The snow storm that hit Ottawa Wednesday night seemed appropriate as we drove out to the Diefenbunker, an underground artifact of the Cold War, on the outskirts of town for another night of MEGAPHONO. It also seemed appropriate that some of Ottawa’s best underground bands were literally gathering under the soil to show their stuff in this unbelievable space.
One is greeted with a comically large nuclear bomb upon entry into the bunker. Once past that, one must wander down a long and intimidating corridor, which leads to the stairs. We were then invited to head several floors underground. We had two options – head right for the cafeteria or left to the vault. My night would begin in the caf.
The dimly-lit room was the nourishing hub for a bunker that was ready and stocked at all times of its operation with enough fresh food and rations to feed 535 people for 30 days. On this night, it was the stage for some psychedelic music. Theaternia & Cabaal got the ball rolling with some synth-fuelled dance pop. They were accompanied by Hard Science who supplied a very psychedelic light show projector upon them. An excellent way to get the night going.
With the first act concluding, it was time to venture down the other end of the hall towards the vault. This vault was created to hold the gold reserves of the Bank of Canada. On this night it would host a series of garage and punk rock performances. Kicking it off at the vault was Ottawa’s three-piece garage rock group, Nightshades. The room was cold and dark but it didn’t seem to bother anyone, especially not Nightshades. Hell, the drummer was using a stack of buckets he found lying around as a drum seat. The group played a great set featuring tracks from their debut EP The Beauty of Dreaming, including “Broken Bag,” as well as playing a roaring rendition of “Nightshade Nightmare,” the song they recorded for the Centretown Recording Alliance’s Halloween Challenge. The only down side to the performance had nothing to do with the band, it had to do with the photographer running around taking one million flash photos during the entire set. Be sure to catch Nightshades at Showbox’s next Mugshots show on February 20th along with Bonnie Doon and No Aloha.
After Nightshades finished, we moved like a herd of cattle back to the cafeteria for Montreal’s Heat. The rock group has an old school 80s underground vibe to them with Lou Reed-esque vocals from the days of Velvet Underground and some hints of Jesus and Mary Chain. Needless to say they fit right with our location built in the 60s and functioning until the early 90s. Lead singer and guitarist, Susil Sharma, couldn’t resist cracking a few jokes based on the setting. He greated us by saying “Welcome to the Thunder Dome.” And later added “Let’s tear down the wall… am I right?” while looking at the Berlin Wall graffiti in the far corner of the room. The band’s sound had me captivated, it was back to basics but it was fresh at the same time. Check these guys out and take a trip back in time without a time machine.
Back to the vault for the one-woman band that is Meghan Remy, a.k.a. U.S. Girls. The name suggests a group, but this solo performer from Toronto does it all herself and can really capture a crowd’s attention. The songs are this really funky, sometimes weird, atmospheric pop-driven by a synth and drum machine. There was just something about her all alone in front of a crowd of people gathered in a dark, cold bank vault that just made the moment so special. Then she introduced a song by saying “This is a song about if you had a lot of sisters, not like me, and you got married and your husband had slept with all of them first.” Musically the song was reasonably upbeat and positive sounding until the chorus where it took a sharp turn as she sang, “so I’ll hang myself, hang myself from the family tree.” Powerful stuff.
As U.S. Girls finished she urged us to head to the cafeteria to watch Boyhood, like anyone would skip out on them. Boyhood is the experimental brain child of Caylie Runciman which has grown into a four-piece and a fan favourite in town. With the overhead lights turned off and only targeted lights shining on the band they kept the strange and dance vibe going. Caylie was a little weirded out by the space the crowd was giving her and the lighting: “You guys want to move closer to us? It feels weird and the lights are all harsh.” The crowd obliged immediately. The music of Boyhood lives in the fringe and in the darkness with Caylie’s haunting voice, heavy bass and even heavier synth elements. It’s interesting to hear the lo-fi versions of the songs on Boyhood’s LP When I’m Hungry translate into booming, penetrating songs live. Two moments during the set really stick out, how awesome “Cheddar” sounded and how she changed the lyrics in one of “Post Poc” for the occasion. She sang, “I don’t think I can stand this cold… war,” instead of simply “I don’t think I can stand this cold.”
Wrapping up the Diefenbunker Doom Trip was Steve Adamyk Band in the vault. Missing guitarist Davey Quesnel for this show, the three-piece blasted through a high energy set of power cord charged power-pop. This was the loudest and most rambunctious performance of the night as we crammed into the tight spot for the local boys. They played a great set chock full of high tempo songs with perfect singalongs, like “Never Wake Up,” “Not For Long,” and “Katacombs.” Adamyk may have played the most appropriate song of the night though, when they delivered “I Fought For the USA,” while playing in a Cold War bunker. They concluded with “Automatic” and some sad news. The band will not be performing again until Ottawa Explosion this summer. Too bad for all those who missed out!