Full Disclosure: I have a bit of a thing for Elliott Brood. Put quite simply: I love them. I love listening to their albums, I love flipping through their artwork, and I love seeing them perform live.
Last night’s show at The Black Sheep Tavern marks my third time seeing them live in as many months and it was a fantastic show, as always. The Black Sheep Tavern was sold out, packed despite the snow covered roads and impending freezing rain, and we were not to be disappointed.
Openers Harlan Pepper were amazing. A few months back I experienced my first ever encore by an opening act (Lake of Stew, also performing at the Black Sheep)- well that count has now risen to two. And a well deserved encore it was…
Hailing from Hamilton Ontario, this rather young (just barely nineteen) and very enthusiastic (adorably so) four-piece charmed the audience with a mix of rock, bluegrass, psychedelic, and folk. Though their hand-made signs (‘Harlan Pepper’ written in sharpie on two cardboard cutouts of deer) and flowered cowboy shirts may have suggested something softer, they rocked out song after song, seemingly gaining energy instead of tiring out. At one point lead singer Dan Edmonds and guitarist Jimmy Hayes stood on two chairs in the audience and co-played their guitars- strumming their own and playing the chords on the others’. Though I’m sure they’ve practiced it a million times, they pulled it off with a sense of spontaneity that made the crowd go wild. After a few covers, a few more unerringly energetic tunes and a plea from drummer Marion Nicolle to think about purchasing their CD (“Y’know, if you like what you hear… If you want to…” Adorable.) they played the aforementioned encore. Brilliant, all round.
Elliott Brood then took the stage with a declaration of “Its been too long Wakefield!” from guitarist Casey Laforet. I’ve lost count of the number of times I have seen them perform live, but this was the first time I have ever been seated for an Elliot Brood show- and I’m not gonna lie, it felt weird. But the tables were right up front, and being right up front is kinda my bag, so seated I was.
Despite half the audience being in chairs, the boys had everyone bopping their heads and clapping along in no time. With the exit sign above the door flickering with the bass, the snow swirling outside the window, and the candles lighting steins of beer, it was easy to feel immersed in their frontier aesthetic and darkness-riddled narratives. They rolled through a few songs before pulling out some tunes from their oldest full length LP, Ambassadour. We were even treated to a lyric-less partial version of “President 35″ when lead singer Mark Sasso, stumbling during the first verse lost his place and couldn’t get back on track. Talking to him after the show, he laughed and shook his head “I can’t believe I forgot the words to my own song!” With other performers it might have been awkward, but the joking and teasing that followed made it decidedly entertaining (referencing their pre-song banter about the upcoming American Presidential race and the republican leadership scandals; “Newt Gingrich wanted to have an open marriage so he could get with Mark, can you blame him for getting all distracted?”).
About half way through the set the boys were having no more of this sitting down nonsense so with a “Stand up if you’re gonna vote in the next election!” from Sasso, and awkward ‘You get up first’ ‘No YOU get up first’ glances all around, we were suddenly on our feet and dancing to the thundering beat of “Oh Alberta,” “Miss You,” and “Valley Town” (I gotta say, there is just something about seeing two grown men rocking out on ukuleles that always makes my day). This is where EB are always at their best: Stephen Pitkin stompin’ it out on the best kit in the land (drums covered in birch bark and wood grain, replacing his original suitcase bass drum), Casey Laforet shaking his shaggy mane over the steel guitar, and Mark Sasso on the banjo with his boppy right-step left-step shuffle.
The dancing is always my favourite part of an Elliott Brood show… Glancing back at the teenage boys exuberantly jumping to banjo music, seeing the huge smiles on the faces of each band member, and feeling the floor bounce beneath your feet as every one shouts “HEY, HEY, HEY” in perfect unison. Add in a few encores and a rousing all-bands number with Harlan Pepper (during which we held down our table while Dan Edmonds and HP bassist Thompson Winston danced on it…) and the performance sadly drew to a close. As everyone gathered their coats and the crowd started to disperse, Mark Sasso stepped down off the stage and shook my hand and that of my friend. “Hey, I just wanted to say thanks for dancing!” You gotta love a band that plays an amazing show, and then thanks you for enjoying it… Do me a favour (do yourself a favour!) next time you see that Elliott Brood is playing a gig near you- go. And bring everyone you know.