Arboretum Festival: Kevin Drew, Hilotrons, & The Yips

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Photo by Jeff Watkins

The weekend portion of this year’s Arboretum Arts Festival took place in Waller Park at Arts Court, and there was even more going on than last year. Walking in, one was overcome with alluring sensory experiences. The setup was fairly similar to last year’s edition but with more art installations, a backyard BBQ, a myriad of food options, and visibly more folks excited about coming together to celebrate the occasion.

Eric and I both made an observation that was very heartwarming and exciting at the same time: the majority of people out at the festival were ones which we had not seen at shows before. This is a big deal. That means more people are hearing about these little pockets of Ottawa and involving themselves. Hell, a lot of them even brought their kids and they were dancing. You know that something is going right at Arboretum Festival when you see newly-bipedal children dancing their diapers off to punk rockers like Steve Adamyk Band (with ear protection, of course).

The Yips, Arboretum Festival, Ottawa, Air Loom
Jon Schofield & Jon Bennett of The Yips. (Photo: Jeff Watkins)

After old friends and new friends shared a few laughs and consumed a few local brews, Ottawa’s own The Yips took the stage. It was Halloween in the summer, with rave ghosts out in full force getting some sun. I only got there near the end of their set, which was a bummer because they are still one of my favourite bands all around in town. Their crunchy and unforgiving sound is aggressive to a point, and then pulls back at key points. Zach and Jonny’s guitars thrive off of each other, unfurling a mysterious and piercing equilibrium that many bands can only dream of. Kurt’s ferocious bass works in the same way as Jon Bennett’s drumming – potent, unrelentless, and absorbing. Let’s all have a séance!

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Mike Dubue of Hilotrons. (Photo: Jeff Watkins)

Hilotrons were next and impressed everyone at the festival immediately. I am not as familiar with Hilotrons as most Ottawa-born music-lovers, mostly because I moved here after they released some of their biggest albums. I quickly discovered that Mike Dubue is a pretty incredible songwriter and composer, albeit an eternally mysterious character. In any case, he really let loose at Arboretum and was definitely in his element. This time around Hilotrons were composed of a few other familiar faces in the scene – Adam Saikaley on keys, guitarist Alex Moxon, as well as Phillippe Charbonneau and Pascal Delaquis drumming. Honestly, I cannot believe how these guys play in so many bands and know how to play so many instruments! Along with Dubue, this Hilotrons incarnation had people moving around lots with permanent smiles on their faces. The set was diverse in sound, ranging from eclectic experimental noises to a full-out dub/reggae banger. Some bands sound the same throughout their whole career, and part of Hilotrons’s appeal is never knowing what is coming next. A choice addition to the evening and a perfect prelude to Kevin Drew.

Kevin Drew, the main man behind the beloved Canadian art-rock music collective Broken Social Scene, was the headliner of the night. The mood was set and glimmering lights were everywhere, with a cool breeze making the night that much more enjoyable. Before the band came on, Arboretum co-founder and artistic director Rolf Klausener introduced the band by telling a nice story about how Kevin Drew helped to disseminate The Acorn‘s first record to all the cool kids.

For those expecting the explosiveness and immensity of what BSS puts forth, Kevin Drew isn’t trying to fool anyone into jumping on his bandwagon. I liked this album because it sounds like Kevin Drew – slightly twisted with inescapable arrangements and songwriting that bleeds the words “fuck you, this is what I am.” However, Darlings is not as audibly dense and does not contain any hidden messages. With song titles like “Good Sex,” “Body Butter,” and “Mexican Aftershow Party,” Drew doesn’t try to obscure his intentions with the album in any way. It’s an album about developing strong bonds and connections, with people, with music.

On stage, Drew was joined by some familiar collaborators like Ohad Benchetrit of Years and also BSS, and  Dean Stone of Apostle of Hustle. Also joining him was Charles Spearin, with whom he started KC Accidental that inevitably led to the genesis of BSS. Almost immediately, the energy was flowing from the stage as they played “You In Your Were,” a song that boasts Leslie Feist’s vocals on the record (having her join Drew on stage was just dream, of course, but one has to dream).

Drew paused momentarily to express how great he thought the festival was, and admired his surroundings. I should also mention that he would return with BSS in the future, a promise that all of us here in Ottawa will hold him to, I’m sure.

Kevin Drew, Ottawa, Arboretum Festival, Broken Social Scene, Darlings
Kevin Drew. (Photo: Jeff Watkins)

During “Mexican Aftershow Party,” a group of happy dancers from the happy moshpit busted out some sparklers and lit them, creating a really beautiful view for the rest of us. We were also treated to Ohad’s version of “Sea of Love” by Phil Phillips, a rendition that demonstrated just how talented he is and completely left the crowd in awe. Drew also reached into the past to play other incredible compositions such as “Anorexic He-Man” from his pre-Y2K KC Accidental days.

The set only grew stronger as it went on. Nearing the end, he played stripped-down versions of the BSS tracks “Lover’s Spit” off 2002’s You Forgot it in People (which he conceded included lyrics alluding to masturbation) and “Superconnected” from their 2005 self-titled release.The renditions were surreal, almost as if we were getting a private show and hearing songs played like this for the first time. The crowd was belting out the words and melody, and while perfection was far off, Drew seemed to really enjoy having everyone join in. They ended prematurely and realized that they still needed to play for half an hour, so they teased us with a bit of Queen before launching into an all-out stage jam. Yes, they made up an incredible untitled song just for us Ottawans. Deal with it! The night ended with the smooth and sexy song “It’s Cool,” and we all released ourselves from the grip of an alluring Friday night at Arboretum Arts Festival.

Just remember. We as a community have an obligation to hold Kevin Drew to his word. Broken Social Scene at ARB 2015, okay?

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