Photo by Jeff Watkins
Constantines capped off an amazing week of shows Saturday night on the final day of Arboretum 2014.
The band from Guelph recently reunited after a four-year hiatus and they were as tight as ever. There was so much energy in crowd for the set, and exploding out the gates, they could not have played a better set. Playing “Nighttime/Anytime (It’s Alright)” and “Young Offenders” so early in the set and back-to-back was incredible. The crowd was singing at the top of their lungs all the way through, and even brought sparklers which lead singer and guitarist, Bry Webb, took notice of. “Sweet sparklers guys, that’s next level.”
Arboretum organizer Rolf Klausener introduced them as mentors and major influences and that night they could do no wrong. They played rocking versions of “Soon Enough,” “Shower of Stones” and “Young Lions,” just to name a few. The magic moment of the set came when they paused just before the last drop in “Shine a Light” and all put their arms in the air. The crowd matched them while hooting and hollering, until Constantines kicked it back into gear. The band really looked like they were having a good time, and Webb confirmed it, “It’s fun to play these songs again, I love the Constantines.” Ottawa does as well Bry, come back anytime!
Saturday was full of great bands showcasing very diverse genres and sounds. Setting the stage for Constantines was an Ottawa institution, the Fiftymen. The guys have been making catchy toe-tapping blues and country music for over a decade. It was great of Arboretum to show off a different side of the local scene to the many people from out of town, as well as a refresher to us locals. The Fiftymen recognized the importance of opening for the Constantines as the lead singer mentioned several times how honoured and excited he was.
With shrieking sax loops and noisy guitar, Chad VanGaalen began. The only thing that might be more strange than Chad, which was difficult to beat on this night, was his headless Steinberger electric guitar. I had never seen anything like it and it fit in just right with the psychedelic folk sounds the band was creating. The large crowd in attendance were loving it as the three-piece played a lot of songs off this year’s Polaris Music Prize long list pick Shrink Dust. But this set was not just about the music, it was about VanGaalen’s banter between songs. Such advise as “Canada is a pretty good place to take vacation… don’t shit in the river though, that’s bad for Canada.” Or when he talked about the amazing work the En Masse art collective was doing as they created a mural, “Have you seen the stuff going on over there, it’s pretty trippy. Save some room for me guys.” There was also a really cool moment when he invited multi-instrumentalist Julie Fader on stage to sing a few songs with him.
Thourghout the day Ottawa Showbox had the pleasure of presenting secret shows between three of the main stage sets. Dubbed the Hammock Sessions, Sarah Bradley of Fevers, Andy Swan, Giant Hand and Bucko all dazzled the crowd, as they relaxed off to the side by a large hammock. Bradley played some beautiful soulful solo songs on keys. Andy Swan popped in to play a New Orleans R&B classic “Iko Iko.” Giant Hand, an Ottawa ex-pat returned home and delivered a melting set of wonderfully powerful folk music. Lastly, before Fiftymen took the stage, Bucko, a performer with muscular-dystrophy took us to another plane with his electro music. Bucko would not settle to just play for those who came to see him, so he took his show on the road and did a loop of the festival grounds without missing a beat.
Taking the crowd in a completely different direction again was Ottawa’s garage/power-pop masters Steve Adamyk Band. Playing as a three-piece this time, Davey Quesnelle took over the bass, the boys made ample use of the space on stage. Not only did they play a high energy up-tempo set full of songs ranging from new tracks such as “Careless” and classics like “Katacomb” and “Not For Long,” but Steve and Davey also entertained with their antics. They would walk over to each other and gives one a peck on the cheek or instead spit at the other and throw an empty beer cup their way. Between all that they told stories of past tours and set the stage for a most excellent evening.
Under the sweltering afternoon sun Lowell hit us with some super catchy energized synth pop. It was infused with punk attitude reminiscent of Sleigh Bells. She performed with so much enthusiasm running and dancing all over the stage, getting into the crowd to dance and just having a riot. Songs like “I Like You Money,” “Cloud 69” and “Bells” were infectious and I could not help but stare and bob along, even without knowing any of the songs. She wanted to make sure you remembered who she was and caught herself sounding quite mean, while kidding around. “L-O-W-E-L-L, Lowell. If you forget the name you’re illiterate… Wow, I’m sorry that was so mean I didn’t mean it,” she said with a shy smile. Looking forward to the release of their new material in September, this band was a lot of fun.
Another amazing discovery at Arboretum 2014 was Weaves. The Toronto band self-described as spazzcore was really cool. The music sometimes sounded like it could fit in the hardcore/punk scene while at other times it was extremely dance-like and fun. The guitarist also created some of the most original sounds out of his guitar that I have ever heard, including yelling into his guitar and playing heavily distorted slide guitar. My mind was blown on a few occasions during their set.
Ottawa’s art rockers Pony Girl got the whole day started. The locals put their incredible talent as musicians on display under the afternoon sun. If you have ever had a chance to hear Pony Girl you know that they are extremely tight and musically gifted, pushing creativity and never shying away from more technical musicianship. It is also quite rare that you have a chance to see a clarinet solo and Pony Girl certainly don’t mind treating you to one or two. Their set featured songs off the wonderful Show Me Your Fears, as well as a few new songs. The new song, which was introduced as “this one is about porn mainly,” may just be their best work yet. A new album is definitely in the works folks!