I celebrated my birthday at The Casbah with Kirby, Dawn and Marra, Quails In The Nest, Redanda, The Great Machine. Proceeds from the night were donated to the food bank at Welcome Inn Community Centre.
Author and reporter Sam Sutherland came to The Casbah to chat about his book Perfect Youth: The Birth of Canadian Punk. Along with George Pettit of Alexisonfire, they gave a great chat about Canadian punk, including some Hamilton connections.
Art Crawl gets bigger and better every month! The warmer months are the most fun for Art Crawl, and everyone was out and about, taking full advantage of the hot summer night. I also realized this was our second Crawl this year that fell on the superstitious Friday the 13th (the last one being in April) and thirteen is proving lucky.
First I have to mention my pre-Crawl stop during the day to Green Smoothie Bar. I heard about GSB through Carly, who knows owner Joe Acardi. I got to meet manager Danielle Height and her sister Melissa who were behind the counter creating the smoothies (and who remember us from our YEP boat adventure last summer.) I zeroed in on the Pineapple Banana for my first Green Smoothie experience. After choosing a flavour, you can select one “kick” or three, depending on what you’re in the mood for. Many people opt for an energy boost! I chose the Maca, after the girls explained something about back in the day, warriors would take it for strength. They also mentioned it’s a libido-enhancer, and that never hurts, now does it? With all kinds of kicks to choose from, like coconut, matcha, wheatgrass, cocoa, flax seed, and more, I know I’ll be back to experiment with some different combos. Danielle and Melissa are super friendly and take the time to explain the benefits of each smoothie while they are whipping it up in a very high-tech blender. I enjoyed my chat with them and taking in the modern, bright green and white space. It’s definitely a spot I’ll be stopping by again when strolling along James North.
After a brief flicker of a thunderstorm between my time on James and heading home, the evening cleared up and I set back out to meet Avi at Art Crawl. Although we didn’t get to pop into too many locations this time around, we were on a mission to hit specific spots. Before meeting up, Avi hit up Tourism Hamilton to check out the mouth-watering Beanermunky chocolate display, and I checked out the newly opened Art Gallery of Hamilton Design Annex, right next to CBC Hamilton. The space is absolutely gorgeous and I loved admiring all the artwork and pieces that would look great in the home. I recognized the work of Andy DeCola on the walls, which we saw on display at Mulberry’s De Facto back at March’s Art Crawl. I also got to meet Lindsay, another Twitter friend, who was working away during the busy Crawl. James North is the perfect spot for the AGH to open their new space, and their main location is still on our to-do list!
Andy DeCola’s work at the Design Annex
From there, it was over to CBC Hamilton to check out their photo booth and speaker’s corner. Arriving early, I got to sort through the props, and with Roger Gillespie’s help, opted for some giant pink glasses. I got to be the first to test out the booth, and when Avi arrived, we put on a few more accessories and filmed a little promo for The Playlist 1.0 – coming up on July 28th! Watch the video and check out their writeup about our show. Thanks to Roger and the folks at CBC for having us be part of this month’s Art Crawl activities, and for the shout out the next day!
Next door to CBC, the girls from Sweet Ice Snow Cones were set up, right next to some acrobats! That’s right, acrobats! This is why I love Art Crawl. Fittingly, the Sweet Ice commercial was playing on loop at CBC, and the video and my entry about it were featured on CBC’s digital round up the next day. And thank you, Linds, for the cute Sweet Ice buttons!
We also made it down the street to check out the new salon, The Ten Spot. The chain has a couple of salons in Toronto, with this being the first in Hamilton. It seems like a great fit for the street and I’ve been seeing tweets from happy customers after getting their mani-pedis! We spoke with Janet and Kathleen and got a nice tour of the salon. I was eyeing all of those gorgeous nail polish colours, thinking about how indecisive Avi and I would be about choosing just one!
Then it was time for the main event we came for – Dr. Disc’s 21st anniversary festivities! The concert series Raise the Roof kicked off with The Great Machine, The Dirty Nil, New Hands, and The Rest. We unfortunately missed the first band, and came partway through Dirty Nil’s. I was excited to finally see them play. Avi has known those guys for a while, her brother being friends with them. They were just as wild and crazy as I expected, with birthday boy Luke coming down from the roof at one point and continuing to belt out a song, acapella, when there was some technical difficulties with the sound. Those boys go hard! I like to think I made a good first impression, yelling a Happy Birthday to Luke later on as he whipped by, hanging out the passenger seat of a car.
We were then joined by friends Vanessa and Sarah, and we moved up closer to the building to get a prime spot for New Hands. What can I say that I haven’t already about this band? I love these guys; they impress me every single time. Seeing them up on the roof made me think of their recent Southern Souls video, a rite of passage for any artist, which they filmed on the very top of Dr. Disc. The heights would have made me slightly nervous, but all the bands were total pros.
The Dirty Nil
After a quick sprint down to Mulberry, where lovely artwork by Clarence A. Porter was featured in De Facto, we hurried back to Dr. Disc for The Rest. I can’t say enough about this band, either. They are amazing! The seven-piece filled out the rooftop space and Adam’s voice soared, carrying through the air and down the street. It was a treat to be able to see them play again so soon. They are simply the best (better than all the rest?) Their band name lends itself to a good pun. But I mean that! One of the best bands in the City, for me!
The night raged on with me, Sarah, and Vanessa hitting Casbah Lounge for the official Dr. Disc Birthday after party. The fellas of San Sebastian were holding it down on the decks and spinning the best selection of tunes. I may have requested some Soul Decision. I love those guys; it’s always a party when they’re involved. We arrived fashionably early, which is how we roll, and the rest of the bands (pun intended, again) soon joined in. We had an absolute blast and can’t wait for another night like that one.
Yet another fantastic Art Crawl and Friday the 13th for the books!
Brews N Bands Craft Beer Festival The Casbah 306 King Street West
I’m knocking this event off our Check List – I had never been to a beer tasting before, and it’s something I had talked about doing. What better way to experience my first one than with The Casbah’s Brews N Bands, their first Craft Beer Festival! Casbah’s owner William “Brodie” Schwendiman had shared his excitement for the event with Avishka and I the last few times we’ve attended shows at Casbah, and it sounded like it was shaping up to be a great event and one not to miss. It was a solo mission for me this time around, and quite the mission, it was! A beer mission! If anyone out of the four of us were to tackle this one, it’d be me. Although it was a solo mish, I quickly made friends and had some great accomplices throughout the evening.
It was a fantastic set up – $25 per session (I opted for the evening one) got you 10 beer sample tickets, with the option to buy more tickets for a dollar each. Plus, the price of admission was worth it for the bands alone – you got some incredible live music after the sampling was over. During the day, they had The Sadies, and at night was Colleen Brown, The Wooden Sky, The Dinner Belles, and an after party in the lounge with The Elwins. Local vendors including NaRoma Pizza, Gorilla Cheese, and Mickey McGuire’s Cheese Shop were on hand to make sure everyone balanced their bevvys with some food. Picking up my official Brews N Bands beer glass (which we got to keep – sure to be a Hamilton keepsake item from my travels in the City) I was ready to get started.
The place was absolutely packed and I took a spin around the Lounge and the main room to check out all of the vendors, thinking about how characteristically indecisive my fellow Tourists and I are, especially when it comes to food and drink options. I didn’t hesitate, choosing one at random to get the ball rolling, or should I say, the beer flowing. My first sample was the King Vienna Lager by Beer Barons, which, according to the official description, has a “medium body, gentle creaminess and slight malt sweetness”. I’m by no means a beer connoisseur, so I’ll leave the descriptions to the professionals. It was a nice, light beverage to sip on as I wandered about to look at the others more closely and decide on my next sample.
Now, I suppose the key to a good beer tasting is pacing. I’m new to the art of the tasting, remember! I didn’t join in until a little bit later, and as the night neared 9 PM, it was a bit of a race against the clock as everyone tried to finish off their beer tickets. Many of the vendors were quite generous with their samples, which didn’t help in speeding up the process! I wanted to get a good range of samples in, and I think I did that. My other samples included a Flying Monkeys Amber Ale, two St-Ambroise brews – their Raspberry Ale and Apricot Wheat Ale, something from Mill St. Brewery, an award-winning Cameron’s Brewing RPA, and I snuck in a Nickel Brook Brewery Green Apple Pilsner just in the nick of time. Phew. CHAMP!
Just when I thought I was done with the beer sampling, later on in the night Brodie handed me a sip of a beer that Dylan Hudecki of local band Cowlick immediately noted, “smells like campfire!” It wasn’t until after we tried it that Brodie revealed it was a “maple bacon donut” beer! It just doesn’t get any more Canadian than that. I don’t know if I could muster a whole bottle; it is a very specific taste, but I could certainly appreciate the explosion of flavour that it was, and how accurate!
That was the Brews, now onto the Bands! Colleen Brown kicked off the show. I hadn’t heard of the Edmonton-based musician, but what a treat it was to be introduced to her delightful folk-pop music. The crowd loved her set, and not just because the beer had fully set in by that point! She was quick to check in with the audience throughout the set and keep everyone engaged. The feisty “Fight! Fight! Fight!” was a highlight for me, as well as the Donna Summer-inspired “Good Girls,” as she put it. Too bad I wasn’t wearing my sequins! Colleen also unexpectedly launched into a bit of Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U” (made famous by Sinead O’Connor) before launching into her own song “7 Hours and 15 days,” which she said was inspired by the song. Colleen and her band filled the venue with their sounds and they were a pleasure to listen to.
When local favourites The Dinner Belles were up next, I made my way right up to the front of the stage, joining my new friend Steph (I was glad to meet another Twitter friend in person!) and her friends. I was really excited to see the Belles, having experienced their live show for the first time last month with Avi and knowing how much fun they are. Their energy level is incredible and I love watching how the 7-piece ensemble (which was a 6-piece at this show) interacts with each other onstage. They have amazing musical chemistry, and you can tell how much joy they get from playing together. They are a super group – a true meeting of musical, creative minds. They are a hollerin’, foot-stompin’, hand-clappin’ PARTY! They closed their set with my favourite of theirs, “Til the Dawn,” which I couldn’t help but sing along to; that wasn’t just the beer! Seeing Dinner Belles play again made me even more stoked for our Playlist 1.0, coming up July 28th!! It’ll be a show not to miss! I’m so honoured and humbled we’ve got a band of this calibre on board to celebrate with us and for a great cause. You better all be there – with bells on! (See what I did there?!)
The Dinner Belles
Toronto’s The Wooden Sky were up next, who I hadn’t seen play for a few years and was really glad to see them again. They played such an impressive set and it hit me that they’re another band that I really need to give a proper listen to. But this is what the Tour is all about – expanding our musical horizons and taking in some new sounds. We’ve experienced a lot of authentic folk music throughout our travels and the depth of this music impresses me and moves me every time, The Wooden Sky being no exception. The crowd was full of dedicated fans of the band, listening intently, singing along, and really feeling the music; I was in good company.
After hearing a few audience members behind me shout, “Oh My God!” a few times throughout their set (which I recognized were undoubtedly requests for The Wooden Sky’s song of that title) I was pleased to hear the band bust out the song at the end of their set. The slow drawl and repetition of “Oh my God, it still means a lot to me,” is such a simple lyric but it resonates so much; I could feel its impact as I watched the remainder of their set from the back of the room. I’m sure it’s a sentiment that everyone attached their own memory to in that moment; I know I did.
Then it was off to an after party in the Lounge where The Elwins ended off the night. I had a bit of a “Where have you been all my life?!” moment with this band. Another band I had heard of but hadn’t yet given a proper listen to, I took a quick listen to their music before heading to the event and right away was really looking forward to seeing them play. Even though my energy was waning by that time, I couldn’t help but bob along to their tunes. They finished off their set with the catchy “Fox Tail” (so catchy, that I woke up the next morning with it stuck in my head!) which they taught us the lyrics too, and some corresponding dance moves. I thought of Avi and Carly, who would have appreciated the moves, the “action dancing” as we tend to call it, when the moves go with the lyrics to a song. Super fun and it was hilarious to see the fairly small group of us who were left in the Lounge shaking our tails like foxes. Troopers, all of us! The Elwins’ playful set was the perfect way to finish off the night. I would love to catch them again when my energy is more up to par! With a successful night had and empty beer glass in hand, I was ready to hit the road, and more specifically, my bed.
I’m thrilled that Casbah’s first Brews N Bands was such an amazing success, and as Brodie tweeted the next day, it made for one of the greatest days in the club’s history. Yet another fantastic Hamilton event that I was happy to see in action and that makes this city what it is, encompassing everything we love about it – the sense of community, the music, and, of course, the love of a good brew.
After handing in my last paper of the Winter term, I needed a bit of a breather from academia. With plenty of people to visit and things to do, I went back home to the Hammer to take a week off. Although my days were still filled with research, my nights were reserved for some good ol’ Hamilton socializing. And, with Kristin’s schedule chalk full of IHHT stops, I got the chance to do a few things Tour-style.
Tonight, I was joining her to check out some new-to-me music at The Casbah. The prospect of a Stills/Broken Social Scene offshoot (Eight and a Half) is what convinced me to come. To be honest, though, I wasn’t anticipating to be all that interested in the music itself. I was expecting electronica. I was expecting a bunch of technical noises that, although respectable music with a devoted fanbase, is not particularly my taste. Luckily, I was in for a surprise. This music was unexpected. It was impressive. And it has opened up a new chapter in the “music Carly listens to” songbook.
Illitry started things off. Talking to Troy after the show, he explained how Illitry was created when Chester’s mom suggested that Troy should jam with him sometime. Thus, Illitry is two boys from Durham who are in the process of grabbing a bassist and a drummer to round out the band. Kristin and Avi saw them play at the Rich Aucoin show, of which I expected “a mystical, airy quality” to translate into something of no interest to me. Watching them play their music and being so technically involved as to fix their inconsistencies as they played, though, was like watching musical craftsmen at work. They were not playing music, but building something from the ground up. Sounding a bit like Muse with their bassist playing alongside, their entire sound is a full one that they are happy to share with whoever will listen. Check out “Roadtrip” and these boys live ASAP.
Once they finished, The Rest took over the stage. Before they even began playing their set, it sounded like an orchestra tuning up in the pit. It prepared the audience for the really talented players who were taking the stage. This is a large band of seven people. Seven. Indeed, they filled out that Casbah stage. They neither crowded the space nor the sound, though. Each one added something special to the music as a whole that it is impossible to picture The Rest without any of its players. They are all key. Every guitarist adds something to the overall sound, every string is impeccably placed, and a solid backbeat guides every song. Adam Bentley’s voice is a cross between Steve Bays, Win Butler, and Brendan Canning that takes the Whoa-Ohs from Hot Hot Heat, the soul of Arcade Fire, and the pop-rock sensibilities of Broken Social Scene to make The Rest the incredible hometown talent to watch.
Eight and a Half
Eight and a Half brought the night to a close. Dave Hamelin walked up on stage with his hood over his head as Justin Peroff and Liam O’Neil got themselves sorted on stage. As a fan of both The Stills and Broken Social Scene, I at least knew that the men on stage would be musically interesting. Indeed, they play incredibly fluidly. They flowed so well together that, even though I had never heard their music before, I knew where each song was going. It made sense to me, as a virgin listener, every time they played a sound. Each and every note belongs to each and every song, just as they arranged it. The trio is a successful meeting of some really talented musicians that will find a really interesting fanbase in Southern Ontario and beyond.
Ultimately, this was a night that I thought would be easily defined by my expectations. I thought that I would be able to write my blog post based on what I anticipated that I would see. Instead, it was a night that broadened my music scope more than ever before. It widened the net that I cast when checking out new Hamilton talent. And, really, isn’t that what we all want from a Hamilton night out?
It’d been a while since we had seen The Ascot Royals play, the last time being far before the Tour even started! I remember it well. It was February 2011 and Carly, Kristin and I found ourselves at the Casbah Lounge on a cold winter’s night dancing along to the Ascot’s infectious dance rock beats. This Brantford-based band certainly know how to rock a show and Kristin and I were looking forward to seeing them play again, knowing also that the next time we’d be seeing them play would be at our very own Playlist 1.0. And judging by the turnout at this show, this is a band certainly not to be missed.
I arrived at the Casbah after Kristin and we sat at a table (one with those high stools) catching up on all things Tour related, excitedly talking about the fundraiser and stoked to see The Ascot Royals play. We found ourselves looking at the beer taps on the ceiling, which we’d only really noticed at the Dan Griffin show a few weeks prior. Too funny.
The Ascot Royals
Juliana Riolino (the band is now called The Red Birds) opened the show with some folk acoustic tunes. Admittedly, Kristin and I weren’t sure who would be starting off the night and had never heard Julianna’s music, so we were in awe when she began singing. She seemed so unassuming as she took to the mic with her guitar, adjusting the mic and her guitar strap before she began strumming and singing along. Julianna’s got a lovely, warm voice that was showcased throughout her set. She played a few songs on her own before being joined by her band who provided just the right amount of instrumentation to balance out her beautiful vocals. Gosh, she’s got a fantastic vocal range and was so at ease performing. Be sure to take a listen to her song “Sunset Song.”
Funny enough, I only realized a few days after this show that I had in fact heard some of her music thanks to my brother Deven! And to make things even seem more “small world-esque,” The Dirty Nil (who my brother’s known for ages) were at The Casbah that night! A band Kristin had yet to meet and one whom we were wanting to see perform, we hoped to meet up with them. There was some tweeting back and forth and unfortunately, we kept missing each other. Thankfully, we’ve heard they’ll be making an appearance at The Playlist 1.0, of course to support their frenemies (they have a Twitter feud going) New Hands.
Then it was time for the Toronto’s The Archives to take the floor. Again, this is yet another band with a dynamic sound to them. Their set was filled with driving, rhythmic guitar, melodic hooks and fantastic vocals all coming together to create a neat, experimental rock sound, as evidenced in their song “Sheeps Clothing.”
Following their set was Secret Broadcast. Hailing from Calgary and based in Toronto, this indie rock band fit in nicely with the night’s musical lineup and also with the Tour’s collective musical taste. Oh and also with our “spy” theme (we’ve had the idea of walkie-talkies which fits well with the band’s name). From the rockin’ guitar, to chanting worthy choruses and “ohs” and a bit of tambourine in songs like “Neon Light” and “Raygun,” this is a band with a cool sound and one I could see the whole group of us dancing along to. Be sure to check out their EP which was released on May 22nd!
Last but not least, The Ascot Royals took to the stage with an impressive set that had Kristin and I so, so excited for The Playlist 1.0. Their sound has certainly evolved and changed since we last saw them, though we should still hear strains of familiarity, whether it be in Jimmy’s vocals or the amazing beats (BEATS!) courtesy of drummer Sam Stark and Ben Chauveau on synths that had everyone dancing away.
The Ascot Royals
One thing I love about these guys is their energy! Watching them perform, each of them so into the music, the groove, and watching Jimmy holding the mic tightly and dancing around (at one point he jumped up on top of the bass drum and stood there belting his heart out) is something to be admired and appreciated. These guys definitely put their heart and soul into their songs and live performances and their energy certainly bounced off the audience, amplifying the whole room (check out the video below). The Ascots played a mix of older and newer tunes, including newer songs like “Think You’re Better” (listen to the chorus, the vocals and harmonies are fantastic), “Stray” and “Do It All Again” (which had got such a rhythmic bassline and driving drumline) and soon enough, everyone was on their feet taking in the dance rock beats of this fantastic band. They all looked like they were having so much fun and it brought a smile to my face, as I imagined what it would be like to see them at our fundraiser.
Speaking of which, we are excited that The Ascot Royals will be performing at our fundraiser, Playlist 1.0, Saturday, July 28th!
We’re on a roll lately with the fantastic shows happening in Hamilton! This lineup was amazing – Allosaurus, New Hands, Hands & Teeth, and Wildlife. I rolled into Casbah a little early, just in time for one of their craft beer tastings in the Lounge. Casbah’s owner, William “Brodie” Schwendiman has done a terrific job at stocking Casbah full of local, independent, craft beers, and while I’m not yet a beer connoisseur, I can certainly appreciate all of the varieties and what must go into crafting just the right brew. Be sure to check out Casbah’s first “Brews N Bands” Craft Beer Festival on June 2nd. I chatted with Aron D’Alesio, singer of Young Rival, who was bartending, and joked about my inability to distinguish between beers, much less critique one’s flavour, while swishing the brew around in my cup, trying to look like I fit in at a tasting. Avishka met up with me shortly after I sampled my beer, and then it was time to head upstairs for the show.
Allosaurus kicked off the night, and right away, Avishka and I looked at each other, and knew we were fans of the Hamilton band. Seeing the familiar set up of an electronic-pop music duo, which we’ve seen before (we’re realizing how awesome Hamilton’s dance/electro music scene is!), we were curious what their live show would be like. As soon as their matching blazers and pants lit up, (yes, lit up!) we were on board. We loved Brad Melle and Evan MacAlpine’s playful onstage presentation; they danced about with no inhibitions, making their set so much fun to watch. A highlight for me was their song “Emma-Lee,” which was recently featured on an episode of Degrassi. Ah, young love. Their closing track, “Hello St. Louis” was also a banger, and they pulled out all the stops for that one, dancing up a storm! Again, I always regret not having glow sticks with me. We really must remember that when checking out these electro acts!
Avishka and I were particularly excited to meet New Hands and see them play, after hearing so much about the Hamilton band. We have heard great things about them from major music figures in the City – their producer Michael Keire (and we recently visited his studio where the band has been working away), Lou Molinario of This Ain’t Hollywood, and Mark of Dr. Disc. And now they have the official I Heart Hamilton Tour endorsement (if I may be so bold as to put ourselves in that category), as we are quite smitten with the group!
They have a unique sound that boasts a variety of influences. There are some 80s synth sounds in there (as I noted in my April Playlist, which features “This I’ve Heard”), and they have a more danceable sound than we were expecting, but they also have a darker sound to their music, too. I still can’t get over Spence Newell’s vocals; it’s like he’s channelling it from somewhere else. He even gave us a personal shout out from the stage, which meant a lot! The guys have such a fun chemistry onstage and off; you can tell how much fun they’re having and that energy is infectious. “Whichever Way You’ll Have It” was promptly stuck in my head after the show – love the breakdown in that song. Drummer Gord Bond is also a talented visual artist, having his art featured at McMaster’s Wise Up (the annual School of the Arts exhibition) and winning an award. They are currently working on their debut full length album and I can’t wait to see and hear more from these guys.
With New Hands (Thanks to Evan Bond for the photo)
From one “hands” band to another, Toronto’s Hands & Teeth also put on a great show. Avi and I had only heard of them through Carly, who sent her recommendation. Being a fantastic music-recommender, I always take a listen to everything Carly sends me. With her being away on a Detour in Kingston, music has been a way to keep in touch, with our constant messaging over our newest finds. Avi and I liked Hands & Teeth’s set up and particularly liked how much the band switched up their roles, taking on different instruments by trading them off amongst each other and by divvying up the vocal duties. It made for an interesting set to watch and offered something different from other bands. I couldn’t help but notice they have a song titled “Sound of Hamilton,” off their latest album, Hunting Season. How apropos!
Hands & Teeth
Another Toronto band, Wildlife, headlined the show. I had heard of them, but hadn’t given them a proper listen. I listened to some tracks before attending the show and really liked what I heard. Seeing a band live is always a different experience, for better or for worse, and Wildlife’s rip-roaring set was completely for the better! It made me like them even more; they played an amazing set. To continue with our love of theatrics, they had a fog machine, and, although that was not the most fun to breathe in, as we were pressed right up to the front of the stage, it worked; it added a certain mystique. I absolutely couldn’t get over drummer Dwayne Christie, who hammered it out back there like I’ve never seen. I laughed, later on, when I read New Hands’ Tweet: “Spence watching @wildlifeband’s drummer ‘He’s moving so fast I feel like I’m watching a claymation video!’ #swag”.
It was such a wicked lineup - we were very impressed!
I’m a festive person – this has been well established. Every year, April 1st kicks off Birthday Week and I get prepped for the big day, which is on the 8th. This year, true to the Tour, I kicked off Birthday Week with waffles at Cannon Coffee Co. A couple days later, Avishka and I did brunch at Sunset Grill and couldn’t resist ordering waffles, turning Birthday Week into Waffle Week!
As the day grew nearer, I knew we had to celebrate it, Tour-style, and I had been brainstorming what we could do. I really wanted to go to a show, but hadn’t spotted anything of interest. Then, the week of my birthday, an event was posted – a Songwriters’ Circle at Casbah featuring Kirby, Max Wray, Trevor Howard, and Gavin Slate. BAM! I excitedly texted the news to Avishka, who replied saying it was like the dream team of singer-songwriters. We couldn’t believe our luck! So after quick messages to my friends who were already committed to attend the night of my birthday festivities, plans were rerouted to Casbah. I can’t say it enough – you really couldn’t have made a better show for me. Not only are these guys friends of ours, but they really are some of my favourite singer-songwriters, and to see them play at one of my favourite venues, to boot! It was also so perfect for the Tour, since music has become such an integral part of it, and lately Avi and I have been completely on the same wavelength with our musical tastes and our love for acoustic tunes. To be serenaded by four of my favourites, what could be better!
Trevor Howard, Kirby, Gavin Slate, Max Wray
I called the night my Silver Jubilee and set a dress code of black and white (and silver, if you cared to get sparkly, and who wouldn’t?!) Shout outs to my friends and Honourary Tour Members who came out to celebrate throughout the night, along with Avi and I – Stacey, Krystal, Jamie, Lauren, Sarah, and Vanessa. My only regret from the night is not getting a group photo because everyone dressed to the nines and took part in the dress code, looking fabulous! My mental picture of you all will have to suffice. Special shout out to Trevor – I noticed that silver nail polish!
The show would have been amazing enough just to have the singer-songwriters play individual sets, but what made it even more special was that the show was a Songwriters’ Circle. All four musicians were onstage together in the Lounge and took turns playing songs, along with some playful banter in between. They would throw out a theme for each round of songs (also very apropos for the Tour – we love themes, as you know) and the songs they chose to play had to be of that theme. With themes thrown out like “lies,” “gingers,” and “country,” (ok, maybe the themes could use a little work) it was extremely entertaining. The guys also joined in on each other’s songs where they saw fit, backing each other up on guitar and vocals. Max in particular had done his homework, learning the others’ songs. Having the perfect seats in the house, all lined up in a row in front of the stage, we got in on the action, chiming in every now and then as the guys joked around.
I was excited to see Gavin play, having only seen him play a few songs before, back in December. Avi became a fan as well and was excited to see him play for the first time. He played a few songs off his debut EP, (including “Falling,” which was recently featured on Avi’s Playlist) along with some new songs that he is currently recording for his full length effort, such as “On the Incline” and “Hollywood Hills”. Earlier in the week I had Tweeted him a request for “Life as a Salesman,” off his EP of the same name, and he played it for me as a birthday dedication! I had included the song on my first Tour Playlist; it’s one of my favourites by Gavin.
Avi and I were also happy to see Trevor play some of his tunes, after having visited him in the studio at Boxcar Sound as he was working on the new Ghosts of Memphis album. Having seen some of the recording process of songs like “Rails,” “Save Me,” and “What Do You Do” (which he debuted live at this show!), I was excited to see Trevor play them live. Also tying in our Boxcar connection, producer Matt Montour was in the audience too, which made it a real Tour affair!
Kirby posing for my photo as Gavin croons away
Speaking of Boxcar, Max is also in the middle of working on a new album there, with Matt, and he played a lot of new tunes at the show. Avi and I have been pestering Max to hear some of his new songs at the studio, and having listened to his EP Max Wray Live so much over the course of our Tour, can you blame us? Max has definitely become part of the soundtrack to our Tour and we always love getting to see him play. As quick-witted as ever, Max never holds back when introducing his songs, being open about past stories and the inspiration behind them, which is just what you need in a Songwriters’ Circle.
At the end of the first set, Kirby corralled the other three musicians into a four-part harmony “Happy Birthday” serenade to me, taking the lead in true Kirby fashion. (Video below – thanks, Krystal, for taking that!) Earlier, Max had dubbed the night “swoon-a-palooza” (don’t flatter yourself, Wray! Well, ok, it was all incredibly swoon-worthy.) Thank you, boys!
Continuing with my Playlist motif, Kirby played his tune “High Horse,” a favourite of mine off his newest EP, Into the Dark, but my favourite Kirby song has to be “When the Princess Won’t Sing.” It remains a classic Kirby song, and was the first song I heard of his, a few years back. The storytelling nature of the song just grabbed me right away, and I’m not alone in that; it’s a favourite among fans. Kirby tends to dub in a girl’s name in the lyric, “What the princess wants, the princess gets,” depending on who is in the audience, and, of course, it was fitting for me, the Birthday Girl! And so the lyric became, “What Kristin wants, Kristin gets,” along with some other improvised lyrics on the part of Kirby to personalize the song even more. Stacey and I looked at each other like, “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” as the song neared the “Row, row, row your boat” part of the song. We darted up to Max’s microphone at that part of the song to sing it. That got some laughs, but hey, we tried. We’ll leave it to the professionals! (With the exception of the odd karaoke venture.) Gavin, Trevor, and Max joined in on the final, “What Kristin wants…” line, and, yep, swoon!
Stacey and I joining in on Kirby’s “Princess”
What was fun about the show was seeing, along with the good-natured digs here and there, the camaraderie between the four musicians and the genuine love for each other’s music. They didn’t hesitate to compliment each other’s songs and say which ones were favourites. Again, I can’t say enough how ideal it was to have a show with all four of these guys for my birthday! It was very serendipitous and as Avi and I would say, “FULL CIRCLE!”
After the show, we headed over to one of my favourite spots, The Baltimore House, to finish off the night with some classy cocktails in the Parlour. It was our first time getting drinks at Baltimore (Avi and I had previously eyed their giant chalkboard menu, liking the sound of their classic drink menu.) It was a low-key night at Baltimore, which was what I wanted, and it complemented the show. The music that tinkled in the background was of another era, reminding me a little of Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris (a favourite of mine), and worked well with the décor. Again, here would have been the opportune time to take some photos! No matter, it was fun to just hang out and take it all in.
It was a super fun, laid-back birthday, perfect for my Silver Jubilee, and perfect for our Tour!
I would feel like I was giving away a magician’s secrets if I went into detail about Rich Aucoin’s show at Casbah. Then again, his live show has been well documented in past reviews, but I’m so glad I went into this show not knowing a thing. This is one of my favourite shows of the Tour to date, by far. Beyond the Tour, even, this show is going down as a favourite. I can’t get over it; it was so much fun! Avi and I went into it not knowing what to expect, except for Carly’s warnings of Rich’s insane, over-the-top stage shows. We were intrigued, excited, and a little nervous. Taking care to get our outfits in check, I chose a bright blue shirt dress with shiny blue nails to match, and Avi went with a multi-coloured polka dot skirt. We were ready to party.
Hamilton’s electronic duo Illitry opened up the show. I listened to their track “Roadtrip” on their website beforehand, digging it, and was happy to note that it translated into an impressive live set. Some songs had a mystical, airy quality while others had us really grooving to the beats. We do love our beats. All the while, the vocals were really strong, which is appreciated with electronic music, and this sets them apart from other acts. Troy Witherow and Chester Edington looked so into it; you could really feel their passion for the music. We’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for these guys and want to check them out again.
Rococode were playing in the Lounge and we were able to catch a few songs from the Vancouver band. We chatted with bassist Shaun Huberts when we first got to the venue as I eyed their merch table. Earlier that day, Carly had told me about his coffee table book, How to Pack Like a Rock Star, and gave me the mission to be on the lookout for it. I spotted the book right away and we had a short chat with Shaun as I flipped through it. Spotting our Tour buttons, he offered us Rococode buttons and helped us to select colours (Avi went with yellow, and I went with the purple.) The band has a fun pop-rock sound that complimented the party that was raging throughout Casbah.
Writers’ Strike were next up on the main stage. Along with Rich, they’re from Halifax, and there must be something in the water out there, because they know how to throw a kickin’ party. I loved their giant, colourful signs to accompany the lyrics that synths/piano player Amy would hold up, like “Come On Come On,” for their track “New York City”. Bright spotlights shone and flashed as the 5-piece hammered out their set. For their last song, they passed out flags for audience members to wave to the rhythms. It was the perfect segue into Rich’s set, which would also be filled with lights, props, and theatrics.
It was time for the main event! Again, I can’t even put it into words; this is a show that absolutely must be experienced. The act was a flashing, neon-coloured spectacle consisting of two parachutes (yes, two – one black and one multi-coloured), strobe lights, a screen with viral videos and classic movie clips that synched up to the music, flashlights, and, of course, confetti. A man after my own heart, that Rich Aucoin. (I had heard him described as a “confetti aficionado” by CBC Radio 3’s Lisa Christiansen prior to the show, and instantly knew I’d be a fan.) It was a full-on, sing-a-long dance party, and everyone was a hot, sweaty mess by the show’s end. Pretty sure my hair was twice the size at the end of it all. There weren’t many of us, so it felt like we were partying in someone’s basement. Rich pulls out all of his tricks and dynamic energy, no matter the size of the venue and audience. I saw some footage of his Canadian Music Week performance, just a few days later, to a huge crowd, but it felt special to be able to experience his show in such an intimate setting.
I loved the positive affirmations that flashed across the screen at the beginning of the set – things like “We’re not here for long,” encouraging us to be in the present moment, as well as Rich expressing his gratitude to be able to share his art with us and being fortunate to be able to do this for a living. The personal shout outs to audience members (Avi got one!), the venue (woo Casbah!), and the staff (Brodie!) were also sincere touches that brought everyone together. Everyone was truly in the moment – it’s rare today that you see an audience where no one is holding a phone or camera. It was so refreshing to see everyone taking in the show without trying to capture it. With so much going on, you almost couldn’t take a photo even if you wanted to; we were too busy dancing up a storm alongside Rich! That was another unique aspect to the show – Rich spent as much time on the ground with us as on the stage. We were all in it together; we were a part of the show and Rich’s world.
Speaking of those positive affirmations, many of Rich’s lyrics are just that – simple and easy to remember, phrases like “We are not dead yet / We are undead” (from “Undead”) seem simple enough, yet are extremely profound statements. Rich would have us repeat the lyrics back to him before launching into the song, encouraging us to sing along, and that we did! Accompanied by a bassist and drummer, Rich commanded the stage and was such a tremendous force of energy, never pausing for even a moment. I’ve never seen a performer take that much care to include the audience, drawing everyone in and making every single person in the room matter and an important part of the performance. I spoke with a couple people after the show through our Twitter and Facebook pages and we gushed about the show and noted that it really bonded us through that shared experience. We felt like we were a part of something really special.
A big highlight for me was the parachute fun! The “double rainbow all the way” viral video that introduced it made everybody chuckle. The parachute used to be everyone’s favourite part of gym class as a kid – I can remember feeling such excitement when that red, blue, green, and yellow parachute was brought out to play games like “Popcorn,” or making a giant tent and running underneath it, quickly pulling the ‘chute behind you and sitting down, and looking at all your friends while underneath the airy dome. We need to find ways to keep that child-like sense of play even as we grow older, and Rich’s show does just that. He shook the parachute along with us (while still carrying on singing!) and at his signal, we all rushed underneath it and continued to dance and sing away.
Of course, the finale, a performance of the single “It,” was another highlight for me. I had just included the song in my Playlist for the month, being struck by the lyric, “We won’t leave it all in our heads.” As I said in my description of the song, little did I know that I would find myself singing that very lyric at the top of my lungs into a microphone held by the man, himself. That felt like a serendipitous, full circle moment. During the repetition of the line, “We got our heads down,” we all huddled in a circle and put our hands in, like a team.
After offering us a couple of songs to choose from for the encore, Rich launched into “Brian Wilson is A.L.I.V.E.” after realizing we weren’t going anywhere! He joked, “I didn’t know if you guys wanted to go home – it’s a Wednesday night!” He split us into two groups to belt out the song’s intro – one to sing the “Hummana hummana’s” and the other for the “Woooo’s”. Featuring the catchy hook, “Remember what we’ve been given,” yet another easy to recall positive affirmation, it’s a banger of a track and was the best way to bring it home.
When it was over, Avi and I stared down at the aftermath of confetti and the crumpled up neon parachute and then looked at each other. I think the first word one of us uttered was just, “Whoa.” We spotted Rich by the bar and moseyed on over to say hello. Even just speaking with him briefly, and we were still at a bit of a loss for what to say, it was clear that Rich is incredibly genuine and sweet. He said that the last time he played at Casbah, he played in the Lounge. I know that his audience will continue to grow every time.
When I got home and was unwinding, a single strand of hot pink confetti floated down, seemingly out of nowhere, and landed on the carpet. Four days letter, I happened to spot another piece of red confetti in my boot. (Rich then favourited my tweet about the find, which made me happy.) I take the stray pieces of confetti as signs that we need to find ways to bring a little of what Rich does, that joie de vivre, into our everyday lives, remembering to exude that sheer joy into everything we do and to always be in the present moment. I appreciate everything Rich is doing; I really can’t say enough. It was the most joyful, jubilant celebration of life.