(I got the idea for this series while sifting through the ‘piles’ of digital photos on my laptop. It occurred to me to share some of these great pics from some of my favourite concert sets from time to time. Until I get around to the next one, I invite you to peruse my ever-growing list of concerts page.)
Artist: Kalle Mattson When: July 5th, 2014 Where: Claridge Homes stage, RBC Bluesfest, Ottawa Context: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again that one of the great things about Ottawa’s biggest music festival, RBC Bluesfest, is the organizers’ focus on promoting local talent. The years that I purchased a pass and attended on multiple days exposed me to a lot of bands and artists (many of them local) that I might not have ever experienced otherwise. Kalle Mattson, who came to the nation’s capital by way of Sault Ste. Marie for school, is a talented indie folk singer/songwriter that I had already seen opening for Cuff the Duke a few years prior, but his early afternoon set in 2014 really won me over. The weather that afternoon was sunny and humid and hazy, a perfect suit for his dusty and languorous tales of heartache. I would later purchase that year’s Polaris prize nominated album, the Gavin Gardner produced, “Someday, the moon will be gold”, and jumped at the chance at Mattson perform with his friends once again the following summer. Point of reference song: “A love song to the city”
I first came across local band, Ottawa’s own Amos the Transparent, in 2010, when I saw them perform on an early Sunday evening set in only my second year attending Ottawa Bluesfest. I had only briefly sampled a couple of their tracks in advance but their big band energy had me visiting the merch tent afterwards to pick up a CD copy of their debut album, “Everything I’ve forgotten to forget”. I listened to that album quite a bit in the months that followed and couldn’t help being drawn in by the fine songwriting by band architect, Jonathan Chandler. Just as impressive was such excellent production and ambitious scope for a indie band that I just couldn’t get my head around was local.
Just over a year later in December 2011, I somehow caught wind that Amos the Transparent had recorded a video for a new song off an upcoming new record. I watched the fun, all-in-one-take video that you yourself can watch below and then, I watched it again. And then, the next day, I forced my wife Victoria to watch it with me. The video did its job. I was hooked.
A couple of months later, the group held an album release party for “Goodnight, my dear… I’m falling apart” at the now defunct Ritual night club. It was a great night where I was also introduced to the music of big-voiced Haligonian, Ben Caplan, and that was topped by the seven members of Amos the Transparent squeezing their big presence on to the tiny stage and blowing the roof off the place. I took home a CD copy of the album from that performance too because I was still a couple of months removed from starting my vinyl collection, though I remedied that at another Amos show a few years ago. For those of you too far afield to have heard this group, “Goodnight, my dear…” is an excellent, big, Canadian indie rock record in the vein of “Funeral” or “Set yourself on fire”, but in addition to the orchestral elements those two albums sport, Amos throws in some traditional folk instrumentation for fun.
Take today’s song, “Sure as the weather”, for an example. If you watch the song’s video without sound and note the varied instruments that the band pulls out – pedal steel, banjo, accordion, and cello – you could be forgiven for expecting a rollicking indie folk track. The sound on, you check off the “rollicking” box but also observe how much the tune rocks and how these varied instruments lend their distinctive sounds to the blended whole. Indeed, Amos the Transparent is built around the songwriting of Jonathan Chandler but they really are a collaborative beast, both in the way they build the songs up and tear them down and the way they harmonize and gang up on the listener with their collective voices, and in this case, singing with optimism for better days.
“I don’t want to hear about your bad weekend
And I don’t want to hear about not trusting your friends
And I don’t really care if no one’s left to blame
It’s going to be okay”
For the rest of the Best tunes of 2012 list, click here.
(This year’s edition of Ottawa Bluesfest has been cancelled, for obvious reasons. In previous years, especially on my old blog, I would share photos and thoughts on some of the live music I was enjoying at the festival throughout the duration. So for the next week and a half, I thought I’d share ten great sets, out of the many I’ve witnessed over the years, one for each day on which music would have be performed. Enjoy.)
Artist: The Reverb Syndicate When: Saturday, July 11th, 2015 Where: Canadian Stage at 3:15pm Context: One of the great things about Ottawa Bluesfest is the focus that organizers place on promoting local talent. It’s a great gig for the bands and artists because they get exposure to crowds that they normally wouldn’t draw and they are able to attend the festival for every day after their own performance. And it’s also great for the audiences who take the time to be treated to inspired performances by local acts. Every year that I have gone to the festival, I have seen some excellent local acts and there are a great many that I could’ve chosen to include in this series. In the end, I went with an afternoon set by surf-rock outfit, The Reverb Syndicate, not just because I work with the drummer of the group and it was super fun seeing someone I knew up on that stage but also because it was like the end of an era for the band.
Over the course of the year leading up to that set, I had seen them live for the first and second time and had purchased their latest album, The Odyssey, on vinyl. The Reverb Syndicate was at that point becoming one of my favourite local bands. As it would turn out, that set at Bluesfest was their last show as a four piece, since guitarist James Rossiter departed for England shortly afterward. I seem to remember that the band acknowledged the occasion at the outset and called for a drink in his honour.
Hours afterwards, I ran into Michael, the aforementioned drummer, milling about in the crowds and he complained about how many errors he had made but from where I was standing in the audience, it was a flawless performance. The Reverb Syndicate were joined on stage by a pair of “go-go dancers”, a nice touch given the genre, and whom, if I remember correctly, were partners of a couple of the band members. These two dancers had their work cut out for them because the one hour set was a lively one, electric, and with barely room for rest.
On top of playing both sides of their newest record, “Odyssey”, which in themselves work out to almost twenty minutes a-piece of tiring madness, the quartet played a handful of upbeat tracks from older albums, plus a cover of a classic Ventures number. There was plenty of sweet guitar work and impressive, spot-on drumming, all accompanied by some incidental bleeps and bloops by an honest to goodness Commodore 64, “not a prop”, but an instrument used frequently on the aforementioned “Odyssey”.