God didn’t make the Byward Market. On the seventh day He rested while another hand came out of the formless void and, after first creating K-cups and the Bay City Rollers, threw together a lunatic mass of price-gouging pubs and Asian fusion restaurants. There are, however, a few bastions of virtue here and there, on guard against the winds of mediocrity wafting off the streets. Zaphods is one such bastion (and I hope will continue to be), as well as the Dom. And yes, we all love Beavertails. Mercury Lounge, with its slight and modest facade slivered between shops, belies the height, depth and hipness hidden within. There is rarely a good reason not to brave the market to hang out on any one of its three floors and sip tequila in a haze of music. This night, the high ceilings were to be filled with confetti and kites and streams of light as the imaginary world of Adult Children was made manifest before our eyes.
The opening act was to be one Keturah Johnson, but she fell ill and cancelled only to be replaced at the last minute by singer-guitarist Amanda Lowe. We entered the club and climbed up into the balcony, presiding over all like shy gods with our drinks in hand, our vantage secure between the legs of the curious legions stood around the railing and stairs. Adult Children, though newly formed, are made of two people who have carved a significant enough path through Ottawa’s music scene to have kicked up more than a few fans along the way. The turnout was impressive, and appeared even more so in the narrow room which could only fill upwards. We were stacked above the stage and spilled out into the floor below, called here for the release of the debut EP by a band whose name could not be more appropriate.
Adult Children are comprised of John-Aaron Cockburn and Maxim Cossette, two wry devils who have been playing music and tricks together for over twenty years. In their own separate paths and respective groups they have both infused their songs with playful virtuosity and magic. Cockburn is formerly of Montreal’s Little Suns (who were formerly Ottawa’s Dry River Caravan) and Cossette with his current, eponymous Combo (who were formerly, and sometimes still are, the Sick Sick Sicks, follow me?). In a sense this is a project years in the making, and it only surprises when one considers how long it to took for it to happen. Both musicians have followed similar trajectories; from beginnings with mutual music teachers, through various punk bands which rose and fell and eventually settling into forms of folk and rock which they have each made their own.
On their debut as Adult Children, the EP Elements, they indulge in their instincts and mutual trust as only old friends could to create a unified vision. The album was recorded with the space of a country between them; Cossette recording in a Centretown apartment and Cockburn on a farm in Salt Spring Islands. They found themselves in the same city for the holidays and orchestrated this show. For the time being, now that the show has been performed, they have gone their separate ways. In this sense, the show was a specific, necessary expression of intent. Both musicians knowing they may only have this one chance in their hometown to make an impression, and seizing every opportunity to infuse their set with personality and promise.
After an opening marred only slightly by an absent monitor feed, the duo eased into their first number. Fiddle and banjo formed a hypnotic drone over the looped percussion of the backing track as the two ascended to meet their maker on stairs made of stars. When the beat dropped the room was plunged into a Levantine club-thumper with a melodic and harmonic shine redolent of Ireland by-way-of Appalachia; the world is brought nearer. The silky rustle of a new age drone opened the second piece, throat-singing and all, though soon this too was ripped apart by a martial industrial beat that pounded beneath the pastel pulse and plunk of accordion and banjo.
Adult Children have created a kind of electronic dance out of the forms and theories of traditional music. The most familiar and successful elements of commercial pop and folk are distorted through a brightly painted pane of glass, rendering them in vibrant smears. Cockburn handles the programming, accordion and fiddle while the banjo is beautifully, and sometimes perversely, handled by Cossette.
There is something of an Arcadian dream-land in the spaces between folk instrument and electronic treatment, with hills of green and livid skies of lapis lazuli, where none grow old and there is never any work to be done; et in pueritia ego. This not only for the fact that the duo resemble lysergic ranchers who’ve lost their cattle to the sea while they were dancing beneath the moon. They paint a world of carefree yesterdays wrapped in the progression of tomorrow all borne atop crisply produced dance beats. They closed their set with Wind, the album’s first single – released as a video (here) – a propulsive pop tune that ended with the potent lyric “we’ll all grow old, I hope”, and I echoed it in my heart.
The night was brought to it’s rowdy end by the explosion that is Cossette Combo. For those who, for whatever impediments, are unaware, Maxim Cossette is one of the greatest entertainers operating in Ottawa currently. To watch him live, his lank figure writhing and moaning behind the mic, is to see that which cannot be wiped off your eyes. He is the he-goat, the mad monk of Ottawa rockabilly and punk. His firestorm brand of self-styled Djangobilly is a wildly idiosyncratic dance music that would suit the pitched tents of an apocalyptic love-cult.
The portmanteau should well explain the sound which fuses manouche jazz and rockabilly into a singular style that the band shakes out with deft hands. Dressed in a prayer robe, his dreadlocks spilling over his shoulder, Cossette immediately kick started the band into an instrumental rockabilly juggernaut, trading leads with guitarist Dylan Watts. Switch the scene to a grotto, wheel in a black ram and you would glimpse through the flashes of revelry a changed man, his limbs stained red with blood and wine.
Cossette’s songwriting is one of the most plainspoken and at times, truly beguiling of any I’ve heard. His lyrics are a blend of experiential observation, spirituality, drug use, horror movie motifs and advertising jingles. He balances the craft of song between both the personal and the purely functional, seeking to explore each possibility within the form. His conscious inclusion of bilingual verses elevate the songs to something distinctly Franco-Ontarian, rooting them firmly in a time and place that is culturally significant. That is, in fact, what Cossette Combo are – an incredibly significant group within the Ottawa music scene. They are our rowdiest and most unique bar band, a panoply of virtuoso performance, theatricality and exhibitionism that provokes while it entertains and ensures that you don’t regret your hangover in the morning.
The evening’s performance had been celebration of life in a moment, of friendship and musical communication by two charismatic and talented musicians. Turn up the AC, we are hot for more.