical mass. Nothing else around us mattered except helping Craig out by going as crazy as possible during that one. The night winded down with Davey Quesnel getting on the decks and spinning some songs that are a little deeper in the Nirvana catalogue, including ‘School’ and ‘Scentless Apprentice’. Again, they left us wondering what album will be performed at the third ICBIN that should take place in late March.
If you have any suggestions for which album they should play, have your say by commenting on this post or in the Facebook group!
Jon David Hynes – Guitar
Thee Davey Quesnel (Steve Adamyk Band) – Guitar
Set & Singers
1. Smells Like Teen Spirit – David Pierce (Ornaments)
2. In Bloom – Callum Runciman (Grime Kings)
3. Come As You Are – Steve St. Pierre
4. Breed – Ross Proulx (ex-Motivator, ex-town. bus boy)
5. Lithium – Lidija Rozitis (Roberta Bondar, Blue Angel)
6. Polly – Adam Saikaley (Silkken Laumann) + Sarah Bradley (FEVERS)
7. Territorial Pissings – Craig Proulx (Pregnancy Scares)
8. Drain You – Caylie Runciman (Boyhood, Blue Angel)
9. Lounge Act – Sam Pippa (Organ Eyes, Blue Angel)
10. Stay Away – Cameron Steacy (Organ Eyes)
11. On A Plain – Cameron Steacy (Organ Eyes)
For full photo set, click here.