The New Pornographers @ Bronson Centre | Exclaim! | October 13, 2017

The New Pornographers / Born Ruffians

Bronson Centre, Ottawa ON, October 12

The New Pornographers / Born Ruffians Bronson Centre, Ottawa ON, October 12
Photo: Chris Bubinas

 

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Despite the fact that they’ve hit Ottawa recently, Vancouver collective the New Pornographers still succeeded in drawing a large crowd last night (October 12), bringing out hordes of merrymakers to the 900-seat Bronson Centre for the Thursday night performance.

Dressed to impress, Midland, Ontario’s Born Ruffians stretched out side-by-side on the front part of the stage, giddily opening the evening with a new track from their upcoming fifth LP. Powered by bassist Mitch Derosier’s pogo-style playing, the trio launched into a buoyant rendition of “Don’t Live Up” from 2015’s RUFF LP that found the now-warmed-up crowd singing along, causing a smile to break out on vocalist/guitarist Luke Lalonde’s face. After three new tracks, Born Ruffians ended off their much-too-short 45-minute set with material from their last two LPs, slipping in an inspired (and, according to drummer Steve Hamelin, rare) version of “Little Garçon” from their well-received 2008 debut, Red, Yellow & Blue.

Unveiling their sleek, ’80s neon/laser aesthetic stage setup, the New Pornographers walked out as a septet, including touring member Simi Stone on vocals and violin. Playing the penultimate show of their sprawling six-month tour, the band launch into “The Jessica Numbers” from Twin Cinema and the title track from this year’s Whiteout Conditions, sounding incredibly tight — if a bit too rehearsed and comfortable. Moving through singles “Dancehall Domine,” “The Laws Have Changed” and “High Ticket Attractions,” it took the band a whopping eight songs to truly let loose on stage, with a performance of the fittingly titled “All the Old Showstoppers” finally getting the crowd (and band members) moving.

After vocalist and guitarist Carl Newman addressed the audience for the first time, keyboardist Kathryn Calder showed off her vocal chops by filling in for Neko Case on “This Is the World of the Theatre,” while Stone arrestingly gave her own Neko tribute on “Play Money,” and Newman joined in with his beefed-up spin on the Dan Bejar-penned “Testament to Youth in Verse.”

Closing their sprawling 19-song set off with a pair of old favourites, “Use It” from Twin Cinema and the title track from their debut Mass Romantic, the band returned to the stage to rip into a three-song encore that included some of their most high-energy tracks — “The Slow Descent Into Alcoholism,” “Brill Bruisers” and “The Bleeding Heart Show” — that found band members dancing, smiling and reacting to the energized and mobile crowd.

At a Bronson Centre beaming with energy, Ottawa’s undying adoration that helped the band out of their early-set slumber, and the New Pornographers returned the love in spades.

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Graham Nash @ Centrepointe Theatre | Exclaim! | October 2, 2017

Graham Nash

Centrepointe Theatre, Ottawa ON, October 2

Graham Nash Centrepointe Theatre, Ottawa ON, October 2
Photo: Chris Bubinas

 

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For the first time since Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s sprawling three-hour performance back in 2006, Graham Nash returned to the nation’s capital for another marathon performance with his career-spanning “An Evening of Songs and Stories with Graham Nash.”

Packed with mostly well-dressed and polite 60-somethings, Nash adorned the stage at the 966-seat Centrepointe Theatre with Persian rugs, clusters of candles and a palm plant to help give the evening’s performance a cozy and intimate feel. Entering the stage with famed session guitarist Shane Fontayne (who produced and played on Nash’s latest LP, This Path Tonight), the 75-year-old looked vibrant and hip in skinny jeans and a flowing black dress shirt.

Clutching his Martin acoustic guitar, Nash kicked the night off with a rendition of his former band the Hollies’ first North American hit, “Bus Stop.” After greeting the audience, Nash moved ahead a few decades to perform Crosby, Stills & Nash’s 1982 single “Wasted on the Way,” which expertly demonstrated Fontayne’s incredible ability to play off of and harmonize with his musical partner. After pulling out a deep cut, “I Used to Be a King,” from his classic 1971 solo debut, Songs for Beginners, Nash gave the audience his first story of the night, recounting how his 1972 Crosby & Nash hit “Immigration Man” was written after a run-in with Vancouver custom officers.

After performing some of his most recognizable songs, including Crosby, Stills & Nash’s “Marrakesh Express” and his revamped Trump-referencing solo track “Military Madness,” Nash ended the night’s first set off with a brilliant, brooding cover of the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life” that had the theatre on its feet.

Returning to give the audience some insight into Crosby, Stills & Nash’s “Just a Song Before I Go” (about writing the song to win a bet with a drug dealer), Graham dedicated the touching “Back Home” (a track about the death of the Band’s Levon Helm) to Tom Petty, who was still clinging to life by show time. Sitting behind his Yamaha keyboard, Nash then recounted to the crowd his story about meeting Joni Mitchell in Ottawa and performed a track written about their relationship, the CSNY hit “Our House,” to close off the second set.

Returning to the stage for an intimate cover of another Beatles track, “Blackbird,” Nash and Fontayne left the now-standing crowd with a poignant version of “Teach Your Children.” These types of ‘song and stories’ performances can easily cross the line into schlocky nostalgia-peddling, but Graham Nash injected the two-hour performance with enough energy, insight, humour and humility to provide the receptive and gratified crowd a truly unforgettable evening from a real musical legend.

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers @ LeBreton Flats Park | Exclaim! | July 16, 2017

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers

LeBreton Flats Park, Ottawa ON, July 16

Tom Petty & the HeartbreakersLeBreton Flats Park, Ottawa ON, July 16
Photo: Chris Bubinas
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Cheekily greeting the crowd for the first time since his 1981 Hard Promises Tour, even Tom Petty was aware that his return the nation’s capital was long overdue: “It’s nice to be in Ottawa for a change,” he quipped.

Closing out the city’s sprawling ten-day Bluesfest, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers filled the massive grounds of LeBreton Flats Park for their much-anticipated Sunday night (July 16) headlining slot. In the midst of their 40th Anniversary Tour (that curiously celebrates the 41st anniversary of the their first LP), the Florida band kicked off the evening with the fittingly chosen opening track from their self-titled debut, “Rockin’ Around (With You).”

Looking quintessentially laid-back and happy, Petty moved into a duo of ’90s hits (including the crowd-pleasing single “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” and “You Don’t Know How it Feels” from his 1994 solo LP, Wildflowers), the latter of which found Heartbreakers guitarist Mike Campbell moving to the front of the stage to trade licks with Petty to provide some energy to the well-mannered audience. Informing the crowd that, “We’re going to look at the show kinda like it’s a huge, one-sided LP, and we’re going to drop the needle wherever we want,” it seemed strange that Petty and his seven-piece band (including long-time Leonard Cohen live back-up singers the Webb Sisters) would continue on with an identical setlist to the one they’ve been performing the entire tour.

After great but satisfyingly loose renditions of “I Won’t Back Down,” “Free Fallin'” and “Don’t Come Around Here No More,” Petty delved into three more tracks from Wildflowers, including the single “It’s Good to Be King” (which found Heartbreaker Benmont Tench stretching out the song behind a baby grand piano) and album cuts “Crawling Back to You” and “Wildflowers.” Mostly sticking to tracks from his late-’80s to mid-’90s era, Petty invigorated the crowd with a strong performance of “Refugee” (one of only four songs from the band’s first decade they would play) before closing with a too-slick version of “Running Down a Dream” that found the Webb Sisters handling the song’s iconic woo-hoos.

Returning for an encore that included “You Wreck Me” (the set’s fifth song from Wildflowers) and “American Girl,” Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers showed the massive crowd that they have enough great material and charisma to deliver a solid rock show, no matter how unspontaneous and left-field of a setlist they choose to deliver.

Anderson .Paak & the Free Nationals @ LeBreton Flats Park | Exclaim! | July 14, 2017

Anderson .Paak & the Free Nationals

LeBreton Flats Park, Ottawa ON, July 14

Anderson .Paak & the Free NationalsLeBreton Flats Park, Ottawa ON, July 14
Photo: Kamara Morozuk
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The looming threat of a thunderstorm put a damper on Anderson .Paak’s much-awaited Ottawa debut, but the California musician assured each and every person who turned out for his Friday night co-headlining performance wouldn’t regret a single moment of it.

Hitting the stage with his four-piece band, the Free Nationals, .Paak required nary a song or two to get the crowd amped up, immediately leaping onto a riser at the front of the stage, urging the crowd to “Get ready to party!” Kicking the show off with the unlikely opener “Milk n’ Honey,” from his 2014 debut Venice, .Paak launched into the single “Come Down” from last year’s Malibu LP, keeping the on stage energy impossibly high, leaping, dancing and skanking across the roomy stage.

Pumping the crowd up even further through a call-and-response that kicked off tight versions of “The Waters” and “The Season/Carry Me” with the latter culminating in .Paak jumping behind a full drum kit to assist the song’s punky beat. As the crowd roared throughout the track’s conclusion, .Paak got onto the mic to inform those in attendance that the rest of the performance would be postponed due to “severe weather.”

After 30 minutes of steady drizzle and a few off-the-horizon lightning strikes, .Paak returned to the stage, hopping right back behind the drums to give the shrunken crowd an electrifying rendition of “Put Me Thru” that allowed guitarist Jose Rios and bassist Kelsey Gonzalaz to brilliantly hold down the groove.

Moving back behind the mic, .Paak thanked the crowd for sticking with him, while promising that the remainder of his truncated show would be a party. Closing the interrupted 40-minute performance (which was now running into the headliner Live’s proposed set time) with “Am I Wrong,” the audience wildly begged for one more track, which Anderson gratefully obliged with the fittingly titled, “Luh You.” Throughout his hampered performance, .Paak kept promising the audience a party, and against all odds, he absolutely delivered.

LCD Soundsystem @ LeBreton Flats Park | Exclaim! | July 13, 2017

LCD Soundsystem

LeBreton Flats Park, Ottawa ON, July 12

LCD SoundsystemLeBreton Flats Park, Ottawa ON, July 12
Photo: Kamara Morozuk
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Headlining an evening that also featured performances from Choir! Choir! Choir!, Phantogram and the Shins, New York’s LCD Soundsystem were greeted by a youthful ready-to-party crowd that braved persistent rain to witness the Ottawa debut of James Murphy’s dance-punk band. Entering the stage beneath the band’s iconic disco ball, Murphy was joined by his seven-piece band, featuring LCD originals Nancy Whang, Gavin Russom, Pat Mahoney and Tyler Pope, who situated their instruments in a tight horseshoe to surround their charismatic leader.

Opening with “Yr City’s a Sucker,” from their 2005 debut LP, the slow-building track worked as a great primer for the level of aural energy the eight musicians would push out to the crowd during the unbridled “Daft Punk Is Playing at My House.” Though strong breezes pushed the rain onto the stage, causing Whang and Russom to deal with malfunctioning synthesizers, the group never missed a beat, launching into the sleek, downbeat “I Can Change” from 2010’s This Is Happening, before picking the pace back up with Sound of Silver‘s “Get Innocuous!”

This would prove to be a pattern for the band, as they would follow four-on-the-floor bangers (“Tribulations,” “Yeah”) with rock-based (“Movement”) or more ambient (‘Someone Great”) material, making it difficult for much of the glowstick-crowd to keep a steady vibe going. By the time Murphy found his way through joyous renditions of his band’s two latest singles (“Call the Police” and “American Dreams”), a portion of the crowd had vacated the festival grounds, leaving the diehards with ample room to dance, jump around and sing along for the group’s scorching finale of “Dance Yrself Clean” and “All My Friends.”

Though the band stuck close their own square-metre of stage, LCD Soundsystem nonetheless delivered the goods, playing an impossibly tight set assisted by crystal clear sound, a gorgeous (and at times perfectly restrained) light show and Murphy’s charming stage presence. For those who witnessed the band’s entire two-hour performance, it was more than clear that LCD Soundsystem may be the biggest niche band of the moment.

The Zombies @ LeBreton Flats Park | Exclaim! | July 12, 2017

The Zombies

LeBreton Flats Park, Ottawa ON, July 11

The ZombiesLeBreton Flats Park, Ottawa ON, July 11
Photo: Kamara Morozuk
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On tour to support the 50th anniversary of their irrefutable classic Odessey and Oracle LP, The Zombies made a stop at Ottawa’s Bluesfest for a Tuesday night (July 11) third-stage headlining performance. Returning to the city for the first time since their appearance at the same festival in 2009, original members Colin Blunstone and Rod Argent, along with current Zombies members — bassist Jim Rodford, his brother Steve on drums and Tom Toomey on guitar — managed to once again draw a sizable legion of predominantly aging fans to the festival’s tented stage.

Decked out in matching black leather jackets, the quintet looked energized and grateful, opening the evening’s set with their 1965 B-side, “I Love You,” as Blunstone showed the crowd just how well his voice has held up, especially during the song’s vocal-stretching post-chorus. Cleverly getting a duo of tracks (“Moving On” and “Edge of the Rainbow”) from their latest LP, 2015’s Still Got the Hunger out of the way early, the band launched into a mini-set of songs from Odessey and Oracle, including “Care of Cell 44”, “This Will Be Our Year,” the Argent-sung “I Want Her, She Wants Me” and “Time of the Season,” with the latter causing the crowd to simultaneously pull out their phones (and iPads) to snap photos and take video of the band performing the mega-hit.

After a joyous rendition of their 1964 single “Tell Her No” and covers of the Miracles’ “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me” and Sam Cooke’s “Bring It On Home to Me,” Rod led the band through a boisterous rendition of his ’70s band Argent’s hit “Hold Your Head Up,” as the organist hammered out a brilliant extended solo that managed to ramp the energy of crowd to a near-boogie. Closing the evening off with their biggest hit, “She’s Not There,” Blunstone and Argent (now in their early 70s), left the festivalgoers after a flawlessly crafted stage show that highlighted the best of what the Zombies (and Argent) gave to rock’n’roll.

Brandi Carlile @ LeBreton Flats Park | Exclaim! | July 8, 2017

Brandi Carlile

LeBreton Flats Park, Ottawa ON, July 8

Brandi CarlileLeBreton Flats Park, Ottawa ON, July 8
Photo: Kamara Morozuk
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Brandi Carlile undoubtedly possesses a healthy amount of confidence in her craft — she was able to wrangle some of music’s biggest superstars, including Adele, Dolly Parton, Kris Kristofferson and Pearl Jam, to contribute renditions of her songs for this year’s Cover Stories benefit LP. And it was that unyielding credence that the Seattle alt-country star brought to the stage for her co-headlining slot during the first Saturday night (July 8) of Ottawa’s sprawling ten-day Bluesfest.

Sandwiched between performances by Ottawa hip-hop trio Flight Distance and a headlining gig by 50 Cent, Carlile nonetheless brought out a small but loud and proud crowd of festivalgoers. Hitting the stage with her backing band “The Twins,” led by identical brothers Tim and Phil Hanseroth on guitar and bass respectively, Carlile absolutely beamed with joy as she launched into “The Things I Regret” from her latest LP, 2015’s The Firewatcher’s Daughter. Following up with “Raise Hell” from 2012’s Bear Creek and “Again Today” from 2007’s The Story, Carlile played off her band brilliantly, participating in a gorgeous three-part harmony for “The Eye” while inviting drummer Brian Griffith to the front of the stage to play the washboard (strapped across his chest) on the buoyant “Keep Your Heart Young.”

As the Hanseroth brothers took to the corners of the stage to hammer out polyrhythmic beats for a raucous version of “Pride and Joy” from 2009’s Give Up the Ghost, Carlile and her four-piece band promptly left the stage before returning for a rare Bluesfest double-encore. Closing the 70-minute performance with a four-octave-pushing rendition of Led Zeppelin’s “Going to California” and perhaps the most joyous rendition of the Cyndi Lauper classic “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” I’ve heard, Carlile showed the adoring crowd that it only takes an infectiously positive stage demeanour and a fistful of confidence to deliver a memorable performance.