The Afghan Whigs- In Spades | Exclaim! | May 2017

The Afghan Whigs

In Spades

The Afghan WhigsIn Spades
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When Greg Dulli and John Curley reformed the Afghan Whigs for their strong 2014 comeback LP, Do to the Beast, fans and critics were quick to point out the group’s moody and restrained sound. On their equally terrific follow-up, In Spades, it seems that the Cincinnati six-piece are back in full-retro Whigs mode.

Much of the unbridled energy the band exude on LP number eight seems to stem from the fact that In Spades was recorded right in the studio in a full band setting, as tracks like “Arabian Heights” and “Copernicus” play off thudding, driving polyrhythms that once fuelled classic Whigs tracks like “Gentlemen” or Miles Iz Ded.” In addition, the thoughtfulness that aids tracks like the soul-searching “Demon in Profile” and the bouncy anthem “Light as a Feather” feel like they benefit from the album’s swift conception and short recording session.

The Whigs never feel complacent on In Spades: “Toy Automatic” is bedazzled by a rubbery Kamasi Washington sax breakdown, while “Oriole” moves from emaciated acoustic strumming to woozy string symphonies and electric guitar squeals in just four minutes. At 51 years of age, frontman Dulli comes off tremendously tuneful, energetic and exploratory across the album’s ten tracks, a fact best exemplified on closer “Into the Floor,” a track born from an onstage jam that the band would often close shows with.

Dulli and company manage to elatedly deliver everything long-standing fans crave in an Afghan Whigs album — and they do so in spades. (Sub Pop)

Preoccupations @ Zaphod Beeblebrox | Exclaim! | April 29, 2017

Preoccupations / Walrus / the Yips

Zaphod Beeblebrox, Ottawa ON , April 28

Preoccupations / Walrus / the YipsZaphod Beeblebrox, Ottawa ON , April 28
Photo: Kamara Morozuk
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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.

Blackalicious @ Zaphod Beeblebrox | Exclaim! | January 22, 2017

Blackalicious / Eddie Quotez

Zaphod Beeblebrox, Ottawa ON, January 21

Blackalicious / Eddie QuotezZaphod Beeblebrox, Ottawa ON, January 21
Photo: Kamara Morozuk
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After thousands filled the streets of Ottawa in support of the Women’s March on Washington, the positive vibes spilled over into the evening, as merrymakers packed Zaphod Beeblebrox to witness the long-awaited return of alternative hip-hop legends Blackalicious.

Following a decade-long hiatus, rapper Gift of Gab and DJ Chief Xcel released their fourth LP, Imani Vol. 1, before heading out on a lengthy world tour that wrapped up in the nation’s capital on Saturday night (January 21). Opening the evening’s festivities, local rapper Eddie Quotez looked blessed and euphoric while performing for the large and attentive crowd that showed up early. Joined by DJ J2xF, Quotez paced across the stage, coming off as a fervent and dedicated student of hip-hop, effortlessly melding Detroit’s vitriolic style of rhyming with Toronto’s unique blend of melody and his own loose-but-precise delivery.

Bringing along longtime associates Jumbo (from Oregon group Lifesavas) and Lateef the Truthspeaker (from Latryx), Blackalicious managed to transport the already hyped crowd to an even more impassioned state, with the former leading an extended call-and-response to kick up the appropriately-titled opener “On Fire Tonight.”

Still feeling the effects of his near-death battle with kidney disease, the nominally-prodigious Gift of Gab came on stage looking thin, weakened and immobile (he remained seated for a portion of the set), but gracious — joining his fellow rappers to handily spit through the title track from their classic 2002 record, Blazing Arrow.

Throughout their 75-minute set, Blackalicious and guests kept Zaphod’s bumping, giving the crowd a durable performance that included new tracks like “Blacka” and “Alpha and Omega” alongside deep cuts like “Rock the Spot” (from their 1999 EP A2G) and the 2004 Lateef and the Chief track “Don’t Stop.” The three rappers even delved into a few rounds of joyous freestyles, brilliantly including references to their love of Canada and dislike of Trump, during which Gab’s punctilious and lightning-quick rhyming truly bowled over the crowd.

Closing the evening off with “Swan Lake” and “Chemical Calisthenics,” Blackalicious provided Ottawa with a memorable and hopeful conclusion to a truly historic day.

The Genius of Philip Glass @ National Arts Centre | Exclaim! | November 26, 2016

The Genius of Philip Glass performed by the NAC Orchestra, Simone Dinnerstein and Matt Haimovitz

National Arts Centre, Ottawa ON, November 26

The Genius of Philip Glass performed by the NAC Orchestra, Simone Dinnerstein and Matt HaimovitzNational Arts Centre, Ottawa ON, November 26
Photo: Kamara Morozuk
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“There is no Nobel Prize for Music, so this award is significant to me.” As Philip Glass graced the National Arts Centre Stage Saturday night (November 26) to accept the 11th Glenn Gould Prize, that simple statement lent the prestigious recognition added gravitas. Presented every two or three years since 1987, the prize represents more than just artistic acknowledgement; it commends those dedicated to “improving the human condition through music and communication.” Former recipients have included Oscar Peterson, Yo-Yo Ma and Leonard Cohen.

Opening the evening’s ceremonies with a performance of the honouree’s 2003 minimal composition “Ètude no. 2,” New York classical pianist Simone Dinnerstein, best known for her take on the Goldberg Variations, artfully represented both Glass and Gould. After the 79-year-old took to the stage to humbly accept his award from the evening’s host, British vocalist Petula Clark (who would later treat the audience to her rendition of Philip Glass and Mick Jagger’s “Streets of Berlin”), the 64-piece National Arts Centre Orchestra delivered Glass’s 2005 “Symphony No. 8” in three movements, masterfully demonstrating his unpredictable style of composition.

Following a brief intermission, Dinnerstein returned to perform Glass’s uncharacteristically fluid “Ètude no. 6,” proceeded by “Heavy Sleep,” an original piece from modern composer Timo Andres, who was chosen by the inductee to receive the “City of Toronto Glenn Gould Protégé Prize.” Then, after Israeli-born cellist Matt Haimovitz offered the audience his “Overture for solo cello,” written by Glass, the NAC Orchestra returned to close the evening out with Movement 5 from Philip’s 2011 repetition-heavy “Symphony No. 10.”

As Philip Glass (who, disappointingly, did not take the stage to perform), stood from his balcony seat, the 2,000 person crowd nonetheless showered him with an impassioned standing ovation, respectfully honouring the iconic composer with the same respect and gratitude that he has spent his career giving to music — and to the world in general.

Stiff Little Fingers @ Bronson Centre |Exclaim! | October, 2016

Stiff Little Fingers / Mother’s Children

Bronson Centre Theatre, Ottawa ON, October 28

Stiff Little Fingers / Mother's ChildrenBronson Centre Theatre, Ottawa ON, October 28
Photo: Chris Bubinas
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Gearing up for a 2017 UK tour to mark the band’s 40th anniversary, Stiff Little Fingers played the penultimate date of their Canadian trip at Ottawa’s newly-renovated Bronson Centre. Making their first ever appearance in the nation’s capital, the 850-seat theatre was overrun with droves of middle-aged fans who dusted off their leather, spikes and bottles of Manic Panic for the occasion.

Opening the evening, Ottawa garage throwbacks Mother’s Children showed off their vast knowledge of ’70s rock as they shimmied across the stage, delivering a half hour of punchy, rhythmic punk rock that relied heavily on vocalist Kenneth James’ fashionable and buoyant vocals alongside Tim Ostler’s frenetic drumming.

Entering at the un-punk hour of 9 p.m., Stiff Little Fingers — including founding members Jake Burns on vocals and guitars and Ali McMordie on bass, alongside singer-songwriter Ian McCallum on guitar and journeyman drummer Steve Grantley — were nonetheless met with enthusiastic cheers and raised fists from the half-full venue. After kicking off the set with “Wasted Life” (from their iconic 1979 debut, Inflammable Material), the four-piece delved into “Just Fade Away” from their latest LP, 2014’s No Going Back.

Completely skipping over their uneven ’90s material, the band delivered high-energy renditions of some of their fan-favorites, including “Barbed Wire Love,” their version of Bunny Wailer’s “Roots, Radicals, Rockers and Reggae” and “Nobody’s Hero” from their 1980 classic, Nobody’s Heroes.

Burns, pushing 60, rarely sounded winded or out-of-tune throughout the set, and even shone a light on some of the group’s lesser-known songs like the Clash tribute “Strummerville” and the Phil Lynott-inspired “When We Were Young.”

The band harkened back to their debut single, “Suspect Device,” to close the set, but returned for a double encore that included an extended version of Bob Marley and the Wailers’ “Johnny Was” and the immortal “Alternative Ulster.”

Joining arms and bowing to the grateful crowd, Stiff Little Fingers looked humbled, content and ready to give it another 40 years.

Red Hot Chili Peppers @ LeBreton Flats Park | Exclaim! | July 15, 2016

Red Hot Chili Peppers

LeBreton Flats Park, Ottawa ON, July 15

Red Hot Chili PeppersLeBreton Flats Park, Ottawa ON, July 15
Photo: Chris Bubinas
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Red Hot Chili Peppers have been very good to Ottawa, visiting the nation’s capital for every world tour dating back to the one in support of 2002’s By the Way. So, on the second Friday evening (July 15) of the sprawling nine-day Bluesfest, Ottawa returned the favour by filling the immense LeBreton Flats and partaking in a rare festival sell-out.

Joined on stage by touring members Nate Wolcott (of Bright Eyes) and Chris Warren on keys and electronics, regulars Chad Smith, Flea and Josh Klinghoffer greeted the crowd and performed an opening jam that found Klinghoffer sounding looser, more exploratory and confident than he has on previous tours.

Frontman Anthony Kiedis took the stage moments later, looking impossibly fit and youthful for a man of 53, leading his band into a tempered but rapturously-received version of By the Way‘s “Can’t Stop.” Moving into a set that included “Dani California,” “Scar Tissue,” “Dark Necessities” and “The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie,” the band struggled with severe sound issues that found Kiedis’ vocals pushed back behind the sounds of Smith’s lumbering drums.

Whether it was due to the aforementioned technical difficulties or the fact that Kiedis was battling a cold (clutching his throat and popping lozenges into his mouth), the band languished through singles like “Otherside,” “Tell Me Baby” and “Californication,” as well as new tracks “The Getaway,” “Go Robot” and “Detroit,” and truncated versions of Joy Division’s “She’s Lost Control” and “Atmosphere” (in honour of what would have been Ian Curtis’ 60th birthday).

Kiedis provided the crowd with little to no banter, but occasionally attempted to add some stage presence with his chest-pumping dance style. Returning to the stage for a two-song encore that included Blood Sugar Sex Magik-era singles “Soul to Squeeze” and “Give it Away”, he mustered one last shot at matching Klinghoffer and Flea’s unbridled energy, removing his shirt and flailing around the large stage.

The band admirably tried to give the monumental crowd a good show, but ultimately delivered a lukewarm performance. Even the best bands have off evenings, and for Red Hot Chili Peppers, Friday was clearly one of those nights.

The Monkees @ LeBreton Flats Park | Exclaim! |July 14, 2016

The Monkees

LeBreton Flats Park, Ottawa ON, July 14

The MonkeesLeBreton Flats Park, Ottawa ON, July 14
Photo: Chris Bubinas
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Seeing the Monkees in 2016 couldn’t possibly result in a completely fulfilling experience. Despite the fact that two members of the original quartet are conspicuously absent (co-vocalist Davy Jones passed away in 2012 and guitarist Michael Nesmith opted to sit out), the fact that (original) drummer Micky Dolenz and (original) bassist Peter Tork are both in their 70s indicates that their 50th Anniversary Tour is simply designed to fulfill the audiences’ nostalgic tendencies.

Importantly though, that hasn’t stopped Dolenz and Tork from trying to give their fans something fresh — the duo are also supporting their first LP in 20 years, Good Times!. Supported by a simple three-piece band that included longtime guitarist Wayne Avers and drummer/keyboardist Rich Dart, along with Nashville session bassist John Billings, Dolenz and Tork walked out to “(Theme to) The Monkees,” greeted by hundreds of teenage girls (who were camped out front to see stage headliner Sam Hunt) and thousands of Monkees fans who were relegated to the back of the crowd.

Backed by a sizable LCD screen that projected images of old Monkees episodes, along with vintage paraphernalia, live footage and new animation, the duo’s stage set celebrated the group’s past and present, covering most of the group’s hits, including “Last Train to Clarksville,” “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone” and “Pleasant Valley Sunday.”

Hampered by a mid-set string of deep cuts (“Your Auntie Grizelda,” “Porpoise Song (Theme From Head)”) and new tracks (“She Makes Me Laugh,” “You Bring the Summer”), the crowd became slightly disinterested, with their enthusiasm only revived by a rendition of “Daydream Believer” — which found Dolenz and Peter singing along with a backing track and video featuring Davy Jones on vocals — and “I’m a Believer,” which saw the bored teenagers in the crowd perking up to sing along wildly (perhaps due to their familiarity with Smash Mouth’s version from the Shrek soundtrack).

Holding hands while bowing to the crowd, Dolenz and Tork wrapped up a performance that both capitalized on nostalgia, and, unfortunately, highlighted their inevitable deficiencies, but was satisfying nonetheless.