Review: Yukon Blonde & Hey Rosetta! at NAC

Hey Rosetta! 2- photo – Alexandra Campeau

Featured photo by Alexandra Campeau/NAC

It’s not every day you get to see two of Canada’s most exciting bands hit one of the best performing arts stages in the country. The National Arts Centre has ramped up their programming heading into their 2015/16 season, the fifth anniversary of the Canadian music series. NAC Presents has done a spectacular job at celebrating musical and artistic diversity in our country, giving both emerging and established artists a chance to showcase their talents on the national stage.

It was a packed house at the NAC’s beautiful Southam Hall, and the excitement could be felt amongst concert-goers for the much-anticipated return of Yukon Blonde and Hey Rosetta! to the capital. Yukon Blonde was the first band to hit the stage, and right away it was obvious that the band was blown away by their reception in Ottawa. Smiles abound, the music started and the night got under way.

Yukon Blonde performed an assortment of new and old throughout their set. Early on they played “Wind Blows” from their 2010 breakthrough album which many of us fell in love with. In this song in particular, as with many others, the harmonies were perfectly executed and just further reinforced how good this band really is.

“Ottawa is one of our favourite places in the world to play,” said lead vocalist and guitarist Jeff Innes between songs. “You guys are always so good to us, and I know not all bands say that about this city, but we feel very welcome here. I know the guys in Hey Rosetta! feel the same way.”

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Yukon Blonde playing at the NAC (Photo by Alexandra Campeau/NAC)

Yukon Blonde’s music is typically upbeat, fun and danceable – particularly on their new record On Blonde. However, a really special part of their set was when they played the touching new song “Hannah.” The song was written about Canadian songwriter Hannah Georgas, which Innes spoke about earlier this year:

Right around the time that my girlfriend and I had broken up and my step dad was diagnosed with terminal mesothelioma, I found myself housemates with one of my friends, Hannah Georgas. She guided me through one of the most difficult times in my life and as a result, she became one of the best friends I’ve ever had.

The set continued with great songs such as “Radio”, “Make You Mine”, and “I Wanna Be Your Man” with the crowd really getting into it and even getting up out of their seats to move their bodies The guitar tones were right on and the sound at the NAC was a music lover’s dream. The sound quality in the room allowed us to really hear all the intricate details of their music, which can often be lost when playing smaller venues or festivals.

Yukon Blonde ended their set with a bang, playing the leading single off On Blonde, “Saturday Night”, as well as the incredibly catchy “Stairway” off of 2012’s Tiger Talk. With the band having so much fun and the crowd really getting involved with clapping and singing, the tone was set for Hey Rosetta! to take their turn.

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Polaris Prize celebrates their 10-year anniversary (Photo: Matias Munoz/Ottawa Showbox)

During the intermission, many people left their seats at Southam Hall to stretch their legs and hang out in the lobby. On display was an entire collection of beautifully designed posters for Polaris Prize shortlist nominees and prize winners dating back to its inception in 2006. The exhibition is in celebration of the Polaris Prize 10-year anniversary in 2016, and you can’t help but stand and stare at all the details in the designs. Best of all, the exhibition is free so if you’re passing by, be sure to check it out before it is finish on November 29.

As Hey Rosetta! hit the stage, the lighting came on and dazzled us all. The foil backdrop also enhanced the lighting effects as it offered distorted reflections. The atmosphere couldn’t be better, and there was an air of excitement and good vibes in the room.

They opened with “Promise” off their 2014 record Second Sight. I had been meaning to give Second Sight a good listen before the show, since I hadn’t heard the band’s new material yet. Instead, I decided to maintain an element of surprise and hear most songs for the first time live. I wasn’t disappointed. Almost every song off the new record translated nicely live, and I really felt as if they were a natural progression from older material.

The band maintained a constant push/pull of energy, keeping the crowd attentive yet engaged and moving. Songs like “Gold Teeth” would fill each corner of Southam Hall with a vibrant energy, while others like “What Arrows” would take it away and take a quiet hold of us all. This dynamic worked well, although so many people kept standing up and sitting down which got somewhat distracting at times.

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Hey Rosetta! at the NAC (Photo: Matias Munoz/Ottawa Showbox)

A highlight of the set for me was their performance of  “Alcatraz.” This song is the embodiment of the push/pull dynamic I have been referring to, and one can’t help but feel torn by emotions when listening. The hall’s incredible acoustics, along with the lighting, resonated with all of us and created a haunting and unforgettable mood through this song, as well as a few others.

Other highlights included their performance of “Harriet,” which included stunning cello work, and “Red Heart”, which is a Hey Rosetta! classic and a song that one can’t help but associate with great Canadian indie music in general. The crowd certainly did their part by belting this one out loud until the very end.

Their set ended with a powerful encore including their political anthem “Land You Love” which Yukon Blonde came on stage and sang with them (all clearly in good spirits still, given the election results). No Hey Rosetta! set would be complete without the crowd going crazy over their 2011 hit “Welcome,” and concert-goers obliged whole-heartedly.  Their rendition of the Ben E. King classic “Stand By Me” is one to remember, and by this point, I could hardly believe how strong lead singer Tim Baker’s vocals were. After nearly a decade of making music, I think this band knows how to do it right.

Although the night was ephemeral, the memories will remain with us. Great bands, a wonderful venue, incredible sound, and a vivacious crowd – what more can you ask for? Without a doubt, this show was one of the best of the year in Ottawa.