Returning to the nation’s capital for the first time since their sparsely attended slot at last summer’s Ottawa Bluesfest, Preoccupations appeared redeemed, as fans packed themselves into the city’s Zaphod Beeblebrox nightclub.
Opening the festivities was Ottawa’s the Yips, a five-piece garage rock outfit who derive much of their charm from vocalist Kerri Carisse’s powerful yet reigned-in delivery, alongside the band’s impossibly tight playing.
Next up were Haligonian band Walrus, promoting their upcoming debut, Family Hangover — a pristine slice of Elephant 6 pop zen. But in a live setting, the band came off something like Real Estate with the rhythm section of a Primus cover band after watching a stoner rock documentary. Although the quintet sounded quite shambolic and vacillated in their delivery, there was nonetheless a sonic charm that made their set undeniably watchable and original.
By the time Preoccupations hit the stage, Zaphod’s dance floor was swamped with mostly twenty-somethings, eagerly ready for the band’s fabled high-octane live show. Kicking off their set with “Select Your Drone” from their self-released 2013 cassette, the band used the track’s building progression to further amp up the energy of the room, and the crowd erupted into a combination of pogo-ing, moshing and bro-hugging.
Playing only two songs from last year’s Preoccupations LP (“Memory” and “Zodiac”), the Calgary band rather focused on their older, more primal material, as guitarists Scott “Monty” Monro and Daniel Christiansen crafted solid beds of sound to allow bassist/vocalist Matt Flegel and drummer Mike Wallace to loosely attack their instruments. As Flegel snidely mentioned that they would have to get off the stage early to make room for Zaphod’s dance night, his band launched into a condensed version of regular set closer “Death” — a track that normally finds the band pushing the bridge into a 10 to 20 minute single-note breakdown.
It’s no secret that the usual Preoccupations performance is punishing and tense, but the band sadly missed their opportunity to capitalize on the venue’s untamed energy, seeming rather bored and uninspired throughout their insultingly short 50-minute set. When Preoccupations left the stage, the once-unbridled crowd immediately returned to their regular, reserved Ottawa selves. The audience had obviously given Preoccupations every ounce of vivacity they could muster, and the band returned the favour by giving the crowd a standard, basic set. No more, no less.