As a musician immersed in the Ottawa music scene for the past 20 years, I’ve had the privilege of not only connecting, networking, and sharing the stage with fellow colleagues in the field, but to now have the opportunity of bringing their passions, pursuits, and performances to the public forefront as a music writer. During this experience, one thing has become clear to me: Ottawa is home to a growing wealth of musical talent, whose efforts are given the chance to flourish with the continued support of live music venues and a thriving audience interest. Which brings me to one such venue, Zaphod Beeblebrox… Affectionately known simply as Zaphod’s, it has, since its beginnings 25 years ago, held to its pledge to showcase our local talent.
This past Friday night, it was home to Ottawa’s The Powergoats, and the launch of their newest effort, Ruby Headlights, featuring eight tracks of fresh, positively charged music, weaving in and out through toe-tapping rhythms of R&B, reggae, ska, and the catchier side of alternative rock. Lead singer/guitarist/songwriter and founder, Jamie Douglas says for him, it feels like a first CD in many ways, having achieved a more polished production this time around. They also released their first ever music video, “News To Me”, which was shot and produced by Kim Vincent (The Red Rails) of Ravenstone Productions. The recent addition of new members, Jansen Richard (drums), and Al Tambay (lead guitar), have added a welcome punch to the material, and they appear on two of the CD’s tracks.
Before the main attraction began, the evening kicked off with two prominent local indie rock bands. Torn Beloved encapsulated a dark and powerful raw energy, featuring raven haired beauty Josee Martel on lead vocals and electric guitar( reminding me at times of a young Joan Jett). Next up was the Sal Piamonte band, headed by vocalist/guitarist Sal Piamonte, who offered their infectious brand of hard rockin’ tunes that delved in and out of southern rock, country rock, soul, and heavy blues. All three bands have been long supporters of one another, including others on the indie scene roster who share that same common denominator of friendship and reinforcement.
The Powergoats show included members of The Peptides, keyboardist Scott Irving and bassist Andrew Burns, who incidentally did all the mixing on the new CD. Backup vocalists, Michelle Richards and Dee Dee Butters (also of The Peptides) lent their lovely vocal touches to the music, making this a configuration of seven players on the stage.
Things got off to a start with a couple of songs from their previous CD, Bottled Sunset (2012) – both were guitar-heavy steady rockin’ numbers, with “I Pretend They’re All You” laced in pure Stones rawness. The band then delved into every track off the new CD, beginning with “Tiger Punch”, Douglas’ ode to the Hamilton Tiger Cats football team in the city where he grew up. The song flowed with great rhythm, and featured some nice slide guitar work by Tambay. Next up was “News To Me”, the song selected for their music video, which had very textured beats, softly sung parts that swept into powerful choruses, with lyrics of a heartbroken man that asked, “How do I get your face out of my video…your pulse out of my metronome…your voice out of my audio?” Douglas’ distinct Bowie-infused vocals really came out in this song.
Another favorite of mine was the high energy R&B flavoured “Spin The Globe”, with some great vocal harmony by Michelle Richards, and a fantastic piano solo by Irving. I also enjoyed the melancholy tones of the guitar in the final song of the CD “Afterglow”, which had a gorgeous flowing melody, having at times an almost Todd Rundgren feel. The set ended with two more songs from Bottled Sunset, “Emily Haines On My Car Stereo”, which possessed more of that Stones/Bowie seasoning, and “Blow By Blow”, a very lively piece that was full of more great guitar licks and intermittent breaks into reggae fills. All the songs were wonderfully melodic and catchy, incorporated a variety of musical genres, and exhibited well written lyrics not just in their context, but also in terms of their rhythmic value.
As the final song played, members of Torn Beloved paraded onto the dance floor in the true spirit of friendship. As competitive as the music business can be, it is nice to see such a mutual respect and camaraderie among musicians in this city. This was evident tonight with these three bands, which possessed very different musical styles, but showed they all come from the same fabric.