Trying to put Toronto’s annual Canadian Music Week in terms the average Ottawan can relate to is, I’m finding, not the easiest thing I’ve ever done. CMW’s sort of like Bluesfest – that is, if Bluesfest were spread out across dozens of venues, ran until 4 a.m., and sneered at the mere suggestion live music could be ever be enjoyed from a lawn chair. You could draw a pretty sketchy connection, atmosphere-wise, between Queen Street in Hogtown and Elgin Street during the Sens’ Stanley Cup run a couple of years ago, at least on the basis of per capita alcohol consumption. And I’m sure there were just as many people plugging their ears during Manotick rockers Hollerado’s Thursday night set as there are anytime Stephen Harper orates on Parliament Hill.
So why, you may ask, am I, a humble Ottawa blogger, trying (and failing) to relate to you the wonders of CMW? Because thanks to our good friends at Toronto music site Two Way Monologues, Apartment613 was able to snare a media pass to the five-day festival. And given the number of artists with Ottawa connections taking to the stage, it would be crazy NOT to go! So click on, dear readers. You might even win something if you get all the way to the bottom of the ensuing post.
Let me just start off with an unarguable truth: you wouldn’t be reading this post had I not been wearing my shiny orange earplugs during the Thursday evening set by Hollerado. Why? Because I would be DEAD. Of two shattered eardrums.
Thursday was four hours on a Via train followed by four hours standing at the front of the Horseshoe Tavern. I was there primarily to catch Amos the Transparent, who play some of the smoothest, most melodic indie rock in the entire country. And they seem like (cue your mother’s voice here) such NICE YOUNG MEN. At one point the sextet brought a handful of their buddies on stage and, arms wrapped around shoulders, swayingly chanted the chorus to “Greater than Consequence,” one of the best songs off My, What Big Teeth You Have, their most recent EP. At another, they tossed what looked like VHS cassettes into the crowd – apparently because it was the birthday of someone in the audience they knew. Anyways, there was lots of good feelings, lots of singing along, and lots of – at least from me – puzzlement at why these guys haven’t broken out yet.
Hollerado took the stage two hours later. I admit, I did not know Hollerado were originally from the charming bedroom community of Manotick (Improperly-hyphenated town slogan: “A Village-Full of Discovery!”) until they began wielding their guitars, so getting to catch two Ottawa-area artists within a few hours was pretty fortuitous, blog content-wise. The details of the show are pretty fuzzy, which I will attribute to the fact my brain cells responsible for generating new memories were cowering in hiding from the decibel levels generated by Hollerado’s bluesy-yet-poppy indie rock. I do recall, however, that they’re exactly as fun as you’d expect from a band whose official website looks like this (Chinese version here).
Friday afternoon, Terri from TWM and I caught The Balconies, who relocated to Toronto from Ottawa last year, at an in-store show at Criminal Records. My first observation: guitarist and on-again, off-again lead singer Jacquie Neville may be carded at bars for the remainder of the decade, but she is already a wizened master at the art of the killer rock pose. The band’s mix of Stills-ish rock circa Logic Will Break Your Heart and straight-ahead indie pop is obscenely catchy, and they should have big things ahead of them. According to Terri, Toronto’s hipper-than-thou scene has already claimed The Balconies as one of their own. So that’s promising.
A bit later, it was off to Lee’s Palace for a trio of bands, culminating with The Acorn. (Let’s just say that if you don’t know who The Acorn are, you haven’t been reading this blog close enough.) I’m always a bit torn about how I feel about Rolf Klausener and the gang: their pristine studio albums just don’t do it for me, but I know they can put on a stellar live show if they just play LOUD enough, consarnit! And what do you know, that’s just what happened. I didn’t even notice the two percussionists, so mesmerized was I by Klausener’s impassioned singing (or was it his resemblance to gold-medal speedskater Charles Hamelin?). Friday’s show was apparently one of the last (possibly THE last) for the band’s guitarist Howie Tsui. I can’t recall the exact reason why, but it had to do with the fact Tsui – an accomplished visual artist as well – is just too awesome to stay put. And I’m all for the fostering of Ottawa-related awesomeness, so best of luck, Howie.
The evening ended at Rancho Relaxo, where the TWM folks regularly host their own shows. I missed most of the set by recent Apartment613 interview subjects Trevor James and the Perfect Gentlemen, but I did briefly chat with Mr. James at the bar later on and can affirm his gentlemanly qualities. I also met up with former Ottawa hip-hop artists Owel Five and Corboe, who divulged this tidbit about the capital’s music scene: every single local musician has at one time been employed at either a CD Warehouse or a Kelsey’s in Kanata. (Hands up if you’re picturing a teenaged Alanis Morissette in a Kelsey’s uniform, deep-frying chicken fingers.) I am by no means an authority on hip-hop, but I will say that ANY artist of ANY genre who sits cross-legged on stage with members of the audience gets all the serious props I can spare. Their adrenaline-laced 3 a.m. performance was a pretty great way to finish off the night.
(One artist I didn’t get to see was Giant Hand, but I have it on good authority from TWM writer and avowed connoisseur of boys-with-acoustic-guitars Lisa that his set – at a backpacker’s hostel, no less – was quite enjoyable.)
Anyways, that’s my whirlwind tour of the Ottawa bands who played CMW. Of course, there were other wonderful artists who hail from outside eastern Ontario whom I could rave about – Dan Mangan, The Russian Futurists, Diamond Rings, I’m looking in your directions – but that’ll wait until they play Ottawa. Finally, as promised, for those of you who’ve made it this far, we have free music to give away! TWM has provided Apartment613 with two access codes to download their 15-song Hi-Hat Comp #5 (featuring, among others, Spookey Ruben). So if you’re the first or second person to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, they shall be yours, all yours.