by Elena Gritzan
If you listen to 2007’s Friends in Bellwoods compilation, recorded out of the basement of Ohbijou’s Casey Mecija’s old Bellwoods Avenue home, you get to experience a cross-section of Toronto and Canada’s best folk-influenced, community-driven music. I got much of the same feeling from Wednesday night’s show at the Drake Hotel. Intended to celebrate the eighth birthday of the music-loving venue (happy birthday to the Drake!), the Underground venue was packed with people of all ages eagerly anticipating a performance from one of Canada’s most celebrated independent acts.
But first, the night opened with Montreal-based Folly and the Hunter. The three band members work together to create their warm, multi-instrumental sound, often topped with three-part vocal harmonies. The word that I couldn’t get out of my head was charming, but their music is also equal parts emotional and inspiring.
The night took an upbeat, jazzy turn with second act Donlands & Mortimer. The six-piece band includes a trombone and a saxophone, layered over surprisingly heavy guitar riffs and an endearing combination of voices from singers Carmen Elle and Steven Foster. They offered to take pictures with people in the photobooth outside in lieu of having merch available. I really hope that someone took them up on that! Their set was infectious and solid enough to warrant going to see just them alone, which even made me wonder for a second whether the headlining band could measure up.
I don’t know what I was worried about, because Toronto’s Ohbijou definitely did not disappoint. Their first CD release party, for 2006’s Swift Feet for Troubling Times, happened in the same venue. Singer Casey Mecija quipped that she hadn’t grown at all (in terms of height that is, no one could contest the massive growth Ohbijou have had musically!). Six years and two albums later, Ohbijou made a triumphant return to the same stage.
The six-piece band led a mesmerized crowd through a set drawing heavily on 2011’s Metal Meets. The album is based on the band’s travels outside of their Toronto home-base (the lead single references Niagara Falls, and the album is full of nods to their travels around the world), though it was especially fantastic to see them return home, full of passion and musical maturity. Casey’s ethereal voice mixes well with the strings, guitar effects and samples the underlay it.
Ohbijou are clearly a band that support each other (Casey to sister Jennifer Mecija: “But you’re amazing. I love you, you’re my sister!”), and are grateful for their dedicated fans, thanking everyone for coming out to see them play. If they keep playing shows like Wednesday’s though, packed full of transcendent melodies and inspired instrumentation, they are never going to have to worry about attracting fans.