On Thursday, February 18th, an eager Ottawa audience ventured to Happy Goat Coffee Co. to witness a thrilling pop-grunge quadruple-header, arranged and executed by Debaser. The first artists to take the stage were the one and only Baberaham Lincoln. Their music was thick and satisfyingly sludgy like a dense, scalding ladle of tin-can stew.
These hometown heroes scraped the evening open with a determined demeanour – throughout the performance, prevailing pop vocals swirled over driving distortion, while drum rhythms meandered cyclically through the grungy sonic wonderland. Reverberating microphones and buzzing guitar cabinets plowed perfect plots for gardens of crooked roses and disjointed audience-movements. Indeed, this was a set for the head-bobbers, and from my vantage point near the back of the venue I watched the crowd move altogether, so accurately out-of-unison.
Shortly after the conclusion of Baberaham’s set, a band called Dories began to play. Truthfully, I merely assume that this band was called Dories because of the order of names on the bill, and the obvious correspondence to their bandcamp page. Still, I don’t recall this band ever formally introducing themselves, or saying much of anything at all. Instead, Dories became absorbed in their music – and they could not be blamed, as their brand of tightly-knit tunes soared through a vast landscape of song-structure and time-signatures.
This set was a fast-paced, post-punk minefield – reminiscent of fellow Montreal group Ought – featuring jangling electric guitar chords, which cleared the way for more jarring lead tones and dissonant bass motifs. During the set, Dories’ music would amble and carry; then suddenly halt, for a brief pause, before carrying on again. Continue, then cease. Start, then stop. Until finally, following an uncomforting combination of sounds, the band stopped permanently. This partially-pop set was new and refreshing, seizing the audience’s attention with a storm of whirling dissonance and a mosaic of musical meters.
Band number three, called Hand Cream – also from Montreal – kept the atmosphere alive during their spirited set. Like Dories before them, Hand Cream’s songs seemed meticulously structured, with compelling beginnings and uncluttered endings. Their repertoire was chalked full of pop-progressions and outgoing basslines, topped with airy vocals, and served on a plate of hesitant rhythms and busy drum fills.
Part-way through their set, their lead guitarist reached into an abyss, and drew forth perhaps the noisiest solo in my recent memory. Like a rocket, this solo blasted-off in a fiery-hot mess of smoke and flames. Only the most scientific of infernos will get Hand Cream to the moon. The audience, pleased by the tasteful cacophony created by the musicians, also appeared to reach a new level of excitement, dancing and hopping about, especially near the front of the crowd.
Finally came Walrus, a band who had transported their neo-psychedelic vibes all the way from Halifax to play for the lively Happy Goat crowd. They performed a balance of fast and slow pieces, though all of their songs pulsated with the accuracy and reliability of a human heart.
The presence of delay effects was strong in the band’s instrumentation, as the vocalist’s plain voice echoed over daunting synth sounds; tripped over folksy guitar chords; and collapsed over skipping drum patterns. Evidently, Walrus was the headlining act that everybody had been waiting for, as they lead the audiences’ minds and bodies on an active, movement-oriented tour through a dance-y, psychedelic machine.
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