So here’s a little background, should you care to know, about me and my relationship with music: Basically, I like it. Who doesn’t, right? The first record I ever bought was DESTROYER from Kiss, mostly because I thought they looked really fucking cool when I was a little kid (note: I still kinda do). First CD I bought was PAUL’S BOUTIQUE from the Beastie Boys which I still think is one of the better purchases I’ve ever made. First concert? HUEY LEWIS AND THE NEWS, motherfuckers. I have a pleasant if not impressive vinyl collection to this day, a healthy pile of CD’s, an the usual unsorted morass of MP3’s cluttering up a hard drive or two. I tend to stick with my old-timey punk…lotsa Iggy Pop, lotsa Ramones, lotsa Motorhead. I am a simple man, after all, with simple tastes. A lot of the time, I’ll be honest with you, I’m content to just listen to soundtracks and old tv theme music collections, and I still consider SNOOPY VS.THE RED BARON to be a pretty damn good song. So just to be straight with you all, ther’es no way anyone in their right mind would consider me a ‘music expert’. Heck, since getting immersed in the theatre world, I hardly ever have time to see ANY live music anymore (the occasional venture to the Dominion to catch my mate Lindlee and THE UNCOOPERATIVES being the exception). So when I got rather surprisingly invited to see and review some shows for the 2nd Annual Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival, I was kind of intimidated. Also surprised, humbled, and more than a little excited. And since I’m in a frame of mind these days (or at least, trying to be) of embracing the improv ideal of saying ‘yes’ as often as possible, away I went. What follows here is the result of my first foray into a new musical adventure in what feels now like a helluva long time.
After first absorbing and assimilating the knowledge that there even WAS a winter edition of Jazzfest (full confession: I have never even been to the regular, summer Jazzfest), I got my tickets for a double-bill on the last day of the three-day festival, and was rather please4d to find it was at a familiar theatrical venue: Academic Hall on Ottawa U. campus, A regular Fringe venue, even! At least I’d feel right at home. Although I admit it seemed an odd fit for a concert of this nature…no dance floor, no standing, no booze (not that I couldn’t use the night off)…but hey, I was there for the music.
And up first in my twofer this evening was Montreal’s PAWA UP FIRST and, oh my God, yes, that was a link to a Myspace page…it still exists! I had no idea! That’s kind of comforting, actually. But anyways…as I found a seat in the old hall, I noticed the almost lovely clutter on the stage as Pawa’s gear filled every nook and cranny…wires trailed in spectacularly dangerous looking messes hither and thither, doodads mingled with whatzits wherever you looked, and enough instruments lay ready and waiting to keep lesser musicians occupied for a week. I liked it.
Pretty soon the four members of Pawa made their way to their instruments onstage and launched into their set (their first performance in almost two years, according to guitarist Serge Pelletier..!). And let me tell you, the lads of Pawa Up are by no means glory hogs…for the most part, they’re shrouded in darkness for their entire performance, the only real light coming from their unofficial fifth member, a giant videoscreen on the wall behind them, displaying an ever-changing series of Instagram-esque imagery as they played. And the music…well, as I’ve mentioned, I’m no expert by any means, and can barely tell a lead guitar from a bass…but I liked what I heard. Completely instrumental, Pawa Up First plays like the soundtrack to the best dream you’ve ever had. Don’t believe me? Take a listen:
Maybe it’s because I listened to too many of my Dad’s VENTURES records when I was a kid, but the guitar sounded pretty surf to me on a lot of the tracks that night, and collided nicely with the powerful drum riffs and sound samples echoing out of the combo. Bursts of trippy rock energy would melt immediately into some wholly melancholy, beautiful sounds…that guitar didn’t ‘gently weep’, it damn well mourned. This was music you could feel all over, and I couldn’t think of a better sonic environment for a darkened theatre…which, happily was exactly where we were. Pawa provides an experience, not just music, and you’re invited to turn off your critical mind and let the sounds and images take you wherever they lead. I know I found my creative juices flowing and my mind wandering more than a few times…but the sound was always there to guide me along. The lads put on a sweet, sweet show, mixing mood, music and technology to seriously cool effect. Now I was starting to remember why I used to go see live music more often than I do now.
Next up, after a brief teardown/setup, was Toronto’s THE DARCYS, a combo with a voice this time! The four (and sometimes five) man band took to the stage in some proper rockstar gear: white shirts, black jackets, drainpipes, and a few serious hairstyles. I’m not sure any of their names, because concerts don’t hand out programs like I’m used to, and I hate doing research. But the lads, occasionally featuring up to four guitars on stage (perhaps to match the fearsome power lurking within their drummer), made a stellar show of it. Their current album is made up entirely of Steely Dan covers, and I could tell you more about that if I knew a god damned thing about Steely Dan.
Mu musical ignorance aside, the music was incredible…the lead singer would wail out some haunting vocals, while the gang would rock out an impressive acoustic assault in and around the words. It was actually kind of eerie how it would go from rock-concert loud to whisper quiet, depending on the momentary needs of the song at hand. Members would slip off the stage depending on whether they were needed for that song, and at one point only the lead singer remained, playing an emotional solo on his keyboard, guitar slung across his shoulder for later. Then the gang reassembled for another heartfelt, rockin’ tune, one after another.
It was another great show, even if I didn’t understand why that one guitarist had a giant old-timey telephone cord attaching his instrument to what looked like a pilfered console section of the Starship Enterprise, glowing lights and all. It made things sound amazing, so I don’t really CARE what it’s called. Maybe it was one of those laser-guitar jobs that PRISM used to talk about. Whatever, it was put to good use…the power and emotion that exploded off these cats in mid-song was palpable, and almost got this crowd dancing I swear, if it weren’t physically impossible to dance in Academic Hall. Thankfully, it’s still quite possible to have a great time. The Darcys rocked at least a little bit of the paint off of old Academic Hall that night, and I’m glad I was there to see it. Okay, I had a long slog home, because unlike theatre-types, musicians don’t give a SHIT if they start on time, so I missed the last bus. But these things happen, and it was well worth the extra travel time to catch these two killer bands. And the next time they’re on town, I just might do it again. Thanks a lot to Ottawa Jazzfest for bringing me along for this ride…it is much appreciated, and I hope to be back. Peace, love and soul,
Kevin Reid, the Visitor (and Winston)