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Omar Montelongo of Police 'N Thieves. Photo provided.

Talking Albums: Omar Montelongo

By John McDonald on April 29, 2020

Inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in November 2002, The Clash were often called “the only band that matters.” Influenced by reggae, rockabilly and blues, the band restored passion and protest to rock & roll. Their influence is widespread. The 40th anniversary of their London Calling album was celebrated worldwide with bands getting together to play the album live in its entirety.

One Ottawa band that celebrated that night was Police ’N Thieves, a Clash tribute band. Omar Montelongo, band founder and guitarist, remembers that evening.

“We put together a tribute show for the 40th anniversary, and were lucky enough to score the actual release date at The 27 Club. There were five acts, and we did the whole record in order for a sold-out crowd. It’s a bit of a fantasy come true to get up there and play these amazing songs by a band that meant so much to so many. It’s an honour, really.”

In our ongoing Talking Albums feature, Omar tells us how he’s spending his Isolation Days (a perfect Clash song title!) and what music he’s been listening to.

Omar Montelongo:

I started Police ’N Thieves three years ago this month.

I remember saying when I first started playing music that the only band I’d ever do a tribute of would be The Clash because they had it all: integrity, grit, passion, politics, a love of experimenting, ability to cross pollinate flawlessly, style and humour.

A friend of mine had been posting about a yearly event in the U.S. where multiple bands would get together and play a few of their takes on Clash songs and I thought, “Damn, I never got to see The Clash. I’ve never even seen a Clash tribute. I bet there are a lot of people in the same boat.”

It all came together really fast. We’ve played about 15 shows and received a lot of great feedback. It’s a bit of a fantasy come true to get up there and play these amazing songs by a band that meant so much to so many. It’s really an honour.

These strange times have been extra surreal for me. My father died on Valentine’s Day, while travelling in Thailand, after being hit by a motorcycle. I tend to listen to a lot of “sad bastard” music. I’m not a morose person, but I’ve always been drawn to the sad stuff, like The Cure, Bill Callahan, Silver Jews. Not that I listen exclusively to depressing music, but since my Dad’s passing I haven’t been able to enjoy the sadder stuff in the same way. I tried listening to my vinyl copy of Disintegration by the Cure, but I couldn’t get through the first side. When the opening keyboard chords came in, I started weeping.

We should be thankful for music’s ability to transport us to better days and brighter places.

Cloud of Rock – Cloud of Rock

Lately I’ve been listening to local band Cloud of Rock’s self-titled LP. The musicianship is stellar. It’s such a fun album and a wonderful escape. It makes me smile every time. It runs the gamut from prog rock to ’80s heavy metal (think AC/DC and Judas Priest) to early ZZ Top and ’70s Rolling Stones.

There are some wonderful Who-like bass lines and chord progressions, Beach-Boy-esque backing vocals and often hilarious lyrics: “her platinum vagina opens every door.” It’s not all tongue-in-cheek and good times, there are some poignant moments as well, like the wistful “Dead” which laments all the friends that aren’t here today. Another highlight is the pitch perfect, ’80s-pop-tinged “Indie Rock.” Good times, great hooks and some much-needed escapism!

Pavement – Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain

I’ve been getting back to writing some original songs and doing some home recording with some of the free time that’s come my way. It’s been at least eight years since I’ve had the time and drive to write my own material. I’ve been listening to a lot of Pavement, specifically Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain. It really takes me back to ’93 – riding my bike to work on bright summer mornings in the beautiful Kootenay Valley. B.C., imagining my mountain bike lifting into the air with Stephen Malkmus’s uplifting, scrambled-egg solo in “Cut Your Hair” or spiralling slowly on a sun-blazed hilltop to the woozy, drunken sounding, Dave Brubeck inspired “5-4=Unity.” Such a sunny, yet moody, early ’90s indie-rock masterpiece.

About Cloud of Rock – Cloud of Rock

Cloud of Rock is Dave Bignell, Don Cummings, Michael Fenton, Pat Lawlor, and Peter Von Althen. They call themselves “just a bunch of guys playing rock music.” Others would disagree. Omar says that “COR is basically an Ottawa supergroup. The first time I heard COR was when we played with them at The Record Centre. We played before them. so I stuck around to check them out. I’ve tried to catch them every time since. We got to share a stage with them at Kaffé 1870 in Wakefield where I bought a vinyl copy of their record. The production is perfect.”

About Pavement – Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain

Considered by some as the most influential and distinctive of ’90s American underground bands, on this album, Pavement “throws out a jazzy Dave Brubeck tribute as easily as they mimic the Fall and mock the Happy Mondays” (Allmusic). The album is considered a touchstone of underground rock in the ’90s and one of the great albums of its decade. A deluxe version was later issued. Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain: LA’s Desert Origins is a two-disc remastered reissue featuring 49 total tracks collecting B-sides, comp tracks and outtakes, including 25 unreleased recordings and 11 unheard tracks.

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