If you’ve never had the opportunity to catch a show at the Black Sheep Inn, you should plan a trip to Wakefield, Quebec in the very near future. The small town surroundings, friendly people, fantastic food, and local brews make the perfect backdrop for many a quietly rambunctious musical experience. The Black Sheep is known for hosting bands as varied in home towns as they are in musical styles, and they always knock it out of the park. Last week the staged was graced by local Ottawa outfit Dry River Caravan supported by The Opposite of Everything out of Toronto.
I should preface this review by saying that the last show I saw at The Black Sheep was an unqualified success with Montreal’s Lake of Stew warming up the crowd for banjoman extraordinaire Old Man Luedecke, and reciving the only opening-band-encore I have ever experienced. Needless to say the bar was set rather high… Had I not had this in the back of my mind the Opposite of Everything may have impressed me more, but alas it was not the case.
All the pieces were certainly there- the eclectic mix of klesmer and bluegrass combined with Indian and African rhythms provided an interesting base, but the songs just didn’t seem to come together. The individual members of the band were fantastic musicians (Particularly John Williams on clarinet and harmonica)- and each looked as if they were having a great time up on stage- but again the pieces didn’t really seem to come together. Lead singer Jaron Freeman-Fox and accordion/keys player Johnny Spence even physically collided with each other on several occasions (and not in that we’re-so-excited-we-bash-into-each-other-on-purpose kind of excellent way, more in a hey-I-didn’t-see you-there-cuz-I’m-off-in-my-own-world kind of a way…). The overall performance, while clearly showing immense amounts of promise, seemed in need of a healthy dose of practice and significantly more direction. From reading other reviews of their live show I am inclined to think they were just having a bit of an off night, so I would certainly give them another chance, but this was far from the best performance I’ve ever seen…
In striking contrast were headliners Dry River Caravan. I first came across this local group at one of Ottawa’s gigantic neighborhood street sales and instantly fell in love with their music. An interesting mix of several folky styles, my enjoyment of the music was helped along by their engaging smiles and never-ending enthusiasm- not many people can play an eight-hour garage sale and still be smiling by the end of it! This was my first opportunity to see them playing in a more traditional indoor-setting.
The very definition of a group, the members of Dry River Caravan fed off of each other in every aspect of their performance. Robin Meyer-MacLeod did not seem to be able to wipe the smile off of his face through singing, clarinet playing and happy-dancing, and bouzouki player Matt Smith is quite possibly one of the most entertainingly into-it performers I have ever seen, even looking like he was going to openly weep during several melodramatic moments. John Cockburn’s beautifully charismatic voice and energetic acordioning provided the anchor lacking in the opener’s performance, and Daniel Grewal on upright bass, Liam Smith on drums , and the guest trumepteer beautifully rounded out the group. after getting off to a slow start, they soon won the crowd over and had several members of the audience making up impromptu dance routines and cheers. Mixing klezmer, bluegrass, and folk with sweeping narratives and an energetic performance, there could not have been a more perfect compliment to the swirling snow outside, the cold beers, and the friendly crowd.
I will certainly be keeping an eye out for future shows by both bands- a sure-thing from Dry River Caravan, and a second look at The Opposite of Everything.